The need for an equitable back-to-school strategy
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt most urgently on the community level, especially when it comes to our local public schools. The closure of public schools was necessary to protect the health of children and their families, but has very much changed their daily lives. On a wider scale, it has exacerbated existing problems in Connecticut’s education system, particularly in high poverty areas and communities of color.
As Connecticut moves to reopen over the coming weeks, it must make education — and particularly education equity — a core part of the discussion on how our state reopens.
As a parent and educator, education equity has been a lifelong focus of my personal and professional lives. I have seen personally how inequity in education has left children behind and its effects on their lives and communities for years after. The pandemic has brought long-existing disparities into sharper focus, yet presents us with an opportunity at closing these disparities, ensure any loss in learning our children experience doesn’t affect their long-term education and that they have the support they need in recovering from any emotional trauma experienced during the pandemic.
To achieve these goals, while preparing school districts for future disruptions, Connecticut should focus on the following areas:
First, Connecticut should use diagnostic measures to determine what learning in the classroom was lost and find ways to make up for lost class time. We could see a “COVID-19 slide.”
It’s estimated some students could return to school with only 70% of their typical learning gains in reading, and just 50% in math. The learning loss will be most severe among vulnerable student populations. Rather than asking districts to spend resources on producing local diagnostic tools, the state can provide districts with a standard, common diagnostic tool that will assess where students are when they return. This data should not be used toward professional evaluation, but used to inform educators, parents, and policymakers about student achievement coming out of the pandemic.
In addition, we can develop a statewide model curriculum to help districts continue learning with set plans, and to provide more standard guidance for teachers and students. Meanwhile, we need to ensure students can make up for learning loss after an extended period away from school. The state can direct new funding on extra learning time through summer learning, weekend academies, extended school days, or extended school year schedules. We can give teachers further professional development for online learning in the short-term, with updated training in the long-term to prepare for future extended closures.
We must be proactive in addressing the learning loss among students, while at the same time, we cannot forget students will return to school having possibly experienced emotional trauma. When we hear someone has died from COVID-19 we must remember they were a student’s family member who they may not have been able to say goodbye to. Many state residents who have lost their jobs are a student’s parent or sibling. Some students are facing increased food scarcity or experiencing it for the first time in their lives. In addition, the closure of schools has left students monitored for their health and safety at greater risk. Connecticut can expand access to counseling for students. There was a need for increased access to counseling before the pandemic and we can’t afford to not do this going forward.
A collective effort addressing these areas will form a back-to-school strategy that meets the needs of all students. It would mean that students who were already vulnerable prior to the pandemic, who are more likely to face adverse effects of extended school closures, would have their needs prioritized and understood at a coordinated, statewide level.
A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic tends to provoke a review of what is working and what is not in our communities and institutional systems. Let’s use this period to make our schools stronger by focusing on equity, preparing for future crises, and extending a hand to help those who need it most.
State Senator Doug McCrory is the Senate Co-Chair of the Connecticut General Assembly Education Committee and represents the communities of Hartford, Bloomfield and Windsor.
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