The 2020-2021 school year. Trying to turn lemons into lemonade.
Let’s face it, the second half of the 2019-2020 school year was full of lemons. With most predicting that the continued need for social distancing will continue for quite some time, it’s not unreasonable to believe that the 20-21 school year will start by resembling the end of the 19-20 school year. While I commend the hard work of administrators, teachers, staff, parents, and students, most would feel the education our students received in the second half of 19-20 was not up to typical standards (no pun intended). However, not all is lost. The educational community has an opportunity to rebound so that 20-21 is much more successful.
In March, most schools shut down for the year. Soon after, districts looked to cobble together a system for online instruction. I use the term cobbled because I feel almost all districts had some form of online education available but did not have two critical factors in place. One, all teachers were not technically proficient in delivering online content. This is not a jab at teachers but rather a lack of foresight from a district level. Second, having robust software packages in place to both assist the teacher in planning, preparation, delivery, and assessment and the student with having researched-based instructional materials that were both standards-aligned and highly engaging. This is not a jab at the district but rather at the educational software vendors. They have wonderful products but price them out of the range for the average school district. I do find it ironic that these same software vendors, who would charge upwards for $30 a student, suddenly offered their products free of charge when the shutdown occurred. Isn’t there a price point somewhere in between that works for both the district and software company?
September 2020 will look different than any other opening of the school year. How do we make it better than the end of the 19-20 school year? First, we address the two critical factors mentioned above. We take the summer to provide extensive PD for all staff so that everyone feels comfortable with the technology and software. This will take flexibility from both teacher unions and the district. Second, Superintendents and State educational officials need to come together and work with the software companies to provide more realistic pricing. If the State can guarantee a certain amount of buy-in, this would lead to competitive bids resulting in lower costs so that all districts had equal access.
To be successful in social distancing, districts will have to have fewer students in the building at any given time. This can be accomplished with some form of rotational approach where select students attend on specific days/weeks. Whatever the approach, students will be spending a lot more time at home than in a normal school year. In a 180 school day year, they could be home for up to 90 days. This will drastically affect our parents. Specifically, those with elementary students. While not ideal, a middle/high school student could be home by themselves during the day. However, that is not possible with an elementary student. This is where the federal/state government needs to assist. Provide 0% interest loans for all qualified day-care facilities and new start-ups. Additionally, provide funds to daycares so that all parents can afford to have their students attend when not in school. This will allow districts to implement a rotational model that aligns with social distancing while not over-burdening the parents.
The 2020-2021 school year will look different, no doubt. However, let's work together and learn from our missteps so that we don’t have too many lemons. But rather, we start the school year by sipping lemonade.