Florida students will continue their education virtually until the end of the school year, and the hope is that our campuses will reopen in August. The April 24 News-Journal, “Don’t let education become the victim of coronavirus,” rightly expresses the concern that many educators and parents have: How much is our students’ education being impacted by the coronavirus shut down?
First, let’s look at what we have learned during the shutdown.
Public schools are an essential and vital part of our communities and our families. It has become clear that we can no longer shortchange public schools.
We have seen that public school teachers and staff always do what it takes to protect “our kids.” They transformed public schools in a matter of days with students’ well-being and education front and center. Teachers are working long hours to communicate with students and parents. Staff are keeping kids fed and driving buses into communities to provide internet access.
The pandemic did not create the digital divide or the learning gap based on economic status, but it certainly exposed how real and massive they are. Florida has spent more than 20 years experimenting with kids’ learning and diverting needed funding. It is time to invest in public schools instead of giving dollars to for-profit corporations.
Virtual schooling is not the panacea that many for-profit education reformers have sold it to be. In fact, we have solidified what most educators already knew: The best environment for learning is in a classroom with a fully credentialed teacher.
Statewide testing really is not that important. While the push for the past 20 years has been testing, testing and more testing, relationships have mattered most during distance learning. It turns out that the educators are right; kids don’t learn until they know you care about them.
Now let’s take a look at how we are preparing to transition back to our school buildings. The governor has appointed a task force to examine the reopening of Florida’s economy. One subgroup is focusing on schools. This group of 24 individuals includes one teacher, one superintendent and one administrator from the Department of Education with a background in education. Nearly 88 percent of the group has no expertise in education. Also absent are doctors, mental health professionals, students and specifically identified parents. The task force is a continuation of business as usual, with nonexperts telling educators what to do.
How about we create a task force that has experts — one that is dominated by teachers, staff, administrators, students and parents, and includes medical and mental health experts. The timing of reopening schools should be based on science. When the green light is given, we should have medical advice on how to maintain safe environments in our schools. We will need clear plans for making up lost learning and getting kids back on track, and we will need clear plans on how to support the emotional well-being of everyone in our schools. Now is also a great time for us to re-evaluate Florida’s so-called accountability program. Standardized testing should be a measure, not an end-all and be-all for a student and a school.
The News-Journal editorial was correct that we need everyone — teachers, staff, administrators, parents, medical and mental health experts, decision-makers and the community — to all work for the betterment of our kids. One of things I love about my role as vice president of the Florida Education Association is that I get to advocate every day for people who genuinely care about kids. You don’t have to look any further than what we have seen over the past six weeks to see how true that is.
We can do this right if kids are truly put first. To do that, we have to listen to the experts!
Andrew Spar, Ormond Beach, is vice president of the Florida Education Association