This summer, school leaders faced unprecedented challenges in preparing for the opening of the current school year. Crucial issues included the following:
• Could students be taught to keep a distance from one another?
• Was there enough room in buildings to provide for safe spacing?
• Would students and teachers follow rules on using masks?
• Will teachers face lay-offs due to shortages of state revenue because of the economic slowdown?
• Is increased reliance by most school districts on computer-based learning justified?
The fifty states and 14,000 local school districts made different decisions on how best to address those challenges involving health, financial, and learning issues. The big unknowns are whether parents will accept the possibility that in those plans requiring physical attendance in school buildings their children may be infected with the coronavirus? And, will teachers accept that risk for themselves?
These are obviously very difficult issues, but it is important to remember that decisions made for the short term frequently become permanent policies. That concern is particularly crucial for students who need extra assistance to succeed in school.
An example comes from the Chicago Public Schools where in 1962 temporary classrooms were placed in the play yards of some schools because there was an over-enrollment of students of color, and there was no space for them in those buildings. Thirty years later, that “temporary” solution was still part of schooling in Chicago.
Clearly this is something to remember in today’s stressful atmosphere of school reopening. Careful attention must be paid to helping students and parents from families of lower socio-economic status (SES). If that does not occur, then the schools for most students may be no better than before the crisis, and possibly worse.
Fatigued by School Reform, my latest book, shows that lack of focus on the family background of students is the major impediment to improving the academic achievement of American students. In other words, students from families that are poor and near-poor must be helped more to overcome the disadvantages coming from such status.
To underline this necessity, the demographic changes of the student body should be noted. Currently, children from poor and near poor families constitute half of all students in public schools.
Their parents should also be assisted to improve their families’ economic conditions. As I explain in the book, an increase in family income can be as helpful in improving student progress as many “reform” activities conducted within school walls.
To assist with implementing this purpose, the first step can be undertaken immediately. At the beginning of each day’s meetings related to school reopening and its continuation, this question should be asked:
“Will the policies that we adopt today lead to an improved education for children of lower socio-economic status?”
If the answer is no or we don’t know, then we have made no progress in helping most students. In fact, without intending to, we may be going backwards as regards the academic achievement of many students.