Funk: Let’s use lessons from COVID-19 to revamp the public education system
When I reflect on the past eight months as head of a school district during this pandemic, I think of a quote from Rahm Emanuel: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that: it’s an opportunity to do things you thought you couldn’t do before.
All of us in education have had to embrace the complex system of daily in-person learning and supports we offer in our schools and move to an online experience. It took a Herculean effort on the part of every public school in the country.
The opportunity we can’t ignore and pass up is ultimately when schools reopen full time, learning in person we just don’t get back to the way we’ve always done things. We take this as an opportunity to learn how to better serve our students and our community.
In today’s world, it is essential that our children learn to use and master modern technology, think critically, communicate on various platforms, work collaboratively and be creative with the ability to s ‘adapt quickly. In East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD), we call this our graduate profile. Other districts may refer to it as a learner profile.
We ask teachers to change their role and evolve in their profession from a “sage on stage” to more of a “learning facilitator”. Students are faced with complex tasks, which require them to demonstrate their learning through a process of inquiry, analysis and inference, and to communicate as a scientist, mathematician, historian, artist, critic literary, etc.
Our vision as a district continues to focus on building equitable communities where all learners are welcomed as they are, strengths and areas of growth for all learners are known and supported, adults respond positively to needs socio-emotional, well-being and academic achievement of all learners and learners engage in tasks that develop strategic thinking skills for full participation in their local communities and in global society.
At ESUHSD, our Blocks During Distance Learning program allowed teachers to identify key standards, deepen their coverage of those standards, and allow students to demonstrate their learning in non-traditional ways. Our schedule also includes periods of tutoring and counseling and allows for continuous professional development.
However, our current schedule would not qualify under the traditional education code which requires a specific amount of synchronous daily instruction and 180 days of instruction. School districts must continue to have the current flexibility when we return to ‘normal’ so that lessons learned and best practices developed in distance learning can be incorporated into a new teaching and learning paradigm. .
These arbitrary instructional minutes and school days have been around since the 1970s. This is a long overdue structural change.
I keep hearing about the learning loss that took place during this pandemic. In fact, SB 98 requires school districts to include learning loss mitigation in our plans to support or “fix” students who have fallen behind. What old structural guide posts do people use to determine this learning loss? We are entering our second year of stateless testing. We know the SAT is a biased exam that favors well-off families and well-educated families. These structural artifacts are part of the system that produces what it is designed to be.
It’s time to change the way we measure school effectiveness and student learning growth.
I am the first to admit that there is no substitute for face-to-face learning and the need to socialize and support the mental health needs of our students.
I question the negative impact on learning during this pandemic, especially on high school students due to the civic education this pandemic has provided. We have experienced the profound movement of Black Lives Matter, a historic presidential election and its aftermath, and we have learned all about the impact this pandemic has had on our personal lives, the economy, international connectivity and the importance of science and the use of data to inform our decisions and policy making.
We don’t need to “fix” our students when we return. We must take this opportunity to build the structures that allow relationships between adults and students to take place. Even the most experienced teacher doesn’t have time to really get to know over 160 students unless we really change the structure of the day, week, and school year.
Our students need time to explore the areas that interest them, double down on the areas in which they thrive, and provide the time and space to build community, address issues of social and racial injustice, respond to their concerns. mental health needs and truly develop strategic thinking skills for full participation in their local communities and global society.
We need to completely revamp the way the education system meets the needs of our students. Every system has its shortcomings, and students have unique needs that must be met. We’ve created a system over the past hundred years that does exactly what it’s designed to do; a system that produces inequalities and disproportion, especially with regard to students of color, socio-economically disadvantaged students, students with learning disabilities and students learning English, young people in families with home or the homeless.
We need to create a system that meets students where they are, provides them with the support they need to be successful, and provides educators with the time and resources to be the best educators they can be. We need a systems approach to rearrange the shortcomings of our children as they enter our system and as they progress through school.
If the governor and legislature were prepared to put the education code on hold during the pandemic and provide the additional resources needed to address the challenges of COVID-19 in distance education, then why not take the same approach of education after the pandemic? Educators are asking for the tools to reorganize the education system. Now is the perfect time to give ourselves the tools we need to make the necessary and impactful changes needed in education.
What has happened recently is charter schools. Charter schools have not changed the education system. They created a more inequitable school system by eliminating parts of the education code that public schools without a charter must follow. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
We need to change the entire public school system. We need less structured daily teaching minutes, a longer school year, a new accountability system, new measures of student learning, and financial resources that provide every student with the support they need. needs to thrive at school.
Let’s not spoil a good crisis by going back to the good old days of public education before COVID-19. The time has come. Let’s not miss this opportunity.
San José Spotlight columnist Chris Funk is the superintendent of the East Side Union High School District. Its chronicles appear every third Monday of the month. Contact Chris at [email protected] or follow @chrisfunksupt on Twitter.