Teachers unions set 5 priorities for post-COVID success

The way forward starts with diagnosing student well-being and academic success, AFT and NEA say
By: | March 9, 2021
National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers had laid out a new roadmap for supporting students academically, socially, and emotionally post-COVID. (AdobeStock/Rido) National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers had laid out a new roadmap for supporting students academically, socially, and emotionally post-COVID. (AdobeStock/Rido)

A powerful response to COVID’s disruptions presents the nation with an opportunity to recreate schools, a pair of teachers’ unions say in their roadmap for post-pandemic education.

Learning Beyond Covid-19, A Vision for Thriving in Public Education,” released Tuesday by the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, sets five major strategies for supporting students academically, socially, and emotionally, leaders of the unions say.

“It is our mission to demand stronger public schools and more opportunities for all students—Black and white, Native and newcomer, Hispanic and Asian alike,” NEA President Becky Pringle said in a statement. “And we must support the whole learner through social, emotional and academic development.”

The report, a month in the making, has been shared with Education Security Miguel Cardona. Here are the unions’ five priorities:

1. Diagnosing student well-being and academic success: Alternatives to high-stakes, standardized tests and  other mechanisms—including community surveys and town halls—can more effectively diagnose the academic and social-emotional needs of students.

Two models are the New York Performance Standards Consortium and the New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment of Competency Education.

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Administrators should also add and expand school-based student mental health screenings and administer school climate surveys regularly.

2. Meeting the needs of our most underserved students: To bring high-quality learning to the highest-needs students, districts must focus on  recruiting and retaining “substantially more specialized” instructional support personnel such as therapists, counselors, speech-language pathologists, school psychologists, behavioral specialists and school nurses.

Professional development must prepare teachers to build on English-language learners’ strengths in their home language to advance in core academic subjects.

Administrators must also work to provide the highest-need and most vulnerable students with a maximum amount of one-on-one instruction and additional tutoring support.

3. Learning, enrichment and reconnection for this summer and beyond: Increased staffing would allow districts to make the abundant use of small-group learning and personalized instruction the norms.

Social distancing has required schools to shrink class sizes, and the unions hope federal and states will provide the funding and other resources to maintain smaller classes.

School will also need flexibility to adapt programming, including schedules, transportation and meals, as more students return to schools.

4. Professional excellence for learning and growth: Federal funding should incentivize teachers and administrators to collaborate on professional development priorities.

This funding should also support job-embedded professional learning that centers student success, equity, and racial and social justice.

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Administrators should also work to differentiate professional learning based on student and school quality data.

5. An education system that centers equity and excellence: Pathways into teaching need to be expanded and incentivized with approaches modeled on apprenticeship programs operated by industrial and trade unions in other professions.

For example, unpaid internships—such as student teaching —could become union-facilitated apprenticeship programs that are fairly compensated.

Opening more community schools could address racial, social and economic injustices. The Community Schools Playbook offers a guidelines for engaging families and community members.

“As vaccine access and effectiveness suggest the end is in sight,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said, “it is incumbent on us to not only plan our recovery, but to reimagine public schooling so our children, families and educators can thrive.