We are now in the tenth week of our new education reality. Normally, this time of year would be when many of the advocacy campaigns in our network were headed towards the home stretch of their legislative sessions. This year, a whole new wave of advocacy campaigns has just begun.
We can’t predict what the upcoming school year will be like but we can work right now to adapt our school systems to be more responsive to families’ needs and more resilient in the face of the inevitable challenges to come. That’s what our advocacy campaigns–and new goals–are all about.
Last week, we spotlighted an important win by NewMexicoKidsCAN to make it much easier for families to get meals for their kids and looked at how our campaigns are working with local leaders to prepare for the coming fiscal crisis.
This week, we focus on how Denver’s Transform Education Now worked with parent advocates to make the district’s virtual instruction plans more accessible to all families and how this crisis has created inequities in distance learning that must be named in order to be solved.
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Put the Public Back in Public Education
“The first week of the school closure our phones were ringing off the hook,” Ariel Smith, the co-executive director of Colorado’s Transform Education Now shared in a new video interview. “Families had a lot of concerns and fears about what it would feel like to do remote learning and how to support their students.”
Together with her co-ED Nicholas Martinez, she got to work on a plan to help ensure that the way distance learning happened in Denver worked for the families she served. The result was an advocacy campaign to ensure that all direct instruction from the district was recorded so it would work for all families’ schedules. Last week the district agreed to the plan, giving the members of TEN an important win for their families.
As former classroom teachers in Denver who now work together as advocates for families, Nicholas Martinez and Ariel Smith see this victory as part of a larger shift in education where parents are treated like equal partners with teachers to direct their childrens’ educational paths.
Parents “are closer to their child’s education experience than ever before and they are asking all of the right questions,” Martinez shared in our interview. “They are having conversations with their own family, their brothers, their sisters, their neighbors who are stuck in the same situation… I think we have a better chance to be very, very effective because this is on the forefront of people’s minds right now.”
- The task this week is to help parents raise their voices for the changes they need to see to make distance learning work for all families, and to use these advocacy efforts to bring parent voices to the forefront in conversations about the future of public education.
Don’t Explain Away the Inequities in Distance Learning, Solve Them
Nikole Hannah-Jones, best known for her work on the The New York Times’ 1619 Project, sparked an online backlash last week when she observed that “It was understandable in March why children with internet access weren’t getting virtual instruction. It was new, teachers had to figure it out. But we are nearly two months in and school is in session even if the buildings are closed. There is no excuse why teachers cannot be offering some virtual instruction during the school day.”
As Alexander Russo wrote in an excellent piece for The Grade that examines the pushback Hannah-Jones experienced, “The honeymoon period for remote learning is not over at all… it goes on and on… Hannah-Jones reminded us that, first and foremost, education journalism should be focused on the welfare of students.”
Fellow New York Times journalist Dana Goldstein explored these new challenges by spotlighting the stories of two schools: one private and one public. Goldstein explains that while there are key differences in the capacity of families in the two schools to support distance learning, there are also differences in the adaptability of the schools to this new form of teaching: “private school teachers are generally not unionized, giving their employers more leverage in laying out demands for remote work. Some public school unions have won strict limits on video-teaching requirements.”
Indeed, the latest survey data from the Center for Reinventing Public Education reveals that one-third of public school districts “still do not set consistent expectations for teachers to provide meaningful remote instruction.”
The result, Goldstein explains, is that “the coronavirus pandemic has done nothing to level the playing field of American education, and instead has widened the gaps that have always existed.”
- The task this week is to continue to shine a spotlight on the inequalities across our education system and to work with public officials to put forward plans to solve them.
“Let’s solve two problems at once,” HawaiiKidsCAN executive director David Miyashiro told local television station KHON2 News about his team’s new program WiFi on Wheels, “We got these buses, let’s put some WiFi routers on them, let’s drive them out to populated areas that we know don’t have WiFi and just allow free access for families so they can access the digital learning that they need, if they need to do telehealth appointments, if they need to reconnect with loved ones.” The program is one of the new goals that HawaiiKidsCAN released two weeks ago with a focus on ensuring that every Hawaiian student has equitable access to the technology and connectivity necessary for distance learning.
Across the country, our local teams are focused on serving as an essential link between parents and legislators. ConnCAN partnered with state legislators from the Connecticut Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and families from across the state to explore the disparities in the state’s response to the pandemic. GeorgiaCAN hosted a virtual conversation with Dr. Danielle Stewart to talk about college prep in an era of distance learning and will be hosting an event on May 19th to provide families a chance to connect with state legislator Valencia Stovall. New MexicoKidsCAN’s Amanda Aragon is championing student and parent voice in a web series about education in New Mexico. And in Denver, Transform Education Now co-executive director Nicholas Martinez penned a column about the importance of standards and accountability during this crisis.
- Bellwether Education Partners released a new resource to assist education leaders in preparing plans that cover three potential scenarios: reopened school buildings, continued distance learning, or a hybrid approach that blends the two.
- Chiefs for Change and Johns Hopkins University released new recommendations for reopening K-12 schools that include extending the school year for 2020-2021 and moving to an innovative staffing model of master and supporting teachers.
- Excel in Ed released a new survey of state education leaders. Among the findings is an important trend: support for letting local districts determine when or if they will reopen.
- The Texas Education Agency released a free assessment tool that will allow parents and schools to diagnose how much their students learned this year and to help educators address learning loss.
- The US Senate held hearings on reopening school buildings and getting back to work.
- The National Parents Union conducted a poll of parents. A key finding: two-thirds support keeping schools closed until the public health risk has dissipated.
- Success Academy Charter Schools released six weeks of K-2 Learning Plans.
- 50CAN’s Jonathan Nikkila and Our Turn Action Network’s Christian Esperias continued their webinar series Election Essentials on political advocacy during the pandemic. The series continues every Wednesday. Past sessions can be viewed here and you can RSVP for future sessions here.
- The American Federation for Children, in conjunction with RealClear OpinionResearch, conducted a national poll with surprising findings: 40% of families are more likely to homeschool after school buildings reopen.
- Teach Like a Champion has honed in on a best practice for engaging students in distance learning: “dissolving the screen.”
- Sara Kerr and Paige Kowalski write for EdWeek on the five most pressing questions that education researchers can answer right now.
- For The 74 Million, Meghan Gallagher shares photos from around the world of what schools look like in other countries where buildings have reopened.
“I want to change my teaching to 5G teaching,” Retha Jenkins, a public school teacher and parent advocate in Denver who works closely with Transform Education Now, says with a smile on her face. For Retha, it isn’t enough to simply ensure that her students are utilizing the virtual learning platforms to master math standards. She wants her teaching to be so effective that students will be able to take their ideas and build the virtual learning platforms of the future.