Decisions being made now must address local needs, learning loss.
by Jan Barrick, CEO, Alpha Plus
Meeting the needs of every student in every class is difficult enough in school – much less, online at home. That said, schools must have distance-learning options available in case the pandemic returns in the fall, which means planning for the 2020-21 school year is at a critical stage.
Educators have long used online tools in the classroom; but that is not the same as teaching and learning in a virtual environment. Few teachers are also “IT people” and even teenagers are not always as “techy” as they seem.
Bringing a substantive conclusion to the 2019-20 school year is a testament to the dedication and fortitude of educators, students, and parents.
Today, administrators are writing budgets and seeking resources to open school this fall no matter what might happen next. Concerns necessarily include the return of COVID-19; but local needs may also relate to new state and federal mandates, more inexperienced and emergency-certified teachers, and even more disengaged students.
Old challenges complicate the new normal.
About $145 million in federal funding was allocated to Oklahoma schools last month to help them finish this year and prepare for the next. Local boards of education should heed the state superintendent's advice to leverage “allocations to support students in regaining lost academic ground” – to fill the COVID-19 learning gaps.
“Eligible expenses” under the CARES Act covers almost anything allowed in federal law since 1965 – now including coronavirus response. The opportunity in this crisis is local responses could also build any school’s capacity to overcome other unanticipated changes going forward.
Plans must be developed to protect children and adults while school is in session – whether in the schoolhouse or at a distance. Yet, because every school is different and available funding varies widely, each school team must design responses to meet the needs of their students and parents.
There is no cure-all coming from Washington, D.C. or anywhere else. Only grass-roots efforts – informed by research into effective practices – will truly address the needs of Oklahoma students. Locally derived solutions are almost always the most effective.
Patrons should build on what they value most in their schools. That may be sufficient Internet access at home; but it might be training for teachers, students, and parents on how to use that access. In many places, subscribing to a digital system works; but printed materials and supplies will still be needed in most other school communities.
Over the next few weeks, stakeholders must communicate with school leaders about what worked and did not work in April and May. About 400 districts are in the process of finalizing plans built around academic calendars for multiple scenarios.
As always, if we fail to plan, we are planning to fail. Only schools working as partners with parents, other taxpayers and community stakeholders will make certain that their students have the tools needed to succeed.