What might match Biden’s impact on education policy?
District administrators should be paying as much attention to the courts as to the Biden administration in the coming months, says Andrew J. Rotherham, co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education Partners.
Various courts will weigh in on LGBTQ+ issues such as bathroom policy, sports and other matters, Rotherham says.
When it comes to the COVID recovery, Rotherham points out that some students have excelled academically over the last year while many others have made the expected progress. Their continued success as schools reopen could blind policymakers to the true impact of virus has had on students who will need increased and intensive support to bounce back.
“I’m concerned that the snapback from COVID could be fast enough that kids who have been adversely impacted are going to get overlooked,” he said.
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The administration will likely prioritize social supports—such as healthcare, nutrition and the minimum wage—that could put students and families in better places for learning and take some of the burden off schools. “The good news is that the bottom hasn’t fallen out of economy,” Rotherham says. “Some states have a surplus, but a lot of people are out of work.”
Choice, charters and accountability
The anticipated “K-shaped” recovery means that many families will have weathered the economic storm, and even the unemployment rate will stabilize.
However, this will hide just how badly other families will continue to suffer and face housing and food security.
“All that stuff shows up on the doorstep of schools,” Rotherham says.
As for the $130 billion in the latest found of relief funds, schools may face pressure from both parties to assess students to judge whether the money if having a positive impact.
Even in a Congress controlled narrowly by Democrats, there will likely be continued debate and disagreement over issues such as school choice, charter schools and accountability.
He views Education Secretary Miguel Cardona as more pragmatic than political. As Connecticut’s commissioner of education, he felt strongly that schools should try to reopen but he didn’t “browbeat” districts, Rotherham says.
“He listens and tries to find way through,” Rotherham says.
COVID recovery ‘will be a long haul’
Bringing students back to classrooms will take a substantial resources beyond what many districts can marshal on their own, says Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell.
Along with taking health precautions such as PPE and ventilation upgrades, district leaders and teachers will also need substantial assistance in helping students make up lost learning time, she says.
“There’s a recognition that this will be a long haul,” Lake says. “This question of learning loss is not going to go away immediately. The Biden administration, I hope, is thinking about longer term supports and research that it relevant to school districts’ needs.”
Educators will also need help from policymakers in beefing up interventions for students who have fallen behind. One approach gaining momentum is more formalized tutoring services that are embedded into schools and available to students at no cost, she says.
She also hopes lawmakers will provide districts with resources to expand social-emotional supports to students who have been traumatized during the pandemic. This would include facilitating more partnerships with local businesses, healthcare providers and other community organizations
“More than anything, COVID exposed inequities, and rigidities in the system that we knew they were there, but became really problematic in a crisis,” Lake says. “I’m excited when I hear district leaders talk about how we can rebuild in ways that are fundamentally better than what we had before.”
She also says state-testing has a valuable place in COVID recovery. Data showing the impact on students would, for instance, convince voters to support increases in education funding, Lake says.
Test results can also drive district priorities and, if administrators are transparent with the scores, build trust with parents and communities, she says.
“This a good opportunity to make sure we’re doing testing for the right reasons,” Lake says. “I am seeing a lot of states scale back tests to really zero-in on the skills and concepts that kids most need, and so teachers can be sure they’re using their time effectively.
“In some ways, there’s more need than ever for really great assessments.”