The Pandemic And Federal Education Policy: From The Race To The Top To The Plunge To The Bottom

This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Stan Karp, a Rethinking Schools editor who also taught English and Journalism to high school students in Paterson, New Jersey for 30 years, and is currently Director of the Secondary Reform Project for New Jersey's Education Law Center. This an edited version of a piece posted by Rethinking Schools. The full version is here. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

In 2009, federal intervention during the last financial crisis gave rise to the Obama administration’s signature education initiative: the Race to the Top (RTTT). Created with $4.3 billion from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, RTTT weaponized its forerunner, the No Child Left Behind Act, and led to new levels of assault on unions, the teaching profession, and public schools, and to a decade of damaging privatization. 

It took years of resistance, pushback, and policy failures to turn the tide. NCLB and RTTT were ultimately unsustainable and failed to deliver on their promises. As the 2018 Red for Ed teacher strike wave and the early stages of the 2020 presidential campaign showed, resistance and activism helped shift the focus of national education politics from charters and tests to school funding and teacher salaries. Mobilized, militant teachers became the voices of communities digging out from decades of austerity, and support for public education was again on the rise.

But now the Trump pandemic and the lethal fiasco of the response by U.S. economic and political institutions have remade the education landscape again. We are back in shock doctrine, disaster capitalism territory and public schools are again in the crosshairs.

Five Things Not To Do When Schools Re-open

This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Education Policy at the Gonski Institute at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

So much has been said already about teaching and learning during the Covid-19 pandemic that it is hard to say something new. More focus on social and emotional learning, student and teacher wellbeing, authentic assessments, distance learning with technology, relationships in schools and recess during school days. Fewer high-stakes standardized tests, less unproductive consequential accountability, more direct instruction in school, and less rote textbook learning. All these ideas were presented already before this crisis, but people see that the time is right to transform schools after the pandemic is gone. 

Rather than add more to the already exhaustive list of ideas for schools post-pandemic, I want to suggest five things that we should not do when schools re-open. These five things are collected from my numerous conversations and debates during the past few months about the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic for schools, teachers, students and parents. My basic assumption is that schools change slowly, even when pressured by external shocks like the pandemic. I think that the underlying emotion in this devastating turmoil, which by now has affected healthcare, education, economic systems, and the daily lives of billions of people, is fear. 

Many are afraid losing their health, the lives of loved ones, their jobs, their dreams, and their futures. What most parents probably expect from schools now is safety and stability, not revolution or change. I like many others think that now is the time to reimagine schools. But I am afraid that making these dreams come true at scale will be very difficult. But if real change is to have any chance, I offer these five suggestions of what not to do. I have long believed that in education policymaking what we stop doing is as important as what we should do. In this playful spirit I offer the following ‘5 Don’ts.

Teaching During School Shutdowns Should Be A Team Sport

This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Susan Moore Johnson, the Jerome T. Murphy Research Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

When schools suddenly closed in March and moved to online instruction, I wondered how I would have responded if I'd still been a high school English teacher. I imagined having to prepare a series of engaging Ted Talks with follow-up Q&As. But having talked with many administrators and teachers, I’ve realized that good online schooling during the pandemic is a team sport not a solo performance. It calls for careful preparation and coordination among many players. Just as Covid-19 has revealed hidden shortcomings in our society, it has exposed the limitations of compartmentalized schools that continue to rise or fall on the skills, autonomy and self-reliance of individual teachers.

As teachers faced the sudden reality of online teaching, they had many pressing questions: Are my students safe and confident or are they at risk, hungry, and fearful? Am I responsible for finding students who don’t show up online? What kind of schedule provides meaningful routines with necessary flexibility? How can I create social learning experiences for students who are isolated at home? What can I do to help students who fall behind? How can we meet the special learning needs of students who rely on one-to-one support? How can I fairly grade students’ progress when I can’t provide extra help to those who need it?  

In many schools, teachers struggled with such questions alone. Without a reliable forum where they could explore and resolve urgent problems with others, individuals did their best. Some convened their classes occasionally for live meetings, so students to could see one another and talk about how things were going for them. Many prepared weekly work packets for parents to pick up at the school or they posted assignments online—typically math problems or reading comprehension questions—for students to complete and upload for grading. Some relied on web-based educational resources, including short lectures by presenters their students had never seen. Many teachers were dismayed to realize that their repertoire of instructional practices had been drastically reduced to a few barren components. Meanwhile students within the same school might have either engaging or tedious learning experiences, depending on who their teacher was.

Coronavirus Is A Risk To Education In America: A Comprehensive National Response Is Needed

This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Stanley Litow, Professor at Duke and Columbia Universities, where he teaches about the role of corporations in society, and the author of The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to RewardHe formerly led Corporate Social Responsibility at IBM, where he was twice selected as CEO of the Year by Corporate Responsibility Magazine. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

The economic effects of the coronavirus are presenting increasingly difficult challenges for the nation. In the month of April, nearly 30 million Americans moved onto the unemployment rolls and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dipped by nearly five percent. All projections from labor economists indicate that these numbers will continue to go in the wrong direction during the months ahead. The U.S. economy is in its most serious decline since the Great Depression. From a policy perspective, our nation needs to place a high priority on making our nation healthy again, but it also needs to protect workers, small businesses and our economic future. Most economic news reports focus on U.S. industries that are likely to suffer the most, such as as the retail industry, restaurants, small businesses, airlines and the entertainment industry. While each of these sectors are indeed experiencing serious problems, and deserve intervention and support, an industry that is likely to suffer severe, long-term damage is often overlooked—that is, public education and specifically our nation's public schools and public colleges. They face a very difficult future and need our attention and our assistance.

Why is education in America at risk? An interruption in schooling across all grade levels will likely result in a serious decline in student achievement, especially for those students who are the most disadvantaged. This is likely to result in increased drop out rates, a spike in special education, a decline in high school graduation rates, a decrease in college enrollment, lower college readiness rates and declining college completion rates. A large increase in mental health and social service needs should also be expected, which will have a negative impact on student learning and achievement. With increased need and declining resources, our schools, universities and teachers will be faced with a daunting challenge. The long term effect on students and on the nation could be devastating.

Have We Found Hector, Yet? A Love Letter To Educators In The Midst Of Crisis

This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Michelle Fine, a Distinguished Professor of Critical Psychology, Women’s Studies, American Studies and Urban Education at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

Each evening we ask Caleb the same question; as the numbers of 6th and 7th graders responding to his online “office hours” increase by the day, we ask “Have you found Hector yet?”

I am quarantined in Montclair, New Jersey, six adults and an infant; a home of heterogeneous teachers and activists. We are healthy and fortunate. We spend our days in Google Meets with 6th graders, community college students, working-class 4-year and doctoral students, most with deep roots in the working-class/immigrant/public housing community, and the news gets more and more grim. Each evening around the dinner table, the stories grow more painful; more students-grandparents-parents-loved ones-siblings are ill-dead-unemployed-hungry-worried about a grandmother in Ecuador or in a nursing home or in the next room in the Bronx. We don’t eat until we have each spoken “one good thing that happened today.” It’s harder now. In the month of March we saw people dying; in the month of April we witness institutions and the precious fibers of democracy – like public schools and universities and voting – placed on life support in budget slashing season.  

And they still won’t release people from prison or detention centers.

Educational Equity During A Pandemic

This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our contributor today is Peter Levine, Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship at Tufts UniversityTisch College of Civic Life. He blogs regularly on his own site. Posts in the series will be compiled here.

My wife and I have each spent many hours teaching by video this spring. While sitting in the same house, I meet online with college students who attend a selective private university; she meets with 5-to-9-year olds in an urban public school system, helping them learn to read. 

Both of us think and worry about equity: how to treat all students fairly within our respective institutions and across the whole country (even the world). And both of us discuss these issues with our respective colleagues. I suspect that many other educators are similarly wrestling with the challenges of teaching equitably while schools are closed. 

Before the pandemic, schools were already dramatically inequitable. In our state of Massachusetts, total expenditures per pupil vary from $14,000 to $31,000 among regular school districts. But the worst-funded Massachusetts district still allocates twice as much per student as Utah does. In Uganda, the government spends $2.12 per student per year on education (although many families spend more).

What's Next For Schools After Coronavirus? Here Are 5 Big Issues And Opportunities

This is post is our first in a new blog series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our contributor today is Andy Hargreaves who is Research Professor at Boston College. This blog post originally appeared in The Conversation. Future posts in the series will be compiled here

No schools, no exams, more online learning and parents in COVID-19 lockdown with their kids. What a mess!

People are responding heroically. Some parents are working from home, others have lost their jobs and teachers are creating an entire new way of doing their jobs — not to mention the kids themselves, stuck inside without their friends. Somehow, we will get through this. When we do, how will things look when school starts again? 

One of my university projects connects and supports the education leaders of six countries and two Canadian provinces to advance humanitarian values, including in their responses to COVID-19

From communication with these leaders, and drawing on my project team’s expertise in educational leadership and large-scale change, here are five big and lasting issues and opportunities that we anticipate will surface once school starts again.

The Crucial Role Of State Policy In The Impending School Budget Crisis

Last week, we published a report on the probable implications of the coronavirus pandemic for K-12 education funding. My co-author Bruce Baker and I present a bunch of data on the impact of the 2007-09 "Great Recession" on education funding, as well as outcomes illustrating states' responses to the budget crisis caused by the recession. Using insights from these descriptive analyses, we offer a set of recommendations for minimizing the harm of the coronavirus recession on school budgets. 

I won't go through our findings and recommendations individually; you can download the full report, or read the executive summary. I do want to discuss on one overarching theme of the recommendations, and it's very simple: any truly effective response to the impending budgetary crisis cannot consist solely of a federal assistance package. The way states fund public schools has to change, with a forward-thinking focus on faster recovery from this crisis as well as systems better equipped to handle future crises. Chess rather than checkers.

To be clear, federal funding will be absolutely crucial in smoothing the large decreases in revenue that will occur. Without this federal help, there will likely be cuts to school budgets (and those of other public services) so severe that recovery in many states may be a matter of decades rather than years. Moreover, districts serving larger shares of disadvantaged students will bear a disproportionate amount of the harm. Accordingly, we recommend that federal funds be drawn out in two "phases" over a 5-7 year period, and that states be required to distribute them in a manner that targets assistance to those districts that need it the most. But this won't be enough.

The Inequities Of AP And SAT Exams Amid Covid-19

Last week, The College Board announced plans to develop at-home AP Exams while the May SAT will be postponed until until further notice. In contrast, President Trump announced on March 20th that the U.S. Department of Education will not require state standardized testing in public schools for students in elementary through high school. Now that the federal government has relaxed state testing for the 2019-2020 school year, it is time to rethink the standardized test structure for college admissions-focused tests, such as AP Exams, the SAT, and the ACT. Eliminating or postponing these tests must be done through a lens of equity and resource allocation. 

While innovation in instruction and learning is happening daily, the transition to virtual learning also has the potential to exacerbate two existing inequities and opportunity gaps that surround standardized testing, particularly those resulting from the SAT, ACT, and AP exams. The first inequity is lack of access to internet based learning platforms. Unfortunately, the transition to online learning has already proven the glaring reality of the digital divide and illuminated barriers to educational opportunity in terms of access to broadband for students who are not equipped with Wi-fi at home. Libraries and community centers that would have been a resource for students to access Wi-fi for test preparation, are now closed. If AP Exams and SAT testing are moved online, not all students will have consistent internet access to the virtual lessons that can help prepare them for the tests, let alone access to the tests themselves in a web-based format. 

The second existing inequity, made more evident in the transition to online learning, is the issue of access to effective test-prep. Standardized tests such as the SAT and AP exams are gatekeeping tests that have long made clear the presence of opportunity gaps and unequal resources, including access to extensive test preparation programs, tutors, and quality academic coursework. SAT performance is more of an indicator of a student’s socio-economic status and zip code than an indicator of future college success. When The College Board announced that they would consider a move to online operations at the end of the spring term, backlash from students and teachers was swift. Criticism focused on potential inequities that standardized testing from home would perpetuate, including concerns about unequal access to quality digital learning to prepare for testing.