March 16, 2020, the day that will forever transform education in America and certainly in New York State. Under an executive order from the governor all school districts closed. In an instant teachers became IT, parents became teachers and student’s started a decline into an educational abyss. The ensuing weeks of chaos exposed the fallacies underpinning our schools. It is clear that we need to rebuild our foundation intentionally and openly. Any educator can tell you that in the scant time between now and a return to the classroom the second week of September there is no time for a directive and implementation from NYSED. To do more with less is what’s necessary. To rise to this challenge while reimagining a better education system is going to take imagination, innovation and courage.
No one was prepared for a biological pandemic. Administrations scrambled to institute some form of distance learning without a sensible and cohesive guideline for the teachers who would have to implement the program. Absent direction from the state education department each district was left to devise their own coping methodologies and the whole system caterwauled out of sync. The turmoil has left a patchwork of services that fail to rise to the level of instruction necessary for students to achieve the basic skills necessary to advance to the next level of matriculation.
April 7, 2020 was the final nail in the coffin containing the common core curriculum. With the cancellation of all Regents and the stipulation that all students scheduled to take the standardized test would be given a pass. At some point a collective decision was taken to focus on the social and emotional welfare of the students rather than contrived norms. Yet, empirical standards do exist. The Common Core States Standards (CCSS) have had a significant impact on ensuring this culture is here to stay. Forty-two states currently utilize the Common Core State Standards. While a certain level of cognitive and actual skills are necessary to complete secondary education. Distance learning for all of its benefits and efforts falls far short of face-to- face and or classroom education and will, for years to come, impact student’s ability to achieve on these standardized tests.
May 1st was the day remote instruction suffered it’s most critical hit. New York joined an avalanche of states that closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. Educators struggling to encourage students to “hold on” have to switch to a message of consolation for irreplaceable loss. Words as implacable as condolences at a funeral. Children struggling to engage fell victim to the futility of their reality. Teachers are “teaching to dwindling numbers. We know some students need the accountability of attendance to participate. We know some households are more capable than others. And yet, we blithely herald this forced experiment as the wave of the future.
According to Jeb Bush, chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a nonprofit based in Tallahassee, “stopping distance learning over equity concerns is a false choice”. Bush wrongly posits that the argument pro-classroom is founded in a digital divide argument. He makes a fairly convincing assertion that public confidence deems it necessary to hasten a jump into the cloud. Polling evidence refutes these claims. There is abundant evidence that even if lessons are being completed there is a significant drop in learning. Mastery requires live interactive instruction. The classroom has to evolve but the transformation calls for a reevaluation and reimaging to overcome the massive regression caused by this national
kneejerk into classroom alternatives. In 6 Reasons Students Aren’t Showing Up for Virtual Learning, a compendium of social media analysis and polling, Peter DeWitt points out that “Many teachers are still trying to replicate what they do in a classroom, with what they are doing online. It’s important to shift that way of thinking and continue to adapt.”(Education Week 5/9/20). Dr. DeWitt’s article begs the question in which lies the greatest jeopardy. How are students going to advance to the next level absent the knowledge they are missing? Students have lost one fourth of the school year. Preternatural retrogradation is unavoidable without momentous intervention. Bundle the knowledge gap with the monetary shortfall facing Districts and the foregone conclusion is that any attempt to return to the status quo ante is foolhardy. All of the paradigms and standards enacted in the nearly 40 years since the publication of A Nation at Risk by The National Commission on Excellence in Education in 1983 merit reconsideration through the extraordinary lens of our recent shared experiences. Yes the economics needs to be addressed but only in the context of the larger conversation. The conversation doesn’t have to be about how to do more with less rather how do we fund doing better?
What makes our country resilient is innovation. Quintessential to innovation is high quality, public education. Don’t rush this educational metamorphosis based upon adherence to a calendar that is no longer relevant. During this pause, this uncommon pause in American history, let’s take the time to remake education free from bias, free from arbitrary standards and unfunded mandates. Heeding this challenge will require courageous leadership. Decentralization, inclusiveness and transparency shall be the new touchstones upon which a new era of American education should be constructed. Our students, our nation deserves nothing less.