As an unprecedented academic year grinds to an end, with schools shuttered and millions of children learning remotely in every state, education leaders face the daunting task of preparing for a fall reopening with no end to the pandemic in sight. Back to school will not be back to normal. But neither should it be a return to business as usual. Arne Duncan and Rey Saldaña shared this story in their opinion article in a recent USA Today article.
As Rey and Arne write, as we embark on our nationwide effort to reenter school buildings, we must determine not just how far apart desks need to be, whether attendance should be staggered, and how often to sanitize facilities. We must also ask how we can build an education system that gives every child in every U.S. community the opportunity to learn and succeed. A system better than the one we left behind in the time before COVID-19 and before George Floyd’s horrific death at the hands of Minneapolis police catalyzed waves of protest across the nation against injustice and structural inequality.
A moment when we are experiencing a national health emergency and nationwide discontent may seem like exactly the wrong time to propose a bold new direction in American public education. But the coronavirus has changed everything, and the Floyd protests have shone a light on inequity inherent to all our systems, including education.
The only way to adequately respond to both moments is to transform K–12 learning for good. Doing so will require a significant federal investment in education. The costs will certainly be high, but the long-term price of inaction will be even higher.
An utter lack of leadership and guidance from Washington on how states and school districts should move forward with the virus continuing to circulate is a hurdle. But local leaders across America have shown boundless creativity in the months since schools started closing their doors. They’ve done their best to find new ways to educate, feed, and support students and stay connected to families.