A one-time pandemic. A unique opportunity. Class in 2020 reminded me of a quote from Inherit the Wind: “Maybe it is you who moved away through standstill.” Suddenly, our world was brought to a complete standstill by a global pandemic, the worst in 100 years and yet in a moment of crisis there was an opportunity to create something. Will we move away from progress by standing still?
In March, Baltimore City public schools and my sixth grade switched to online learning. In no time at all, teachers became technical support, problem solver, and the other many complicated titles we claim, even when there isn’t a public health crisis. This online shift for teachers presented opportunities and obstacles. As we still try to mitigate and understand these obstacles, let us dream about the possibilities that lie ahead.
Education always seemed like the road to the American dream: go to school, get a good education, and have the job of your choice. The problem, however, is that education has not changed with the rest of America. Sure, there have been minor changes (full language reading, basic readers, phonetics, science of reading), but you could argue that for many blacks, browns, and students with disabilities, education didn’t work for them or their families. Money was thrown on the problem – then taken away or blocked entirely. The results speak for themselves. According to recent data from Baltimore’s Promise, 57 percent of Baltimore City 11th grade students are not reading high school – well below expectations.
Data like this is compelling for a number of reasons, but no more obvious than the fact that roughly 80 percent of Baltimore City’s public school children are black and the fastest growing student population is Brown. Historical (one could argue, racist) data also supports the idea that black and brown students are more likely to be referred to special education services than their white counterparts. All of this means if we look at the year education should be business as usual, when that approach has historically hurt large numbers of students.
In another corner of society, 2020 also offered Americans Operation Warp Speed, where the country’s leading scientists and pharmaceutical experts created a COVID-19 vaccine with the latest breakthroughs in science and medicine in less than a year. In this sense, too, education must develop further or risk being removed by standing still. We should understand that wireless connectivity, devices, access and technological equity are essential. It shouldn’t be a revolutionary or radical statement to say that our children need access to reliable internet and devices in order to learn – let alone compete on a larger, global stage.
The year 2021 offers all the possibilities of an outstanding seedling. Teachers should be honored for their work in 2020. Professional development should prioritize the teachers who guide teachers on best practices for face-to-face and virtual learning and opportunities for mutual visits. Schools should offer weekly or monthly town hall meetings that focus on housekeeping but also include social, emotional check-ins for families. Districts should trust their teachers when teachers provide feedback on what is possible and realistic. Serious review discussions should be conducted to determine which virtual review data is reliable and credible. Screen time should be balanced against social time for students and teachers. Small groups should be strategically deployed throughout the week and the stimulation models revised. An equity (and / or anti-racist) lens should be used in any decision.
In short, this could be the moment when education moves from a business-as-usual model to an inclusive model that empowers students and families and values teachers as content experts. Education – now is not the time to stand still. If we want to move, we want to become revolutionary because we dared to be something more.
This statement is part of a series of year-end considerations that EdSurge will publish at the end of 2020.