The effects of COVID-19 are being felt by literally everyone in the country. Markets, economies, businesses, and everyday lives have all been upended as people across the country try to figure out just how to cope. The education of our children is also being dramatically impacted and it’s not too early to begin thinking about how Louisiana will respond in the uncharted territory we now find ourselves in.
In a somewhat ironic way, the COVID-19 outbreak is forcing us all to think about the education of our children in ways we might not have before. Yes, we know it’s important, and yes, we know it’s the foundation of our children’s future. But is it also something we inadvertently take for granted?
The closure of Louisiana’s public and private schools sent more than 800,000 children home at a time when parents weren’t expecting it and certainly were not prepared. It’s true that many of those parents are also at home, sheltering-in-place with their kids. But many parents are still working outside the home in jobs that require them to be there and that presents difficulties that can be tough to overcome.
Even parents staying at home with their kids are finding that now they’re not just moms and dads, but teachers, too. It’s not just helping them with homework anymore, it’s teaching the course and scouring the Internet to find other enriching educational resources to help make it through the day. It’s also a reminder of the difficult job our teachers do every day and a cause to appreciate what they do all the more.
But even if many children are not losing much in the way of instructional time, they’re losing social time that is also important to their development. And though athletics, band, and extracurricular activities might not be the most important part of going to school, their absence is felt and the critical role our schools play within the fabric of our communities becomes more clear.
Of course, for many kids, the closure of our schools is more devastating. In Louisiana hundreds of thousands of students come from economically disadvantaged families. We know that these children in high-poverty schools often struggle as it is. Being at home doesn’t help. Their families lack the resources others have to engage in online learning and often their parents themselves lack the education to provide the instruction they know their children need. We knew we had a digital divide in our state before. Now it’s staring us in the face.
We should also remember that many children in Louisiana go to school not only to learn, but also to get a nutritious meal or two in an environment that is safe and nurturing. This, too, has been disrupted and its impacts shouldn’t be underestimated.
All of which is to say that the moment we are in right now is a critical one for the long-term educational development of hundreds of thousands of children in Louisiana. While it is true our state has been through disasters before and we have experience dealing with educational disruptions, this one is different.
Usually, the disasters are geographically isolated. They impact many children, but not all children. And our hurricane season usually reaches its peak in the summer and early fall. That means when students start the school year they’re pretty much where we expect them to be, and even if schools are closed for a time, instruction can often continue in other settings or on other schedules, and students have an entire school year to catch up.
The current situation is much different. It’s looking less likely that schools will reopen their doors this school year. We know that some degree of learning loss normally occurs during the summer months when school is out. But when you add that to the loss of roughly nine weeks of instructional time in the classroom, you’re looking at the likelihood that most of our students will return to school in the fall significantly behind where they would normally be.
At the same time, because of the pause in year-end testing, we as parents and taxpayers won’t know where our students stand in their educational progress, and our accountability system as well as the various processes that seek to help our most vulnerable students will have been disrupted. All these factors combine to create a situation with significant educational consequences for hundreds of thousands of our children.
There are no easy answers to this problem. Perhaps we can shorten the summer break to allow students to catch up on what they missed, or extend the school day once they come back in the fall, or have more teachers stay in touch with students during the breaks by telephone.
Whatever the case, we must come to grips with the fact that no matter the crisis COVID-19 is causing in terms of our health and our economy, it’s every bit as impactful when it comes to the education of our children.
And just as we have to be “in-it-to-win-it” in combating the virus, we need to have the same resolve in educating our children. We already ask our teachers, schools, and districts to do heroic things on a daily basis. This will require even more – nothing less than a rescue mission for many of our kids. Beyond protecting their lives and health, nothing else could be more important to their future.
Addressing the problem will require a mixture of innovation and mission-driven perseverance unlike we have seen in our schools in recent memory. We may not be able to “rescue” every student. But we have to be aware of this very pressing problem. And we have to try.
Note: As mentioned above, much has changed in public education because of COVID-19. This includes some significant policies that have been waived or paused. While we understand the need to take such actions at this critical time, they should only be temporary. We know there will be efforts to weaken those policies when this crisis is over. CABL will closely monitor these issues and work to ensure that the strong policies we have championed for accountability, transparency, and improving student performance are restored with fidelity at the appropriate time.