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What We Value

I’ll start with what Marcella Bombardiari used to conclude her April 15th article in Politico, Covid-19 Changed Education in America — Permanently.

“ ‘I don't think the pandemic has really unearthed all sorts of new ‘aha’s’ about what kids need,” said Melissa Connelly, CEO of OneGoal, a nonprofit that helps low-income students get into and succeed in college. “I think it's just forced our hand to actually try doing something different.’ ”

Get it? She said “doing.” Not considering or discussing. Not thinking about or contemplating. DOING.

Bombardiari suggests that there are five enduring lessons for public education as a result of the pandemic. Among them:

  • On-line learning is here to stay. “Experts believe that post-Covid, most students will be back in a classroom. But for a subset who face challenges ranging from social anxiety to the disproportionate rates of school discipline for Black students, remote learning may be a good option. Same for families where parents like some aspects of homeschooling, but still want a strong tether to a formal program. As physical classrooms adopt cameras, students who are often out of school due to a chronic illness will have an option to stay better connected. Schools disrupted by blizzards or wildfires will have a fallback. It will take vigilance, however, to ensure that options that arise to meet this new demand for remote learning are of high quality.”

  • Technology is a basic need. “With the possible exception of the earliest grades, it’s now clear that in a post-pandemic America, every student needs their own device and a reliable internet connection. There is just too much good happening today in the digital environment for students to miss out.”

  • College admissions will never be the same. “Thank the pandemic for piercing the invincibility of standardized college entrance exams, namely the SAT and the ACT, which for decades have been a mandatory part of applying to a selective college, despite evidence that they disadvantage minority and low-income students. But with test dates canceled because of Covid and no easy way to administer them remotely, hundreds of colleges allowed students to apply this year without submitting scores from one of these tests. There was already momentum in this direction before the pandemic, but now it will be difficult to go back. Some experts in the field also say that deemphasizing standardized testing is only a first step towards a more equitable college admissions system.”

But, it is the first and the last of the lessons Bombardiari outlines that resonate the loudest with me. In the first, she suggests that No School is an island: “We didn’t realize as a society how much we needed schools until they were shuttered.” Isn’t that the truth! I would go so far to suggest that pre-pandemic, schools and school personnel were taken for granted. Parents and communities at large typically assumed that schools, in addition to instruction in basic skills and knowledge, would provide the secure and reliable daycare that allowed parents to work or attend school themselves. It was easily assumed that schools would provide nutrition to needy children, and that they would offer safeguards and services to support students’ healthy mental and emotional development. It was widely assumed that the socialization kids experience in school is an invaluable opportunity. Then, suddenly, the game changed. And all of those things that were taken for granted as being services and characteristics of schools disappeared and the burden shifted. Oh, how we missed our schools. Seemingly, we discovered a new-found appreciation for this treasure that is imbedded in the very fiber of our society.

The last of Bombardiari’s lessons is education needs massive reinvestment. “It’s tempting to think of the annual, or biennial, ritual of wrangling over a state budget as political theater, to think that advocates will always claim the sky is falling, that money comes and goes and it doesn’t make much difference. The pandemic has proved otherwise.”

Any of us who has been involved in public education for any period of time recognizes that sad lament “we simply don’t have the revenue to adequately fund education.” And, in fairness, that is partially true. Revenue streams are frequently unstable or disappointing. But, the real issue isn’t so much how much cash is in the bucket. It’s largely a matter of how policymakers prioritize those dollars. Frequently, they hide behind “can’t” when what they’re really indicating is “won’t.”

The 2008 economic downturn had a disastrous effect on the level of funding for public education. Indeed, it was a horrific time for everyone as the entire economy nearly collapsed. But, what has happened in the ensuing thirteen years of recovery? Despite economic gains in virtually every sector, funding for K-12 public education remains virtually flat. “As of 2016, 24 states were still spending less on education per-student than before the Great Recession, and schools had 77,000 fewer teachers and other staff while enrolling 1.5 million more children, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.” (Bombardiari)

Here’s the thing, the truth about the societal value of public education and how it is funded. As with anything, we fund what we value. If it’s roads, we find a way to fund them. Space travel? We’ll figure a way. Military budgets almost always receive a positive nod because we value the military and our national defense. If we hold something in high regard, if we prioritize it, we will find a way to fund it. The opposite is also true. We are reluctant to fund those things that hold less sway or influence.

We fund what we value.

This past year has provided ample opportunity to remind, if not inform, the public about the critical role public education holds within our society. The past year has demonstrated that public education is something that is not only essential, but is something that is foundational to our notion of what comprises a just society. It is vital. It is something we value.

If we fund what we value, it is time for a massive reinvestment to occur. Of all the lessons this pandemic has taught us it is that we cannot expect stellar outcomes from marginal investments.

It’s time to invest in what we expect. That’s what kids deserve.


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