For more than a century, standardized testing data have been used to measure the success of students, teachers, and schools - and even to mark our global competitiveness or lack thereof. These data have driven significant education policy and funding models at the national and state levels, and school districts devote up to 15 percent of their instructional days each school year to student assessments alone, costing an estimated $1.7 billion each year. The political and financial commitment to standardized testing was born out of good intentions. The incredibly high stakes for students, teachers, and schools that were tied to these data were intended to hold us accountable for educating all children. But the return on these investments is debatable at best. We know now that standardized testing data, when viewed in isolation, represent a limited view of student success and can even mislead us into making discriminatory decisions because of their inherent biases. We know the policies we’ve enforced and the decisions we’ve made based on these data have failed to close persistent achievement disparities across income levels and between white students and students of color, even after 50 years of trying.
School schedules and use of time are one of the few remaining relics of the industrialized learning model. Even when most schools moved to virtual learning in March 2020, many organizations replicated the existing bell schedule and instructed teachers to move their onsite instruction online. The school leaders believed it would hold teachers and students more accountable and create more predictability to help families plan their own schedules. But pre-pandemic, some schools began to look across the systems that were set up and consider more flexible and agile options that were more in tune with designing learning that is more compelling, personalized, and appropriately challenging for their students.
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Virtual schools in the K-12 environment have been a popular topic for discussion for many years. Recently I have noticed an increased level of interest by online charter school leaders, district- or state-run virtual schools, and program leaders in regards to how they can improve their virtual schools. Almost ironically, I also find myself having frequent conversations about virtual school opportunities with brick-and-mortar school leaders. With many school districts adopting blended learning as a major priority
Learning loss is the baby elephant in the room. It’s an issue that is currently small enough to briefly acknowledge, deprioritize, or ignore completely. Yet this elephant will continue to grow as the size and scale of learning loss due to the pandemic is better understood. The vaccine has returned a sense of hope that life will get back to “normal.” But educators must recognize that a return to “normal” will only reinforce the widening opportunity gap and systems that support institutionalized racism. Instead, structural changes will need to be made if learning loss is to truly be addressed. This conversation is critical as schools transition from virtual learning to in-person (and maybe back) this year, and begin planning for the summer and 2021-22 school year.
From North Carolina to California to Alaska, public schools around the United States are planning to preserve a virtual school option for students after the pandemic is over. The constant drumbeat of getting all students back to school as quickly as possible does not tell the whole story of learning in the pandemic. Singing the praises of virtual learning was not something many students, educators, and families would see themselves humming along to twelve months ago. But from the early and draining days, there has been a rhythm and stability that has flourished in expected and unexpected ways.
At the beginning of last week, my colleagues Purvi Patel, Dave Hardy, and I were excited to welcome leaders participating in our inaugural cohort of the Systems of Educational Equity Development (SEED) Fellowship after a well-deserved break and launch the beginning of our INCLUDE sessions.