These are the questions that confront global leaders every waking moment as they attempt to unravel the medical complexities of our global pandemic along side the economic challenges we face. Everywhere, thoughtful leaders are asking:
How. What is the best, and safest, way to consider re-opening our small businesses and mammoth corporations that drive our national economies?
When. When is the right time? How do we assure that the timing of this delicate operation is accurate?
What. What does our re-opened economy look like. What is, and should be, our new normal?
Thankfully, most enlightened leaders, whether they be prime ministers, governors, mayors, commissioners, are informing the complex decisions they face with data. They are looking to the experts and relying on science in asking “what does the data tell us?” Regardless of what they may feel or believe, it is the data, the numbers, the science that is informative. These are not times to be influenced by nostalgia and emotion. What is the data telling us?
I choose to believe that this reliance on scientific data will accurately dictate our path moving forward. Our medical path. Our economic path. Our educational path.
Schools are closed. Teachers are attempting to offer meaningful instruction, in a platform that was previously considered supportive and secondary; one now to be considered the mainstream, the only option: distance learning. Classrooms are virtual. Kids and their teachers are now required to be separated from each other, Yet, at the same time, we expect that students and their teachers will have the inherent ingenuity to make this a meaningful experience. I admire the tenacity, commitment and focus of both kids and the professional staff to, somehow, make this work.
At least in the short term.
If there’s a blessing in all of this, a positive consequence, it’s that we have the benefit of a pause. The immediate pressure is off. While we expect academic progress through our new enterprise, we have softened some of our expectations. Standards have been relaxed. Testing is suspended. We have realized that this undertaking represents a new, unexplainable, reality. Maybe this points us (hopefully) in a new direction.
What about the three questions of global leaders through the lens of educators?
As we consider re-opening schools, how should this happen? Back to normal? How do we assure the safety of everyone? Child care convenience and subsidized meal programs certainly must be considered. “How” should be a guiding question of providing equity in our schools. How do we do what we’re about to do, in the service of all of our community? This is a question that should, and must, be paramount in our deliberations.
When schools re-open will be determined by local governments. It will happen. We just don’t know exactly when. Let’s assume (and hope) these decisions are rooted in data.
This brings us to the question of what, which to me lies at the heart of the issue. What do we want our schools to be like when they finally re-open? Do we want to simply return to the way things were before we were so abruptly interrupted? Or should we take advantage of the current, though unplanned, pause to envision how American schools could be better? New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks of “re-imagining” as he contemplates how and when to re-open his state’s economy, re-opening in a way that reflects what has been learned during this horrific period in our history that will make his state stronger in its “new normal.” Educators have the same gift of opportunity to re-imagine the experience and efficacy of our schools. That is, if they have the courage and the vision to seize the opportunity.
Where’s the data, you ask?
Public health officials are monitoring key data points that will trigger the relative safety of re-opening the economy and society in general. They’re watching for declining hospitalization numbers, a reduction in the rate of deaths and a shrinking infection rate. They are watching the rate of deaths compared to the number of diagnosed cases, a number that appears to be hovering somewhere around a dreadful 5-6% currently in the United States.
Educators should be compelled to action by a very disturbing data point, one that is insidiously stubborn and changes very slowly. It’s our high school graduation rate. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports the 2016-2017 adjusted cohort high school graduation in our country to be a pathetic 85%, the highest it has been since this data point began being tracked in 2010-2011. That means that public education’s death rate is 15%. We’d lose our minds if budgets were to be slashed by such a percentage, or if our investment portfolios were to stumble to that degree. But, somehow, we find reason to be satisfied that we are graduating 85% of our young citizens when, in fact, 15 out of every 100 students don’t make it. Something’s not working. It’s time we figure this out. I know that a 15% loss rate does not suggest to me that a simple return to the previous status quo is in the best interests of our nation’s kids or in the interests of the nation as a whole.
These are frightening, trying and uncertain times. They may also be times of opportunity, to re-think and re-tool our practices while moving closer to offering The Education Kids Deserve.
Be brave in your actions and convictions.