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.