Five early lessons the pandemic has taught us about Texas schools

by | May 14, 2020 | Opinion

Texas has learned a lot about itself — and its education system — through the coronavirus crisis.

We’ve learned how critical education is to parents’ work schedules, to civic engage­ment, to children’s security and wellbeing, and to sports and culture. Texas’ schools and universities have proven to be foundational to economic and community life — our society will not feel truly reopened un­til students return to school.

In the meantime, educators and administrators have scram­bled to ensure students can learn without being in school. Many districts have been cre­ative in connecting students with high-speed internet con­nections and hardware. Teach­ers have worked to provide re­mote instruction and structure. Kitchen staff and other work­ers have provided food and other needs for out-of-school students. And parents have stepped in to support day-to-day teaching, filling a critical gap at a critical time.

In all of these ways, Texas has responded to the coronavi­rus with determination. Now, Texans everywhere — from the Governor’s Mansion to family dinner tables — are beginning to chart a course to the future. We must learn from the pan­demic’s lessons and work to address the weaknesses it has exposed.

Our schools are a good place to start.

First, the coronavirus has revealed stark gaps in how thousands of children in urban and rural settings access help, resources, dependable meals, safe places, consistent sched­ules, counseling, and special education attention. Our state should redouble its efforts to address these gaps, and the pandemic should be viewed as our opportunity to do so — not an excuse to ignore them.

Secondly, access to broad­band internet — connections strong enough to support video classes from home — has of­ten determined whether stu­dents could continue learning through the pandemic. Mil­lions of Texans live in houses without high-speed internet connections, meaning those households that do not have ac­cess to, or cannot afford, the in­frastructure students need right now to learn online.

Third, there is no longer any doubt about the powerful im­pact of teachers. Sadly, they are in a baptism by fire, as the pandemic fundamentally alters their roles and responsibilities. Thousands of teachers have stepped up to the challenge, working to reach their students. It’s important that Texas build on efforts to ensure our teach­ers are as effective as possible with additional tools.

Fourth, in restarting the education system, Texas must think about how to best use the school calendar and consider adding school days next year to help students make up for lost time and learning. I encour­age Texas officials to build in more school days next year – 180 days probably will not be enough for most students, par­ticularly as experts predict the coronavirus’ return next fall.

Finally, this crisis has reaf­firmed the importance of un­derstanding how students are doing through assessments that evaluate learning. This year, for the first time in over a gen­eration, students will not be given a state-administered test measuring what they learned during the school year. Texans already knew that achievement gaps were wide — but this year, it’s impossible to know how wide, where students are, or where improvements are needed. When schools finally reopen their doors, I urge Texas officials to administer diagnos­tic tests to determine learning loss and which students need further instruction and help catching up.

We cannot let this crisis un­dermine progress and learning – the stakes are too high. Steps taken over the coming months have the potential to propel our next generation forward; doing nothing will cause too many students to fall behind.

Texans must seize this mo­ment to support our schools, hold ourselves accountable, and do what’s right for the fu­ture of Texas.

 For more stories like this, see the May 14 issue or subscribe online.

By Margaret Spellings, served as Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush and is executive director of Texas 2036.

0 Comments

Related News

Why we need a community forum

Why we need a community forum

I am not sure what I expected our country to look like in 2021, but I certainly did not expect it to be so fractured and so bogged down in hate. My oldest son was a year old on September 11, 2001. The wave of patriotism following that day gave me hope for the America...

read more
Rural America needs sound, predictable tax policy

Rural America needs sound, predictable tax policy

They say that nothing is certain in life ex­cept death and taxes. While those two certainties are undeniable, we need to make sure that family-owned busi­nesses, including farms and ranches, aren’t taxed to death. Texas boasts more than 248,000 farming and ranch­ing...

read more
Supporting local journalism supports this community

Supporting local journalism supports this community

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act (LJSA) was recently introduced in the House and has now been introduced in the Senate – and will benefit every member of this community! Unlike many issues in Wash­ington, this legislation has bi­partisan support and is focused...

read more
We’re global now

We’re global now

No matter how hard we try, we really can’t avoid one another. We live in a world where what takes place some­where else on the globe has a very good chance of affecting us, along with many others. The pandemic, of course, is a useful – if sobering – ex­ample. A virus...

read more
Texans’ right to know should be front and center

Texans’ right to know should be front and center

With state lawmak­ers immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic response and Texas’ electricity failures, the public’s access to information must be at the forefront of the Legis­lature’s actions. Information allows citizens to watch over their government, to speak out and to...

read more
Legislators can help prevent trafficking

Legislators can help prevent trafficking

The COVID-19 pan­demic has produced too many tragedies to tally, but here is one that does not get talked about enough: It has worsened conditions that leave children and youth especially vulnerable to com­mercial sexual exploitation, a human trafficking crime. Human...

read more
Texans urged to roll up their sleeves

Texans urged to roll up their sleeves

Gov. Greg Abbott and other Texas leaders are rolling up their sleeves to get the COVID-19 vaccine and to encourage the public to follow suit. “I will never ask any Texan to do something that I’m not willing to do myself,” Abbott said before getting vaccinated at a...

read more