After a harsh winter, spring has come.
It’s May. The weather is gorgeous on the Chesapeake, the weather is getting warm, the air is delicious, the flowers are blooming. From a slight distance, everything seems so normal. But up close, nothing is normal. People have settled into patterns of behavior that would be completely bizarre in normal times. They are wearing masks everywhere as though they have always done so. Neighbors are being as friendly as they can be without getting too close. Not far away, we know there is chaos and catastrophe, and we all do what we can. But every day, there is life to be lived, jobs to be done, children to cherish and nurture.
The school year is coming to an end. In some places, schools have already closed weeks early. Educators have gotten through the challenges of trying to operate schools when there are no schools to operate. They have had to use stopgaps, such as distance learning, because there were gaps to stop. But now we are entering a new phase: Recovery 2020.
Part of Recovery 2020 will be a struggle to open schools while minimizing health risks. Schools may not even open in September, or may only partially open. But whenever they fully open, the challenge we face as educators will be to create schools ready to provide extraordinary education to every student, however long they have been out of school and whatever they have experienced in the interim.
In a series of blogs over recent weeks (here, here, and here), I’ve proposed a number of actions schools should take to put students on a new trajectory toward success, engagement, self-esteem, health, and safety. In this blog, I want to get more specific about some ideas I’d propose to make Recovery 2020 more than a return to the status quo. More like Status: Go!
- Strengthen the Core
First, we have to make sure that the core of the schooling enterprise, teachers, principals, and administrators, are supported, and their jobs are safe. There will be a recession, but it cannot be allowed to do the damage the last recession did, when schools could not focus and innovate because they were scrambling to hold on to their staff, just to cover classes. Federal and state funding must be used to ensure that school staffs can focus on their work, not on managing shortage-induced chaos. Current school staff should also be able to receive top-quality professional development to enable them to use proven, effective teaching methods in the subjects and grade levels they teach, so they can enhance and accelerate their students’ progress. School nurses, counselors, and other specialists in whole-child development need to be in every school.
- Train and Deploy Thousands of Tutors in Every State and District
In fall, 2020, schools will open into a recession, yet they will have to make more of a difference in their students’ development than ever before. Securing the jobs and professional support of school staffs is essential, but not enough. Students will need personalized, effective support, so they can achieve greater success in school than they have ever had.
If there is a recession, many people will struggle to keep their jobs or to find new ones. But as always, those who suffer most in a recession are people who are entering the labor market. There will be millions of college graduates and others ready to work who will find enormous barriers to entering the labor market, which will be overwhelmed keeping experienced workers employed. This is a huge problem, but also potentially a huge opportunity. Schools will need help in accelerating student achievement to make up for losses due to school closures and then to continue beyond making up losses to growing gains. An army of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young people will be eager to get involved serving children. Government will have to provide relief to these and other unemployed people, so why not have them make a difference in children’s education, rather than just receiving emergency support?
The solution I am proposing is for government to create a fund, a Marshall Plan for education, to recruit, train, and deploy thousands of tutors in schools across America. The tutors would be trained, coached, and supervised by experts to deliver proven small-group tutoring models, focused in particular on reading and math, in elementary and middle schools. They would be paid as teacher assistants, but equipped with specific skills and supports to work with students who are behind in reading or mathematics in elementary or middle schools. Schools would receive a number of tutors depending on their size and levels of disadvantage and achievement deficits, up to five or more tutors per school. The tutors would work with struggling students in small groups, using tutoring models proven in rigorous research to be particularly effective. These models are known to be able to add five or more months of gain to students’ usual yearly progress each year, more than making up the losses most students have experienced. As time goes on, students who need more tutoring can receive it, so that they can continue to make more than one year’s gain each year, until they reach grade level.
While tutoring is worthwhile in itself, it will also serve a purpose in introducing promising young people to teaching. School leaders should be enabled to identify especially capable young people who show promise as teachers. Someone who has been a great tutor will probably become a great teacher. These people should then be given opportunities to participate in accelerated teacher training leading to certification. The quality and commitment the tutors show in their daily work will help school leaders identify an extraordinary group of potential teachers to enter classrooms eager and prepared to make a difference.
- Train and Deploy School Health Aides
Especially in schools serving many disadvantaged children, there are many children who are achieving below their potential just because they need eyeglasses, or suffer from chronic diseases such as asthma. Trained health aides can be deployed to make sure that students receive needed eyeglasses, regularly take medication for asthma, and otherwise solve health problems that interfere with success in school. Working with school nurses, health aides will also be needed to manage ongoing protections against Covid-19 and other threats to health.
After a harsh winter, spring has come. The wise farmer celebrates, but then he plants. In the same way, America’s education leaders should celebrate that we have somehow made it this far. But celebration is not enough. We have to plan, and to plant, anticipating the opportunity this fall not just to get back to normal, but to create a new normal, better than the one we had, in which we use our nation’s strengths to heal and to build.
Recovery 2020 will take efforts and expenditures beyond just returning schools and students to normal. But this is essential, and the short- and long-term benefits to our children and our society are clear. If we are are wise, we will start this process now, to prepare to mobilize resources and energies to open in the fall the best schools we ever had.
Photo credit: Collage photos courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action
This blog was developed with support from Arnold Ventures. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Arnold Ventures.
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