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Today the state Board of Education met (for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit Missouri) to hear updates on how the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was dealing with school closures.
After a recap of how the department had worked to relax state statutes requiring yearly testing and eliminating the requirement for a set number of hours of learning time each year, the conversation turned to how the state should plan for the future.
Many board members expressed concerns about equity in distance learning, focusing more on whether or not students had access to broadband than on the very varied ways in which districts have actually attempted to provide distance education (some have provided so much work that students are protesting, while others have just provided very basic worksheets).
Several board members pointed out that the state should not miss this opportunity to really reimagine what education should be in the future. We could not agree more!
The consensus of the board seemed to be that the board, and DESE, should consider a continuum of recommendations for the best way to deal with the impacts of the pandemic because they realized that each district had its own unique problems and resources.
“One size does not fit all,” was repeated over and over again during the meeting.
It is incredibly encouraging to see the board thinking along these lines, but we hope that they will take it one degree further and realize that same can be said for approaches to teaching individual students.
Every student has their own unique skills, talents, and best ways of learning. They each also have their own roadblocks, whether it be issues at home, bullying from their peers, specific learning issues, or just a lack of interest in the way a subject is being presented.
This is why we need a system that gives students and parents the ability to seek out and obtain the learning structure that works best for them.
For some students, that may be sitting in a physical classroom surrounded by their peers, for others it may be asynchronously completing virtual classwork from the safety of their home.
Other students may respond well to finding themselves surrounded by friends of the same faith, while others may have found during this crisis that exploring their interests with their family has ignited a love of learning and will want to continue that connection through homeschooling in the future.
The reality is that families across the country are re-evaluating the education system right now because they have to, and our educational leaders need to be doing the same.
Many parents are discovering how much they depended on their schools and how valuable teachers really are. Others are discovering how little their kids have actually learned and are growing increasingly frustrated with a system that is not providing real valuable learning during this time of crisis.
Either way, it is clear that we should not be planning on going back to business as usual in our education system and it is encouraging that our state board is realizing we should not miss this opportunity to improve how we serve our kids.
We just hope the board will think about the whole picture and all the ways that children in Missouri get an education instead of focusing on how to tweak an outdated system that was designed be a “one size fits all” education factory.
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