How is it possible that we are planning for the third school year which will, in some way, be impacted by the pandemic? As I reflect on the work educators face today, it brings to mind the last great educational crisis of 2008. In the midst of the Great Recession, U.S. educators were faced with some tough choices. In my district, we laid off staff, made dramatic reductions in programs, and halted most purchases that didn’t involve duct tape and shoestring. That’s a bit dramatic—but the cuts were dramatic. Textbooks, instructional materials, technology, professional learning, and many other items were viewed as luxuries rather than options.
During that time, we, like many other districts, turned to open educational resources. We conducted in-house trainings. We built our own curricular resources, units, and lessons. And we developed our own assessment system. Why? Because none of those things required substantial upfront costs with dollars and people resources. We made difficult choices from among the limited options that were available.
As we launched the work, we soon realized that the savings we saw on the front end would be costly when—from the standpoint of time, energy, focus, and expertise—we encountered internal capacity issues. Implementation planning, training and coaching, leadership development, and monitoring were tall orders for our limited team. We struggled through the work together and learned a lot about what it really takes to move instruction from a great idea to great practice. It’s harder than it looks!
Now we have a new, very different set of challenges. During previous educational crises, we had to think small, use make-do approaches, and choose paths of least resistance. The influx of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES Act) and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding flips that paradigm completely around. Nonetheless, many of the lessons we learned during the crisis of 2008 apply today.
Educational Programs: 3 Things to Know
Here are three lessons that districts can learn from the pandemic and apply now when planning for academic recovery.
1. Scalability is Key
The number of students in need of intense academic and social-emotional support is on the rise. This makes it especially critical that the programs you choose help you manage that increased demand. One way to ensure success is to opt for programs that are easy to implement across many classrooms. Strong instruction applied in one classroom impacts a handful of students. Great for those students! Strong instruction applied across many classrooms impacts many students. Even better!
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