When educators and policymakers were planning for the 2019-2020 school year, no one could have imagined how education would look today. The COVID-19 pandemic brought many unexpected challenges to the classroom, and while everyone did their best to adapt, the issues were both unique and complex. Looking ahead to next year, will any of these pandemic-related obstacles remain unresolved? Will there be new problems to solve? And what evergreen policy issues are holdovers from the 2019 predictions?
Here are some of the concerns surfacing at every administrative and governmental level. Which do you recognize as issues for your school or community?
The number of lost classroom hours from the early spring 2020 shutdowns will vary by the school district, but no one can deny the loss of prime teaching time. Add the few months without school to the summer slump many students already experience, and the gaps in learning start to seem insurmountable. School districts are doing their best to catch up, but with flu season and the unpredictability of COVID-19 mutations, it is hard to say just how far behind schoolchildren will fall. Moving forward, policymakers have a tough road in addressing how to best close the pervasive learning gap.
Extended remote learning
While virtual school became necessary due to social-distancing requirements, remote classrooms may be here to stay. Whether as an approach that can be utilized during disasters or future outbreaks or as a way to increase accessibility options to every student, distance learning makes sense for many applications. Now that some of the difficult and expensive work of buying equipment and designing platforms is out of the way, these changes can inform plans for meeting diverse learning needs in the future.
Equitable technology access
When schools went virtual, many districts awakened to the inadequate infrastructure that some communities face for high-speed internet. With support from the CARES Act, which focused a portion of funding on connecting rural areas, and continued advancements from private groups to push ahead with the launch of 5G, more and more households will finally have adequate technology to support online learning. However, policymakers must remain diligent and focus on future opportunities to expand connectivity to as many families as possible.
Given the nature of COVID-19 test results, health tracking and Zoom meetings, there is significant concern about the current and future status of data security. Schools are being proactive about consulting tech security experts as part of their distance learning plans. Still, some privacy and security issues are so new that even experts cannot predict what may come next. Since children's data is already more seriously regulated than adult information (as demonstrated by laws like COPPA), this will likely be a high priority for policymakers in the months — and years — ahead.
The future of educational policy
Do you have an interest in helping local schools meet these challenges? Do you find the impact of federal and state policy on your classroom intriguing? If so, perhaps you are suited for a career in educational policymaking. While many may mistake this community role as something only politicians enjoy, there is a real need for educators with real-life experience to add their input to the best practices and policies that guide today's schools.
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