When the coronavirus crisis made its way into our communities in late February/early March this year, most school systems were not prepared with a crisis plan to transition from brick-and-mortar schools to online instruction. As school leaders plan for the 2020-2021 school year, we can’t afford to assume all schools will be able to open their doors in the fall semester, and we don’t want to be caught without a plan for another crisis in the future. However, recent comments from New York’s governor and the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) raise questions about how school leaders should move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic
What did New York Governor Cuomo say about reimagining education?
During a May 5 press conference, Cuomo asked:
“The old model of everybody goes and sits in the classroom, and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms — why, with all the technology you have?”
During the same press conference, Cuomo complimented the efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in advancing education, saying he plans to work alongside Bill Gates to “reimagine education” with a greater focus on technology.
How have educators responded to Cuomo’s comments?
Cuomo’s statements at the press conference drew sharp criticism from educators who had experienced the Gates Foundation’s past unsuccessful attempts at education reform. Andy Pallotta, president of the NYSUT, responded by saying:
“If we want to reimagine education, let’s start with addressing the need for social workers, mental health counselors, school nurses, enriching arts courses, advanced courses, and smaller class sizes in school districts across the state. … And let’s recognize educators as the experts they are by including them in these discussions about improving our public education system for every student.”
One of the widespread opinions raised by educators at all levels is that in the past, the Gates Foundation and state governments have failed to properly engage teachers in discussions about needed education reforms.
In light of these remarks, what should school leaders consider as they plan for the 2020-2021 school year?
As evidenced by the recent news coverage in New York, the conversation surrounding technology as an integrated part of the curriculum can become emotionally charged very quickly. However, we’ve also learned an important lesson from COVID-19: As a nation, we have not invested enough intentional time or financial resources in weaving technology into the public education system.
As you begin to plan for the 2020-2021 school year, we recommend your leadership team dedicate time to considering how an effective blended learning strategy can improve student achievement. The Christensen Institute outlines the three primary requirements of a blended learning program:
- With the support of online technology, students have some control over their learning in terms of time, place, path, and/or pace.
- Students spend at least some time learning in a physical location away from their homes.
- All learning activities meaningfully connect to support the student’s learning experience.
What are some examples of successful blended learning strategies other schools have implemented?
Recently, Edutopia published an article highlighting three superintendents who implemented blended learning techniques in their school districts and recognized positive outcomes in student achievement:
- Tom Rooney with the Lindsay Unified School District
- David Miyashiro with the Cajon Valley Union School District
- Alberto Carvalho with Miami-Dade County Public Schools
Here are three key takeaways from these districts’ experiences:
1. An effective blended learning strategy requires a meaningful financial investment in technology.
Your district and community leaders must be willing to set aside a significant portion of the budget to purchase the IT infrastructure needed to support your teachers, students, and curriculum. Many students may need the ability to borrow a laptop from the school if they don’t have access to a computer at home. Additionally, your district may need to invest in support from consultants and/or new full-time IT staff to integrate technology in a meaningful way.
Tom Rooney from the Lindsay Unified School District noted that his team also needed to partner with city leaders to increase internet access throughout the community. To ensure all students could access the internet from home, new towers and about 1,500 hotspots were added around the city.
2. A successful blended learning strategy also requires collaboration between the IT and curriculum teams.
Simply purchasing new computers and fancy new educational software won’t guarantee higher student achievement. The members of your district’s team who are responsible for selecting and implementing new technologies must work collaboratively with those who select and design the curriculum. This way, the IT team can help ensure teachers and students have the proper digital supports for the curriculum.
3. Digital curriculum should be designed with equity in mind.
If the goal of your blended learning strategy is to improve student achievement, you must ensure all students are served well by the digital curriculum and virtual resources. Consider the unique needs of students who:
- Are likely to fall through the cracks if they struggle with a particular skill or concept early on in a learning unit
- Are gifted and need extra enrichment opportunities
- Live in economically disadvantaged households, especially with parents who are unable to offer help with homework or new technology
- Are English Language Learners (ELLs)
- Have learning disabilities or other special needs
David Miyashiro from the Cajon Valley Union School District explained that his teams designed a digital curriculum that could be customized to meet the individual learning levels of each student.
How can school leaders get support to develop a blended learning plan for the 2020-2021 school year?
CSAS offers customized consulting services for districts, schools, and school leaders to improve student achievement and outcomes. Whether you’re an administrator, school board president, principal, or another leader in the education space, we would love to help you develop a blended learning strategy based on equitable, evidence-based best practices. Schedule a free consultation call with us to learn how we can work with your district, school, or classroom.