Jun 17, 2020
There is no one answer for what the coming school year will look like, but it won't resemble the fall of 2019. Wherever classrooms are open, there will likely be some form of social distancing and other hygiene measures in place that challenge traditional teaching and learning. Future outbreaks will make for unpredictable waves of closures. Virtual learning will continue. And all this will happen amid a historic funding crunch.
American education has long been full of innovators practicing alternatives to the mainstream. When the giant, uncontrolled experiment of the pandemic rolled across the country, certain approaches proved their mettle in new ways. Here are some ideas that seem newly relevant given the constraints of 2020 and beyond.
1. Support families to help teach children.
Recently, parents told the U.S. Census Bureau that teachers were spending about four hours a week in online contact with their children, while they, the parents, spent an average of 13 hours a week helping children with schoolwork themselves.
The debate over equity in emergency remote learning during the pandemic has centered on the lack of equipment like computers and hot spots. But access to home support is arguably even more important. A national survey by the advocacy group ParentsTogether found big gaps by income in the ability to access emergency learning. When asked about barriers to children's participation, lower-income families who took the survey were more likely to name issues such as "school resources are too complicated" or "it's hard to get my child to focus" than they were to cite a lack of equipment.
"Never in the modern history of our education system has the importance of family engagement been more apparent," says Alejandro Gibes de Gac, the founder of Springboard Collaborative.
Springboard is a social enterprise that looks at families as the "single greatest resource" for helping struggling readers. In pre-pandemic times, it offered a series of hourlong workshops to family members, mostly in low-income communities, coaching them to set goals and practice specific reading concepts with elementary school-age children. In just five weeks, on average, 3 out of 4 of their participants get to the next reading level or even further. And these strategies work even though one-third of Springboard's parents, grandparents and other relatives are unable to access the text their child is holding, because of language differences, their own literacy gaps, or both.