AFT president Weingarten calls for full school reopening this fall
The U.S. education system should reopen fully this fall with an aggressive commitment to health, safety and equity, AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a speech Thursday that ranged from COVID to standardized testing to teaching shortages.
AFT union members in several cities will go door-to-door to encourage families to send children back to classrooms, Weingarten said.
“We can and we must reopen schools in the fall for in-person teaching, learning and support, and we must keep them open fully and safely, five days a week,” she said.
The full return to classrooms should also bring together educators, administrators, families and communities to bring about a renaissance in instruction and student support, Weingarten said..
“As much as we want to feel normal again, we can do better than the old normal,” she said. “We don’t have to accept vast inequality, chronic underfunding and narrow test-based accountability systems. We have a rare opportunity to reimagine public schools in America and pursue bold initiatives that will help all our kids thrive.”
These initiatives would include enhanced science and civics instructions, stronger college-and-career pathways and project-based learning that’s driven by students’ interests, she said.
Moving forward, best practices in safety and teaching can be aligned, she said.
For instance, three feet of social distancing relies on smaller classes in which student learning and behavior improve, and teacher retention is higher, she said.
She encouraged administrators to work through the summer to find sufficient space in their buldings.
To sustain the confidence in teachers and families, schools should also continue to strictly CDC guidance on mask-wearing, ventilation and sanitization.
She suggested that all schools form a safety committee comprising educators, administrators and parents to conduct regular safety assessments of buildings.
And to cope with learning loss, she urged administrators to start with summer programs that combine academic work with enrichment that allows students to rebuild relationships and explore new interests.
Teachers and testing
Two priorities should be rebuilding the teaching corps and changing how students are assessed.
She questioned whether there is truly a shortage of people eager to enter the profession or whether there’s a shortage of funding and respect for teachers.
She also called on U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to form a task force to determine how to best measure students’ skills beyond standardized tests.
“The U.S. must do what we’ve never done in our wonderfully diverse society, and fully enable all children to reach their heights,” she said. “We can seed a renaissance in American public schools that will change young people’s lives and change the course of our country.”