Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, numerous proposals to “reimagine education” have been made. At IEN, we have been tracking both the news about those proposals for changing education and the discussions of what has (and has not) been changing in schools post-pandemic (see for example “What can change in schools after the pandemic?”). This week, Correne Reyes shares our latest scan of that news in the US and finds some media reports highlighting flexibility around “seat time;” increased attention to teacher wellbeing, and discussions of the ways online learning may serve as a substitute for classroom-based learning. A second scan will focus on educational changes reported in other parts of the world.
Rethinking Time in Schools?
The switch to remote learning in so many schools and districts prompted numerous proposals to rethink “seat time” – the conventional requirements for awarding credit based on the number of hours and days spent in classrooms. As Jonathan Alfuth put it , “While we agree that states must return to policies that ensure districts maximize the amount of time students spend on high-quality learning experiences, we also believe states must seize this unique moment to rethink the way in which they define instruction and credential learning.” These proposals argue for broadening definitions of what counts as “hours” of instruction, where instruction can take place, and how it can be measure (e.g. “How states are rethinking instructional time and attendance policies in the covid-19 era”; “Unlocking innovation in schools: Policies that create space for schools to better support their students”). Some states have begun reshaping their policies to adjust the barriers of seat time. For example, Minnesota proposed legislation that emphasizes personalized, competency-based education, which focuses on “outcomes—mapping to the pace of students’ mastery of knowledge and skills—instead of moving lockstep through time-based lessons and grades.” Arizona established an Instructional Time Model allowing school districts to adopt their own instructional hour requirements for attendance. Meanwhile, Washington created the mastery-based (or competency-based) credit as an option for high school students to earn credit for demonstration of learning on assessments that are tied to state learning standards.
Along those same lines, discussions of how time is used and organized have led some schools to add minutes and days to the school year but often without more substantial rethinking of the school calendar itself (see “Why schools see extra time as the solution to making up for lost instruction” and “Longer school days and years remain rare as schools fight learning loss with optional time” “Schools that switched to a four-day week saw learning reductions. what does that mean for the pandemic’s lost instructional time?”).
Going Beyond Classroom-based Learning?
Although the move to remote learning caused considerable distress for many students and families, it simultaneously allowed them to experience a variety of options for both digital schooling and other schooling arrangements such as pods and homeschooling. Moving forward, there are some signs that there may be a new desire to expand or at least preserve these options and arrangements moving forward. A 2021 Education Next poll, for example, reported that 48% of parents said elementary students should have remote learning options; 64% said the same for high school students. In addition, According to the Aurora Institute, nearly 3 in 5 families and 3 in 4 instructors preferred their “pod” over their child’s pre-pandemic schools (e.g. “Is there a future in the “learning pod” education model?”; “Crisis Breeds Innovation: Pandemic Pods and the Future of Education”; “For Learning Pod Teachers, a Pandemic Paradigm Shift: Why So Many Now Say They Don’t Want to Return to Traditional Classrooms”).
At the same time, despite the calls to maintain some remote learning options, a report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (Virtual Learning, Now and Beyond) concludes that recent research on the relationship between learning mode and student achievement during COVID indicates that the shift to online education had negative effects on learning outcomes. That report argues that “we have failed to build intentional on-ramps to virtual education” and “we remain unprepared to implement online learning when the need arises.” Another CRPE report (Crisis Breeds Innovation: Pandemic Pods and the Future of Education) noted that learning pods changed how some families viewed their children’s education, but points out most families sent their children back to their prior schools as a result of the costs of podding and the challenges of operating off-grid.
Building support for Teacher & Student Well-Being?
Teachers have always served a pivotal role in responding to students’ wellbeing, but the pandemic is contributing to low morale and high burnout, and, as one study described it, “a critical need to allocate more attention and resources to support teacher psychological health by strengthening emotional support, autonomy, and teaching efficacy” “Elementary School Teacher Well-Being and Supportive Measures Amid COVID-19: An Exploratory Study”).
As a consequence, educators are requesting more training and resources to support their own as well as their students’ mental health. These concerns have fueled a variety of proposals for prioritizing well-being in schools moving forward (“The Mental Health Crisis Causing Teachers to Quit”; “How Schools Can Build a Culture of Support for Educator Mental Health“; With Teacher Morale in the Tank, What’s the Right Formula to Turn It Around?). Ronn Nozoe, the chief executive officer of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, has also advocated for districts and schools to use some of their federal COVID-19 relief funds to set up targeted support programs for school leaders’ mental health. However, the huge demand for mental health care professionals nationally has created a challenge for school districts. “It’s not for lack of want, it’s not for lack of ideas,” Nozoe continues. “It’s really a lack of available professionals who are willing and qualified to provide these kinds of services to help kids and families and ultimately educators.”
“It’s not for lack of want, it’s not for lack of ideas…It’s really a lack of available professionals who are willing and qualified to provide these kinds of services to help kids and families and ultimately educators.” Ronn Nozoe