The K-12 public school system is facing a difficult operational challenge during the ongoing pandemic – continuing the education of students in a way that helps reduce the spread of the coronavirus in the school environment. As school districts examine a myriad of options at the state and local level (everything from alternating school at home and school site days to creating morning and afternoon attendance blocks), there appears to be a dangerous ignorance in our legislators about the importance of students getting back to full-time school at their school sites. To quote James Carville, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
To help the economy recover, Americans need to get back to work in some form and fashion and that means the structures that support the workforce need to be bolstered by state and federal support. For all the K-12 public school system does to educate, develop and support students, it does something else quite essential – it functions as dependable daily child care for their parents. Children in school allow parents to work without the cost of full-day day care. The K-12 public school system is as integral to the health of the economy as job availability, schools liberate the workforce.
Now, let’s not pretend for a moment that even without its criticality to the economy that full-time school is not a priority. After school closures this spring, many parents learned that facilitated school at home was not easy (for the parents or children) and that it had other consequences related to meals, daily structure, and social engagement. Teachers across America and parents made it work in a national effort to flatten the curve, but it was merely a stop gap measure.
Education is essential to a child’s development into a well-informed adult. School site learning is based on decades of research, is adjusted as needed to meet a wide variety of learning styles and challenges, and is delivered in a collaborative environment that reinforces shared behavioral expectations and personal responsibility. Delivering the same material at home does not accomplish the same outcomes. Students will not be as well-equipped to advance in the school system or in the workforce with less time devoted to school site learning.
The solution to continuing full-time school site learning in the fall is to expand the amount of teaching space at school sites and hire an additional teacher and one or more paraprofessionals for each class (all for one-year positions). An expansion of teaching space would allow classes to be split into two sections (to allow for the necessary social distancing space). This expansion can be accomplished by a repurposing of existing space, adding modular units in the facility parking lot, or usage of nearby facilities. By hiring an additional teacher for each class, full-time school site learning can be maintained at the established standard. The teachers for each class can collaborate on material delivery and can even provide additional depth in the event one of the two becomes ill. The paraprofessionals can fill gaps in the classroom, assist with re-integration (for students who were out due to illness or quarantine), and lead on-site self-study where necessary. With this structure students still go to school every day, for the regular school day and learn in an environment where they are best-suited to learn. It is also less disruptive for the students, the staff, and the families and supplies much needed structure, normalcy, and certainty.
The cost of this remedy cannot be carried by the K-12 public school system. This requires a national commitment at the state and federal level to subsidize these coronavirus-focused solutions under the umbrella of economic recovery. Yes, this is about more than education – it is about stabilizing our economy. But it is also about easing the pressure on Americans, let’s not make it harder than it has to be to learn, work, and remain economically solvent during this next school year..