The phrase “Let’s reimagine our schools” would probably be met with some skepticism if not for the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic.
Admittedly, I’ve been a little surprised by the lack of attention it has received. School officials are going through their budget process — and beyond — having little idea what to expect in terms of aid. They also have little information to work with about this “reimagining” of local schools.
Administrators have a horrifically complex job to do over the next several weeks and months. But when we think about the role of schools, and about the niche they fill, we need to be realistic about the ways in which they can be expected to change.
First, if not for the fact that our K-12 system of education serves as a daycare solution, significant change could already have occurred. Educators could have leaned into digital formats, and who knows, maybe the entire process of transitioning to “distance learning” would have been more smooth.
This is the important one, because any change you make to the way students learn hinges on access to childcare.
You can’t have scenarios where the oldest of a family’s children is relegated to serving as a childcare professional. They are neither equipped nor ready for that burden. They are kids who deserve a chance to spend those years developing their minds as intended by our constitutional promise of an education.
Second, you cannot expect teachers to mold into this new format — if there is going to be a significant shift in how it happens — without adequate training. At the very least they need to be assisted and given the resources to make it happen. Ideally, colleges and universities would modify curriculum to prepare teachers of the future for this “new reality.”
This point drives home the idea that any “reimagining” of the K-12 experience needs to be executed over a span of years. At this point, it appears as though it will be happening over a span of months.
Third, blind trust cannot be part of the equation. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made it clear that a billionaire will help lead the effort. His questioning the existence of physical buildings during a press briefing earlier this month should spell serious concern about the future state of education in New York.
Again, without addressing childcare, there is no sustainable remote model of learning. This also seems to fly in the face of the so-called pillars of one political party’s mantra. If billionaires cannot be trusted in private sector business they should not be trusted in a public sector as important as educating our youth.
At least not if we’re going to be consistent.
Fourth, and I’ll make this the last point for sake of brevity: School districts around the region and state already were struggling to find the resources to fund the “essentials” of education. It seems that Gov. Cuomo is leveraging physical space as a means to reduce overall cost. But, the kind of cuts that will be necessary — if federal funding does not come along — will not be achievable through cutting staff, reducing the number of buildings, or transitioning to a “remote” process.
The necessary cuts without an aid assist will either mean disregarding existing state or federal mandates, which would put any district on shaky footing or simply mean the end of some districts entirely.
And quickly, my two cents here: Before we start “reimagining” school districts, maybe we should consider moving to a county model. Create countywide districts that allow students to be spaced out, preserve high school identity for the purpose of athletics, and push toward a unified model. At least before we force parents across the state out of the workforce to accommodate continuation of the distance learning model.