Today is the beginning of a new educational reality in America.

This morning more than 25 million American students who are enrolled in over 50,000 schools across the country will be staying home, the result of an unprecedented series of closures to slow the spread of COVID-19. As painful and challenging as these school closures will be, we support them. They are a key step in a larger series of societal shifts we must undertake to save potentially hundreds of thousands of American lives.

As the needs of our students shift dramatically this morning and for weeks and months to come, so too must our work as advocates shift to meet them. Make no mistake: In this new era, America’s students need advocates more than ever before.

Triaging the Immediate Needs of Students

Last month, we launched legislative campaigns in state capitols across the country with 43 policy goals. This morning, we are facing a whole new world where school buildings cannot practically meet the needs of students and their families. In this new reality, we will need to answer new questions: How can we provide distance learning opportunities to students, including those who don’t have computers or tablets at home? How do we provide meals for students in need when they don’t attend a local school building? How do we help parents access childcare when we can’t bring students back together in large groups? What kinds of waivers and new flexibilities are necessary to respond quickly to other unanticipated student and family needs that may hinder learning?

To answer these and other urgent questions, we will be leveraging our full network of local leaders in cities and states across the country to come up with practical solutions we can put into place right away.

Transforming How We Provide Education

Most experts estimate that developing a vaccine for COVID-19 will take 12 to 18 months or longer. That means we need to accept school disruptions as a new normal that may not last only weeks or months but continue through much of the year. How do we catch up students who are likely to have fallen months behind in critical subjects? How can we create a new, more flexible approach to learning that doesn’t require all students to be in-person for 180 days of schooling? What kind of training and support will parents and teachers need to thrive in this new environment? What kind of accountability systems can properly capture all the learning that will happen outside of the traditional school walls? What direct support should we provide to families who either can’t send their kids back to school or decide not to do so?

Our aim is to answer these and other questions about the transformation of learning through a comprehensive blueprint that our advocates can use in every city and state in the 50CAN network.

Advocating in an Era of Social Distance

As the need for educational advocacy increases, so to do the challenges of change-making at a time when the traditional tools of in-person advocacy are no longer possible. Last month, we launched our leadership goal of training over 1,500 advocates and helping them emerge as strong local leaders for change. Starting today, we are committing to rewrite the playbook to create new ways to advocate in an environment that requires social distance. The ambitious goal: move the entire 50CAN advocacy playbook–trainings, events, mobilizations and more–online.

We know that we can’t tackle these historic challenges alone. That’s why we are inviting you and our other trusted partners across the worlds of education, advocacy and philanthropy to work with us to rise to this challenge together.

To support a new wave of collaboration, we are launching a weekly email focused on how we can better support students in this new era, creating a new section of our website to serve as a clearinghouse of ideas for local advocates, and hosting a monthly series of virtual seminars for local advocates to share how they are responding with others across the country.

Together, we can rise to this challenge, meet the new needs of education in America and reemerge even stronger than before.

Watch 50CAN CEO Marc Porter Magee on “The Bottom Line” on Al Jazeera address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our nation’s K-12 schools.

Marc Porter Magee Ph.D is the CEO and founder of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.


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