The Impending Impacts of COVID-19 on American Public Education
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the entire landscape of public education in America. Public education, for the sake of this writing, includes Kindergarten through 12th grade and beyond. Despite the wide spectrum of public education, there is an enormous decrease in available opportunities in which to engage in a direct, traditional method of learning and interpersonal communication.
The gripping effects of COVID-19 on public education intensified by political polarization. Political polarization, waging between progressive left and conservative right, nearly eliminated a focus on preparing minds for the present and future. Due to this polarization, the global COVID-19 pandemic instilled lethargic complacency and the initiative to develop individual educational journeys toward independent, in-depth critical thinking. Interactive learning has inevitably become the required new normal in most states, being conducted via Canvas, Google Classroom, Zoom and Blackboard.
As a school professional who provides support for students in special education, I have witnessed the devastation on landscape of public education at first hand. Furthermore, disheartening concerns are guised below as sub-areas that must be addressed in order to combat deeper regression:
- Accountability. Lacking accountability of individual scholars about their own educational journey has substantially increased.
- Social-Emotional Awareness. The deficit of social-emotional development has evinced a sheer disparity of mores and social skills.
- Family Dynamics. Although the institution of family in America is cross-contextual and not monolithic, it cannot be excluded from the equation of impact.
- Economic Equity. Please notice that the term “equality” is not used here. In this context, equity refers to the pool of resources at disposal.
- Political Establishment. To be clear, the political establishment involves everyone — administrators, stakeholders, policymakers and the general population at large.
Accountability is subjective. In this sense, accountability proves that a responsibility has been met. Research from the Economic Policy Institute suggests that chronic absenteeism in students who are on remote learning indicates the urgency of “providing appropriate support to children who are least prepared and especially to those at risk of becoming disengaged and eventually dropping out”. Accountability applies to students, teachers and parents. Consistent dialogue and one-on-one presence — even virtually — is integral to building relationship which employs accountability as the super-power, uniting action that results from proactive communication.
An article by Education Week posits that anxiety has caused a great loss of learning retention among students. Social-emotional awareness has been almost fully nonexistent. The prevalence of SEL can easily be swept under the rug and not prioritized by administrators and teachers alike. For example, small group interventions and individual check-ins can be facilitated virtually. Establishing a consistent rhythm of support is instrumental in securing the success of the whole student. Elementary, middle and high schools, teachers, support staff, and administration must collaborate to develop a culture of motivation. Yet, students and staff must assume ownership for how they endeavor their social and emotional involvement.
The institution of the American family, as we know it, has shifted altogether, compared to the 19th and 20th century. In terms of family dynamics, K-12 students are more directly impacted by this element. Most, if not, some parents have either been laid off from employment or have involuntarily had cut eligible working hours by their employer. Therefore, this element contains a two-fold dilemma: 1) more parents have more time to support their scholars on remote learning; 2) the need of accountability to families has increased tremendously. According to an article from the Pew Research Center, the percentage of working mothers and fathers during COVID-19 grew at a rate of 5% from September 2019 to September 2020. When accommodating the element, there is no “easy bake, quick-fix” solution.
Equality is not the same as equality. Equality measures the amount of available and accessible resources. Equity is the representational voice of a collective community or culture. A higher trend of the number of families facing unemployment, and thus homelessness, has gradually squandered the pool of resources for the working-class. Until public education occupies a position in the top priorities of the United States, economic equity contingent on the capacity of opportunities and resources will continue to be problematic.
Regardless of political affiliation or persuasion, public education has been a highly sensitive, hot-button issue. Everyone is involved, has invested and/or invoked an aspect of political establishment. We have, in some cases, voted for or against amendments and policies, showing up school board meeting attendance and upholding student-centered advocacy. Unequivocally, obstructionist politics has monetized the affairs, operations and mission of public education in America. Decreased capacities of future education funds are likely due to the change of delivery methods, as stated in an article by The Hill. Obstructionist politics is shown in the downsizing and elimination of necessary student resources in order to fully thrive.
In the grand scheme of public education, COVID-19, and societal makeup, a complexity of cause and effect must be acknowledged. We all must be held accountable — educators, parents, students and the general populace play a vital, inevitable role in the shaping process of public education. How we lend our prowess and advocacy to raise concerns will determine the trajectory of future leaders and thinkers.