Since our last post, almost every district and school in the United States has had to make a complete pivot to remote and online learning. This pivot has impacted almost every student in the US, and across the world, over 1 billion students have had their schools shut down. More students now work from home than not.  

Additionally, only 31% of public school teenagers now see their teachers daily, and a recent editorial by the New York Times declares this crisis may hobble and entire generation due to learning regressions. Economically, some estimates suggest that for each month schools are shut down costs .1 to .3% to the national GDP.

Since most of us have a negativity bias, we only see the negative impacts of the Covid-19 crisis. Beyond these impacts, however, this crisis has created a monumental opportunity. This opportunity gives us time to consider what education is for and what it can mean for the future. It gives us pause to think more about the treatment of our educators and think about who is most and least benefitting from our current educational system.

Because of this crisis, many educators, students, and families have been nudged and pushed into different ways of experiencing education and learning. There will be long-term impacts on all aspects of education, but how we come out on the other side of this will depend on how leaders think about what is next.

Petrie (2020) describes four paths that come from an adverse event, whether we discuss individuals, groups, organizations, or states/nations. After the adverse event, the level of functioning of the individual or collective will follow one of four paths: thriving, resilience, survival with impairment, and succumbing.

The path organizations like schools take will depend on the choices and decisions they make now. While we are now past the immediate shock and moving into a more deliberate planning mindset, there are emerging problem spaces that should be considered as schools and districts begin planning for the future. 

This blog describes these emerging problem spaces.

Student Learning

There is little doubt that the learning of students has been considerably disrupted during this crisis. For instance, NWEA did a recent study based on summer slide data previously gathered. They estimate that with the Covid-19 slide, students will only gain roughly 70% of the typical learning for a school year in reading, but only 50% of the typical gains in math. These gains may further diminish if the shelter in place continues. With this lack of gain, district and school leaders will need to consider seriously:

  •  How does the lack of gain on regular curriculum impact things like grade-level standards and curriculum?
  • How does this lack of gain impact gaps between students, and how will you deal with these increasing gaps?
  • Similarly, how will populations like ELL or IEP students be better supported? 
  • If students have to continue more self-directed forms of learning, how will they learn the necessary agency to be successful?

Teachers & Remote Pedagogy

Teaching has also severely been disrupted. Many teachers who had never thought about teaching online and remotely before have been forced to create courses, materials, and new ways to work with students. Many have given a heroic effort to support their students, but many are early adopters of these methods. Given the lack of learning most students will carry with them into summer and beyond,  leaders will need to consider:

  • How can teachers capture quickly and easily what students know and can do e.g. actionable assessment data?
  • How can teachers begin to really, truly personalize learning for all students no matter where they are? 
  • How can teachers better engage students online and help create more student agency?
  • How can teachers create or find more high-quality content to deepen learning?
  • How can schools best support the pedagogy of parents? 

School Structures and Organization

The school structure of days, months, and years has been upended with some cities and states saying a fall start may also be impossible. During this crisis and moving forward, learning and not schooling needs to be our primary concern. For this to happen, leaders will need to think about:

  • How can students move in and between grade levels as needed?
  • How will time structures need adjusting, and how can you use time differently, so it does not remain the characteristic feature of schools?
  • If the virus reappears next fall when it cools, how can you make a more natural transition back to remote learning?
  • How can emergency funding be best utilized to support different ways of thinking about the structure of education?

Thinking and Decision Making 

Last, school and district leaders have had to make many quick decisions in the best interest of their students and staff safety. There are two main things to consider moving forward:

  • Beyond short-term decisions, Long-term thinking will be necessary moving forward, no matter what. Not only what does next year look like, but given everything discussed previously, what does the next 5 or 10 years need to consider especially in high schools?
  • Last, schools, for the most part, are a stabilizing institution in our society. Without the typical structure families and staff are used to, society has become less stable than ever before. The question to consider for leaders is, are you typically reacting to events and situations, or are you scanning the environment for the next potential crisis and planning for it? 

Conclusion

Treating the current crisis as a mere inconvenience and returning to normal diminishes the opportunity afforded education today. Educational systems, whether they be states, districts, or schools, will need to choose a path forward. This crisis may end sooner, or later or come back in full force in the fall. Nobody knows.

Nevertheless, what we do know over time is that education will follow one of four paths as described previously: thriving, resilience, survival with impairment, and succumbing. Given the state of our communities, we cannot afford merely to survive or succumb to the past. Instead, we need to focus on being resilient and thriving through new ideas, creating new models and structures, and developing new beliefs about the importance of preparing our children for what lies ahead.