Submitted by Ashley Radder-Renter on Wed, 06/24/2020 - 12:39
<span id="hs_cos_wrapper_name" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_meta_field hs_cos_wrapper_type_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="meta_field" data-hs-cos-type="text" >COVID-19 A Wake-Up Call For Equity in Education</span>

COVID-19 A Wake-Up Call For Equity in Education

The United States is often dubbed the greatest country in the world. Despite this, our great nation is battling injustice and inequities. It is important now more than ever for our society to rise and confront long-standing inequities in our nation and our schools. We need effective leadership through quality leadership so we can thrive. Although we have made progress, people in this country are still carrying around fear, anxiety, and even worse, harsh realities of the recent events occurring in our communities, schools, and the country as a whole. This is our nation’s wake up call. Most of the country has been forced or strongly encouraged to remain inside of their homes during the past 3 months due to the effects of a global pandemic with no end in sight. Many are finding themselves thinking about young children who are growing up in an era of mass school shootings, bullying, discrimination and prejudices and now living through COVID-19. Our youth have experienced their school lessons being cut short, unfinished projects abandoned, conversations left pending, graduations canceled, and once in a lifetime experiences stolen. However, these recent unprecedented times have given rise to many facets of inequity in education that can be evaluated, contemplated, and addressed now. Out of this crisis, a new age in education can be ushered in if we are intentional about learning from our past.

Social Distancing Creates Equity Issues in America

Even during a global crisis social distancing has created equity issues. Social distancing does not look the same for one and all. Many children are growing up in a loving and nurturing home and are enjoying social distancing with ease. Many children are at risk of suffering increased abuse, and violence at home now that they are in the constant presence of those who are abusing them. Many children are living in small homes that leave little room for them to do anything without the constant distraction of relatives, siblings, or others who may also be living in the same home using the same computer. This may result in frustration from not having any personal space. On the other hand, some children are home all alone if their caregivers are not able to work from home. Many students are homeless and do not have a place to call home or remain safely within a home. Some kids fear distance learning or remote learning because they do not have the technology or the resources to participate, or they may feel alienated or embarrassed about where they live and discouraged from participating out of fear of being made fun of or bullied. All of these situations can be problematic and have challenges that affect learning opportunities. These are just a few of many examples that can create a greater achievement gap in our nation and our schools. In reality, however, these issues did not just pop up, they are existing issues brought to the surface as a result of the pandemic. More effective leadership is needed and a greater focus on equity needs to exist to make this country stronger and more adaptive and inclusive. Without being intentional about addressing these societal issues, these equity issues will not just “magically disappear”. As Americans, we need to wake up and be more effective and deliberate about making changes that will support and benefit students from all walks of life.

Looking in the Mirror

Failure leads to success. As of now, we do not have a vaccine for the novel coronavirus outbreak. Many parts of the world and the county are seeing significant spikes in confirmed cases and the continuation of loss of life as a result of the virus and we are still in the first wave. Experts predict that a second wave is on the way and can prove to me more catoptric than the first wave. This means that a band-aid approach will not work. What we have tried over the past few months has been experimental and reactionary. This is an era of unprecedented times and has called for unprecedented measures. There are a lot of unknowns and many things that we do not have in place. however, what we do have is the opportunity to learn from this pandemic and the ability to choose to become less ignorant, more resilient, and more effective with many of our practices, especially those involving equity. The pandemic is allowing us to look in the mirror as a society and to magnify the inequity in our society and our school systems. It’s time to rise and take action in the fight that we all have allowed to exist. Districts across the country harrowing over closing schools for far longer than they should have because officials and leadership teams needed to face an ethical dilemma: Put millions of children out on the streets, (since many students depend on schools not only for education but also for food, shelter, and basic supports), or risk greater infections and possibility of uncertain death for those who may contract the virus while at school. Closing schools presented a very real challenge for districts nationally. In hindsight, this is something that no one was prepared for yet many people should have expected to some degree and had a plan in place. We have plans in place for tornados, hurricanes, bombings and now, many districts have mass shooter plans. Why did we not have a plan in place for a widespread pandemic? This should be an area of concern for everyone. Every school should have a committee in place to evaluate equity to ensure that all children have equitable access to thrive in every classroom across America regardless of a national/ global crisis. Now is the time to be successful and to change our thinking.

The good news is many districts and schools came up with quick reactionary plans. The bad news is it took a pandemic for changes to be deemed necessary. Moreover, children’s safe havens and the opportunities for academic, social, and emotional learning remain difficult to provide. Some districts have provided children with computers and tablets, but there are still far too many students without the necessary tools for distance learning, including reliable internet service. For many communities where the majority of people live at or below the poverty level having internet access is a luxury that most can not afford. For those living in remote locations, the cost of the internet is enormous and the service is slow and glitchy. For educational equity to be effective, partnerships must exist between people and entities inside and outside of the school therefore, we need to do better to close the gap highlighted by this pandemic. An example of this is the internet and phone providers partnering with schools to provide better access to those in remote locations or areas experiencing widespread outages not just during this crisis but making the cost of internet, wifi, and cellular services more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Another example of this is the partnership between educators and caregivers. While in the midst of the pandemic, there is a greater need for educators to build stronger relationships with parents. However, the strong relationship between caregiver and educator should have always been there. Due to other priorities outside of the pandemic, relationship building often takes a backseat on the priority list. Now the focus is beginning to shift toward how we can make partnerships such as educators/ caregivers and other entities a priority so that content and school resources are more accessible for everyone. Unfortunately, even with increased support for families and caregivers during times like this and into the future, not all children are capable of online learning in particular students with disabilities and for some those with language barriers or those who are not meeting grade-level requirements. Therefore, as we begin to take a deeper look into distance learning opportunities that will be suitable for all types of learners, we must also look at a variety of methods that will engage learners, and allow all students to be successful. It does not appear that one method or model will work and so schools and leadership must continue to seek creative and innovative solutions. Also, educators must seek to include social and emotional resources for managing feelings, as well as giving families the forum to express their feelings and ways to decline activities or assignments that create additional strain for families without penalty and with the ability to still participate and learn the same content.

What About Now?

Amid this crisis in the year 2020 with the abundance of technological improvements in the great country of the United States, we should not have had to wait for a pandemic to make efforts to provide all children with what they need to thrive in and out of school. School leadership should reflect on why there hasn’t been a significant investment in young people's educational resources and access before and even now and look for a resolution to fill this gap. Furthermore, schools need to significantly discuss and find a way to allocate resources to invest more in science and technology programs that could result in additional advancements and a better-prepared generation. Also, we need to seek out more effective educators and invest more in equity programs. We must ask and we must continue to ask until we can close these gaps. Another equity issue to note is that not all families and children have adequate access to resources such as writing and art supplies at home and also in children's classrooms. We need to boost our partnerships with others in this nation to ensure that every child has what they need to be at their best.

In addition to the Covid-19 pandemic, there have also been many protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement that began in 2013. This movement gained significant momentum including international attention and support recently during the Covid19 crisis following George Floyd’s death. From an educational standpoint, we continue to see unjust and inequities in schools across America, especially in under-resourced, understaffed schools. There are far too many classrooms not equipped with effective educators and certainly not enough educators teaching in classrooms without embracing diversity and fostering culturally inclusive classrooms. Educators, parents, and school leaders need to advocate more for equitable resources for every school so that every child has an equal opportunity to thrive. Culture plays a pivotal role in student achievement because the culture is a method by which people build their identity. Culture can influence how we engage with the world and the perspectives that we have and the expectations we accept. As educators, the goal should be to ensure that all children’s identities are protected, understood, and respected. We need more advocacy in our schools to close the gaps in the many practices that are sensitive and accepting of differences.

There are far too many classrooms primarily within inner cities where the majority of the student population is of color and the educator is caucasian. There are far too many students who have become the target of racial bullying within our schools, all to grow up and see racial disparities throughout the world. Nothing is being done or said about what is going on within our schools, it is being swept under the rug and not addressed. Schools across America need to stop and change policies and procedures that indirectly or directly discriminate against others. Furthermore, eliminate policies and procedures that take away a person’s individuality or cultural heritage for reasons other than those that prevent learning. Anti Bullying and Zero Tolerance policies are not nearly as effective as they are designed to be. Even just one occurrence is one too many. To highlight just one of many recent examples DeAndre Arnold faced in-school suspension and the threat of not being allowed to participate in graduation activities when he failed to cut off his long dreadlocks. While we are pausing to figure out what can be done to make schools safe for children and educators to return or seeking out alternative measures if we cannot return for a significant amount of time; we also need to pause and take a deep look into all areas of the educational system that are unfair and unsafe.

What About Standardized Testing?

Proponents of standardized testing have been arguing the validity and fairness of systematic testing for years based on longstanding bias against lower-income students, students with disabilities, and students of color. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, we are seeing schools push back on Standardized testing more than ever before and for the first time, we are seeing some schools receiving a temporary waiver for standardized exams such as the SAT and the ACT. In California, some universities are even dropping SAT and ACT scores from admissions indefinitely. The pandemic has become the catalyst that could dismantle an ineffective and unfair system and bring an end to an obsession with standardized tests. This would allow educators the time to focus more on social-emotional learning, social studies, sciences, and areas not focused on as much due to standardized testing. As educators, while the world is changing, we need to continue to advocate for the option not to participate in high stakes testing. We need to pursue alternatives that will make evaluating student progress and preparedness fair for all children and young adults. Now is the time to rally for change.

What Are We Learning During Covid-19?

One thing is for certain, the Covid-19 pandemic and recent life-changing events like Geroge Floyd’s death that prompted massive civil rights protests and widespread attention in support of ending civil injustice is forcing schools and educators to contemplate many new ways to operate and function. Before the age of technology, we were able to engineer, pioneer, adapt, and heal as we have seen throughout history. However now in the age of technology, we must persevere and learn from our past. We must take advantage of the technology and resources available that will allow our nation to rise ahead and heal. There is much that can be learned when we pause and take time to reflect on what will make each of us better, more effective, and stronger. We must all stop and reflect on what is important now. What can we learn from this pandemic that will shape how we learn and grow in the future? What will this pandemic force you to change? Now is time to start thinking about what a new “normal” can mean for you and what it can mean for the children we are leading into the future. Now is the time to think critically about what we need to improve upon to better engage our families and our students and how to make learning more equitable for everyone. What will it cost us to become more deliberate each day about human connection, human decency, and goodness and more purposeful about ensuring all children have equitable access to educational opportunities? What can we do to build bridges and partnerships with businesses and organizations to assist schools to educate all youth year-round and not only during periods of crisis? This pandemic has the potential to be an equity check for your community and your school. Imagine if all children had an equitable education? This is the perfect opportunity to create a vision for where the world can be in 10 -20 years from now if everyone valued equity in education. This is a wake-up call for all policymakers, distinct officials, and political leaders to use this pandemic as a tool to fix broken systems and to become more effective.

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