And how can we influence the outcome?
This article written by Thomas Arnett takes a closer look at what options we have when it comes to saving what is left of the school year after several closedowns, yet again. It is a topic that is most concerning these days. We might well be looking for a magic wand here, and of course, these are unchartered territories. Senior students in high school in Norway have experienced lockdown and digital school on and off for 3 years now. It is unfair to think that teachers can miraculously make up for lost time, compensate for months of digital teaching, and the hardship of students struggling with isolation.
What I like in this article is to use federal funding not only for tutoring, but to create more innovative instructional models. He suggests this is the time for new startup versions of school. Like what we are doing in my district; offering school for students who struggle with attending regular school, by offering an alternative in a familiar environment outside the original school building. If we want to try we need to make a better/different system. No teacher can do this on their own.
What we are facing now:
Students have come back with gaps in their learning from a year of hit-and-miss remote instruction; they’re missing school periodically due to quarantines; and they’re bringing social and emotional challenges with them that, even in the best of circumstances, make it hard to focus on school and, in the worst cases, are contributing to increased incidents of school violence. On top of that, many schools are short-staffed, leaving added burdens to fall to the shoulders of the staff who remain. Additionally, a notable proportion of students haven’t come back, a trend which, if it persists, looms as a major toll on school budgets once the cushion of federal aid runs out.
In the near term, the best answers to ensure students access quality instruction and support may be in what many schools are already doing: using federal aid to offer high-dosage tutoring and SEL supports, and then hoping that the pandemic challenges will subside sooner rather than later. Going one step beyond tutoring, schools could also opt for bolder, innovative instructional models that have the potential to really put a dent in learning gaps while also giving students the flexibility and support they need. For instance, some could shift to mastery-based learning and individualized pacing so as to give every student a custom-tailored path to academic success. Or adopt flexible learning pathways that keep students engaged whether at school or at home and allow them to pick up wherever they last left off if life momentarily gets in the way of learning. Additionally, instructional models that provide more time for fostering supportive relationships, but not at the expense of learning, could gain traction.
Programs like these are already up and running in schools like Map Academy, Village High School, Innovations Early College High School, and Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy. The problem is, replicating what they do and transplanting it in schools across the country is no easy matter. There’s no simple formula for change management that reliably and successfully overhauls the grammar of conventional schools. In short, there are no silver bullets.
Asking existing schools to innovate on top of their present challenges is almost sure to fail because no one has the time or energy to innovate on top of what they’re already doing, and no one has the patience to fail forward when the stakes seem so high. Right now, when things are on fire, adding to schools’ plates the idea that they should be innovating and experimenting just isn’t going to work.
Nonetheless, now is the time for school districts to start creating programs that will become the schools of the future that students (and the future economy) need.
Gilbert’s research suggests that districts should use their federal funds to incubate new startup versions of school—such as micro-schools or virtual schools offered at in-person learning hubs—that can reframe threats as opportunities.