Sunday, May 3, 2020

Silence on Education

For all of the stories I've read about online schooling and how difficult it is to entertain and engage children of all ages while being quarantined in one's home, I still don't get the sense that we are talking about education, and how profoundly the system must change in a post-pandemic United States.

What this crisis has uncovered is the dire state of education regarding schooling, infrastructure, funding, practice, equity and opportunity. We've always thought of ourselves as a country whose system of public education reflects the democratic values upon which it was founded. Now we can't even guarantee that all students are reporting for the daily or weekly Zoom call that forms the basis of their learning. And it wasn't that before we all went online the education system was running smoothly or meeting the needs of all children. It was not. But now we know that we have gaping holes that will need to be fixed.

The crowd that currently sits in power on Washington will say that education is the realm of the states, and constitutionally, they are right. Education is nowhere to be found in the document and most states were free to create and maintain their own school systems. What that's done, though, is to create 50 separate systems divided into thousands of county and local school systems who are free to set their own policies and to determine what they teach and generally how to teach it. Attempts such as the Common Core Curriculum Standards to tie the states together so they are teaching the same skills and holding students accountable to them lasted for a few years until push-back from the right, because of the loss of state control, and the left, because of the focus on testing to determine student and teacher growth, doomed those standards to irrelevance.

Add in the problem of funding, and you see why we're where we are. Wealthier states and districts can afford to give every student a computer, and generally those towns and suburbs are where the vast majority of homes have an Internet connection. Those wealthier areas can also afford to pay teachers more and to provide them, and their students, with more resources and programs. Those towns also have a higher percentage of parents whose jobs have not been destroyed because of lock downs. They also tend to be whiter.

And so, here we are.

What to do? We need a massive, federal investment in the schools. Every child should be given a computer to use and a reliable Internet connection that will enable them to explore the wider world. Every child should have access to resources such as school trips, enrichment activities, speakers, literacy materials and safe, sustainable buildings. Teachers should be paid a great deal more than they are now so they don't have to worry about getting two jobs to support themselves.

And everybody--everybody--should have affordable, high quality health insurance so they don't have to worry about making a choice between education or food or housing or entertainment and getting medical care.

States cannot do this on their own because they must balance their budgets. Only the federal government can provide the funding and resources to provide what every child, and every family, needs in order to succeed. This is not going to happen under this administration or, I suspect, under any Republican presidency. We need a change.

Are you registered to vote?

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

No comments:

Post a Comment