The Rush to Reopen Schools Comes at a Price for Marginalized Students

Some education officials have become so obsessed with getting school buildings back up and running after a natural disaster that they are not taking the time to make sure they are safe for kids to learn in, according to a new report. The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, DC, found that the rush to reopen schools in the aftermath of a storm or other natural disaster has resulted in inadequate safety checks and a lack of planning for students with special needs.

While the (local/municipal) government is quick to re-open schools after the summer break, the facilities are often not ready to receive students. The lack of basic maintenance combined with overcrowding and budget cuts make this a dangerous time for students. Local schools have been criticized for their lack of response to student complaints, and parents are left scrambling to find reliable childcare as their kids head back to school.

As people returned to their jobs, neighborhoods and schools in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, there was one question that loomed large: when would the schools reopen? Within days of the storm, a host of school districts announced plans to reopen as soon as the following week, setting up a debate about the importance of getting back to “normality” versus the importance of getting back to school.. Read more about scholarly articles on covid-19 and education and let us know what you think.word-image-6280 Across the country, more and more voices are calling for schools to reopen, backed by billions of dollars in federal funding to help schools build better. States like California also support these efforts with their own resources. In March, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that makes a total of $2 billion available to California districts to improve at least some of their schools by the beginning of the year. April can open again. But in the rush to meet the April deadline, district leaders resumed work without consulting the community, especially students, parents and BIPOC teachers. This is just one example of how a culture of power and privilege operates, where decisions are made without the input of those who are most affected by those decisions. If we ignore the characteristics of white supremacy that manifest themselves in the decision-making process, those who bear the heaviest burden of those decisions will pay too high a price. Let’s take a closer look at the three ways in which white power and privilege are reflected in institutional decisions.

Emphasis on quantitative rather than qualitative data

In justifying their decisions to reopen schools, education officials point to these estimates as reflecting the expected learning losses during this unprecedented period. However, remotely collected data may be invalid and unreliable. In my district, for example, initial assessment data showed that some students in kindergarten through fifth grade did well because their older siblings had taken the tests or their parents had helped them. Before the pandemic, there were strict rules for standard testing, such as. B. cover the classroom walls, hand over the cell phones, and read aloud the script instructions; however, in the case of remote testing, we do not have control over all of these procedures. It is therefore not possible to collect comparable data. It’s also time to ask why we stick with the same standardized assessments that perpetuate a perception of BIPOCs as inferior and underperforming. For decades, data collected in this way has been used by districts and schools to create a self-fulfilling prophecy about BIPOC children. Low test scores put them in groups with low expectations. All too often, these BIPOC students, who are supposed to be poor performers, are removed from their regular classes to receive education that is not rigorous enough and not relevant enough. This experience robs them of the curiosity and motivation to think critically in school. What’s the problem? In our students? In the measures we use to evaluate their performance? In the solutions educators propose without consulting students and their families? The problem is not our students, I’m sure. As in the past, the data we have collected this year will inform decisions to modify, maintain, or roll back unsuccessful practices to close the gap. All of the assessment data collected in this time of national disaster does not provide a true picture of our students’ learning and what they need to succeed.

Excessive requirements

The current focus on knowledge loss is rooted in a long-standing bias of decision-makers in the dominant culture: a fixation on BIPOC’s shortcomings and a refusal to see our strengths. The nagging mentality that students are not learning or that there is nothing better than full-time education ignores the fact that many BIPOC students do well without daily exposure to implicit teacher bias, microaggressions, and disproportionate discipline. Moreover, the way in which learning loss is calculated is based on the same data that show that there is a long-standing and persistent racial achievement gap that remains unchanged despite years of full-time education. Perhaps we need to look at learning and outcomes in a different way, especially now that the continuity of standardized test data has been interrupted by the pandemic. What if standardized test scores measured the skills gap more accurately than our children’s unique gifts and strengths? What if we used this data to ensure true equality instead of punishing students and their teachers for not meeting the requirements? Worse, this continued fixation on scarcity positions those in power as people who come to BIPOC communities with solutions to problems identified by the leaders, but not necessarily the problems or solutions that are priorities for the community. For example, many districts are promoting poorly designed social-emotional learning (SEL) programs as a ready-made solution to address the impact of the dual crisis of pandemic and racism on the health and well-being of BIPOC students. But LETS isolated from the anti-oppressive, anti-racist lens threatens white supremacy with an embrace, as LiberatED founder Dina Simmons describes it. By failing to provide insight into the diverse and sympathetic voices that Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate proclaim, SEL clearly denies students the vital education that contemporary social movements provide.

False sense of urgency

Let’s be clear: Knowledge loss is not a new phenomenon. In education, every year we see a loss of knowledge after three months of summer vacation. (But recent studies have even questioned the extent to which learning slows or stops, and whether the tests we use to measure learning gains over time provide us with accurate data.) Furthermore, despite any delay rather than a complete halt in the acquisition of academic skills, many pupils make significant learning gains in the areas of empathy, creativity and resilience. We just don’t measure it in standardized tests. So while children develop the empathy, creativity and resilience they need to challenge and improve existing conditions, these skills are of little value in spaces of power and privilege. The mindset that what gets measured gets done leads educators to miss the opportunity to develop more than a limited set of skills. Leaders across the country are using the rhetoric of learning loss to mask their concerns about equity and student success at BIPOC. However, the data on the performance gap between the races confirms that the alarm should have been sounded since the 1980s. Where has that sense of urgency been all these years? Perhaps there is an urgent need to listen to those who have been historically and systematically marginalized in education. The decentralization of power and privilege shifts the discussion to those directly affected by policies and standards. If policymakers and education leaders looked closely at learning outcomes and qualitative indicators during the pandemic, they could confirm real progress for students and their teachers while making changes to reduce historical inequities that will worsen in 2020. Imagine that this year we are replacing traditional tests with surveys of learning outcomes in a contemporary context. These qualitative indicators can give education a human face and bring untold stories to light. It is time for a thorough review of our education policies using reliable and valid data – both qualitative and quantitative – so that we can finally make a meaningful difference for our students. Taking the time to develop realistic proposals to ensure equity, improve student outcomes, and implement culturally responsive pedagogical practices can lead to meaningful change in our schools. I wish we did. Photo by Nattakorn, Adobe Stock license.

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