What does the K-shaped recovery of educational inequality look like?


Earlier this year, I thought that COVID-19 and the resulting dependence on distance learning will become a catalyst for radical innovation. We are on the brink of change and must innovate. However, in the fall, we realized that we were a stretched department.

Recently, a local reporter called me to ask which school districts have seized the inevitable innovation of the pandemic and transformed it into a large-scale transformation. I don’t have a good answer. I talked endlessly about the potential of Chromebooks and more kids with Internet access, school bus delays, and educational technology, but this was not what she wanted.

Finally, I would like to say that I can point her to some schools that are already on the track of innovation and using the pandemic as an agent for change initiatives.

Just like the K-shaped recovery that economists have been tracking, our education recovery will follow a similar pattern. Although the disruption of private schools is limited, some stable public school districts have used the catalyst of the pandemic to advance personalized learning programs and implement more experimental courses. However, more and more public schools are facing an extreme shortage of naked necessities-bus drivers, food service providers and substitute teachers. These operational obstacles are now bleeding to disrupt teaching.

If the basic needs are not met, it is difficult to carry out thorough innovation.

At a recent baby shower held for local education leaders with the principals and teachers, the conversation quickly turned to the challenges of the new school year. A teacher sharply summarized the theme of returning to school this fall as “grief, stress and connection.”

In Kansas City, most of the partner schools that my organization cooperates with are located in Kansas City, and we have experienced record-breaking school violence in the past two years. The two principals talked about losing many students in just 6 weeks of school, and the need to deploy active shooting training. In a year of such disastrous losses, our school is struggling to deal with the shocking grief.

Then there is the pressure to keep it all together. Despite the shortage of bus drivers/food services/alternatives, and despite the grief, the pressure to show academic achievements against the loss of learning is real. The school is deploying large amounts of ESSER funding to support high-dose tutoring programs and personalized interventions aimed at targeting the broad learning experience that students have experienced in the past two academic years. At the same time, the continuous outbreak of COVID-19 is isolating entire classrooms and grades. Many schools have abandoned their mixed/distance learning model, allowing students to fend for themselves when exposed. Under such inconsistent conditions, how can we accelerate student learning?

Finally-after months of isolation, our students and educators are eager to establish contact. After months of amorphous days, teachers and students are trying to re-adapt to the structured increment of classroom life, and may never be able to adapt well to the complex emotions of entering the classroom. My 6-year-old nephew (who went to homeschool through my mother’s distance learning the year in kindergarten) said very well… “After so long, when will we be able to play?” he asked. How do our educators and students find time to deal with, heal, adapt and reconnect?

Balance progress with compassion

At the end of the conversation with the reporter, she asked: “Then what shall we do next?” I am not sure of the correct answer. What I know is that the full-scale disruptive innovation that we think may happen in the field of education did not arrive this fall. Instead, we are facing a system whose thread-exposed infrastructure has become very obvious. We need to make teaching more sustainable. We need reliable infrastructure to continue to transport and feed children safely. We need some ways to promote more real relationships.

It is very likely that we need an industry liquidation. Providing schools with a more equitable, flexible and sustainable state funding program allows teachers to support the complex issues of entering the classroom. We need to carry out policy reforms that balance the social and emotional well-being of children and their academic growth with their overall academic achievement. We need to invest in research and development so that we can find, review, and expand technology solutions to make the lives of students, parents, and educators easier.

How we research these solutions is the key. It is essential that the innovation process is inclusive and based on the professional knowledge and life experience of educators, students and parents. At my organization LeanLab Education, we focus on measuring and improving educational technology products. The school community we worked with told us about their biggest challenges, we matched them with educational technology products, and the three of us—researchers, developers, and educators—designed a customized study that suits the school environment , And providing their evidence for educators requires wise decisions.

This kind of co-designed innovation may not be as fast as we hoped. This is a process of returning power to educators, parents and students. It may not be as “effective” as top-down reforms, but in order for innovation to be truly sustainable, it needs to incorporate the expertise of those with practical experience. At this moment, we are all trying to balance progress and compassion, but we understand that these goals are not contradictory, they are in harmony. In fact, the only way we can progress now is through compassion.


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