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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Now Is the Time to Address Education’s ‘Most Pressing Equity Issues’

By Larry Ferlazzo — August 06, 2020 6 min read
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(This is the final post in a multipart series that began last month. You can see Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here. and Part Four here.)

Today’s question is:

What will our schools like look in the fall (or What should they look like)?

Dr. PJ Caposey, a district superintendent, shared his thoughts in Part One.

In Part Two, Lorie Barber, Cathleen Beachboard, Manuel Rustin, and Jeffrey Garrett offered their responses (Manuel and Jeffrey’s comments were presented via video from their must-watch video series All Of The Above).

In Part Three, Sarah Said and Holly Spinelli described how they saw the future.

In Part Four, Wendi Pillars, Mary K. Tedrow, Dr. Elvis Epps, and Mike Anderson contribute their commentaries.

Today, David E. DeMatthews and Terri N. Watson offer their thoughts.

You might also be interested in All Classroom Q&A Posts on the Coronavirus Crisis as well as The Best Posts Predicting What Schools Will Look Like In the Fall.

“Reimagine education”

David E. DeMatthews is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin. Previously, he has worked with urban districts as a high school teacher, middle school administrator, and district administrator.

Terri N. Watson is an associate professor in the Department of Leadership and Human Development at the City College of New York. She will spend the 2020-21 academic year as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University at Buffalo’s Center for Diversity Innovation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has schools working to safely reopen, which we believe is a fool’s errand considering the rising rates of community transmission and the likelihood that many schools will quickly reclose as students, educators, and staff get sick. The time and resources spent preparing, opening, and reclosing schools could be better spent rethinking how public education operates in districts across the nation.

The modern public school district was established partly to assimilate large populations of immigrant children and to prepare children for their place in the economy according to their social class. Today, schools remain relatively the same, and educational inequities have been solidified in schooling, including curriculum, instruction, assessment, and school-community engagement.

As education researchers and former public school teachers, we implore the states and districts across the country to take this once-in-a-lifetime moment as an opportunity to reimagine education and address some of public education’s most pressing equity issues.

Racial and economic segregation is one of the nation’s most pressing equity issues. As some affluent parents are likely to exacerbate education inequities with the creation of “pod schools,” districts have an opportunity to integrate educational experiences via online platforms.

Policymakers have an immediate chance to desegregate schools or at least provide new opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds to engage across schools.

Large districts can create inclusive and desegregated online classrooms where students from across the district can learn together and from each other. For example, under these conditions, geographic boundaries would not constrain a 2nd grader in the South Bronx from being educated with a child living on the Upper Eastside. Online learning also creates an opportunity for students with disabilities who are bused out of their neighborhood school to now be included with their community peers.

Another pressing equity issue is related to testing and the persistent opportunity gaps that manifest as unequal student outcomes between low-income students of color and their white affluent peers. Testing in the 2020-21 school year would have limited efficacy given that many of the nation’s 100,000 teachers and 50 million students will be disrupted by COVID-19. Testing data could not be used to make decisions, even at the aggregate level.

Instead of investing time and resources into a testing regime that has not improved educational outcomes, state policymakers, district administrators, and principals can rethink curriculum, instructional practices, and testing. Virtual planning sessions can include educators, families, students, and community-based organizations that have a stake in what students learn and how they should be assessed. Researchers have found that authentic curriculum that is rooted in the lived experiences of students and communities can help close opportunity gaps currently disguised as achievement gaps.

A third critical equity issue involves building authentic and meaningful family and community engagement. Researchers consistently highlight how important families and communities are to school improvement and educational outcomes, yet many large districts struggle to include low-income families and communities of color. As schools remain physically closed, nonteaching school personnel can actively work to connect and build relationships with families and their respective communities.

Virtual school improvement processes can include families and community-based organizations in critical decisions about curriculum, instruction, assessment, and supporting the diverse needs of students. Online forums can raise family and community voices and allow educators to request support.

We offer these recommendations to states and districts across the nation, but we would be remiss not to acknowledge that this work will be difficult, taxing, and likely to confront challenges, because we are for transformation of public education. Yet, in the last 100 years, there has never been a time like now.

Inequities and achievement gaps have persisted despite decades of so-called reforms that are based on testing and competition. Right now, affluent families are building private learning pods that hoard resources and further advantage their children over the children of less affluent families. Future budget cuts due to a substantially shrinking tax base will only add to educational inequities if policymakers and leaders do not act.

Now is the time to reimagine public education, desegregate schools, and authentically engage educators and families in decisionmaking processes. If we are honest and we really believe that public education is about making every child matter, then these are steps we must take immediately.

Thanks to David and Teri for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.