School Decision Makers Face “High Anxiety”: KRLD Clip

Every day more decisions are being made regarding back-to-school options for North Texas communities. What goes into those decisions?Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings (now with Texas 2036) has an idea. KRLD’s John Liddle talked with Secretary Spellings about one of the most confusing times ever for schools.

Read the full transcript:

John Liddle:

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is on the line with us. Also, President and CEO of Texas 2036. Secretary Spellings, thanks so much for your time.

Margaret Spellings:

Great, glad to be here.

John Liddle:

Well, just such an important time in our country for education, for sure. When you put yourself in the place of educators and then people just above those educators, like in the political system that are making determinations on whether or not we should have in-person school and those important things that border on health and safety and education at the same time. when you put yourself in that position, what do you think these people are going through right now?

Margaret Spellings:

High anxiety and sadly, there are no risk free answers in this equation, And I think the name of the game here has to be options for teachers and for families and for school districts, given those unique health and educational needs, plus adaptability. We’re calling [inaudible 00:02:05] left and right in this environment, and that’s just the new normal.

John Liddle:

It’s got to be adaptability, probably at all levels as well.

Margaret Spellings:

Exactly.

John Liddle:

Let’s talk first off about adaptability for educators. What do you think we learned from the spring? What do you hope that they’re able to take to the fall here?

Margaret Spellings:

Well, what we’ve learned in the spring is how essential our schools and our educators are to the functioning of American families in American life, period. We know that our teachers for the most part will bend over backwards and do everything they can to keep their students on track and to keep their students safe, along with themselves of course. We’ve learned that while we quickly converted to online, we knew we had to do better and smart school administrators spent the summer working on that, working on more broadband ubiquity and devices more broadly, but also the curriculum and teacher professional development that’s required to make it really a valuable offering.

John Liddle:

What do you think parents learned and what do you as an educator from that education perspective, what do you hope they’re adapting to?

Margaret Spellings:

Parents have learned a lot and a lot of it has been really useful and important, and that is I think they now have a fuller picture of how their students are doing. I mean, can their little precious child read on grade level or not? Are they struggling with math? They’ve learned to respect our educators, and I think they know about where their child is in terms of their own educational progress, other than just opening a backpack and getting a report card that says B or C or A or whatever, so that’s been useful.

Margaret Spellings:

I think parents have learned that that being teachers, as they’ve had to do, that being a teacher is a hard job, but they’ve also learned that it’s vital to their children’s progress to be with other students, to be with other adults, and to get kids back in school as soon as possible accommodating health and educational needs.

Margaret Spellings:

Well, it is not impossible for us to catch up or have our students catch up if we intervene as quickly as possible. We know what to do to get kids back on track and we need to move with haste in doing that. One of the things that I think is getting short shrift in this discussion about health and safety, which is obviously hugely important, is these educational issues. I mean, we know that our kids are not on track they will potentially suffer lifetime income loss and very traumatic issues, but if we address them quickly, we can get them back on course.

Margaret Spellings:

Again, no risk-free scenarios, but having our kids home, not productively engaged in learning, has huge downsides as well, and that is why the national academies, the American Society of Pediatricians and so forth, very notable groups have said, “Get our kids back “in school” hybrid, online, or preferably in person with their peers and other adults.”

John Liddle:

There does seem to be a consensus that in person is better, but at the same time, I wouldn’t think that anybody, including the districts, want to step up and say, “Yes, if somebody gets really sick or dies from COVID, we’ll take that responsibility on ourselves.” So what’s the happy medium here? What has to happen?

Margaret Spellings:

And that’s why options are important for educators and for families. No one … I mean, I don’t think families should have to be forced into a particular environment if they’re living at home with a grandparent that has cancer or underlying conditions or on and on and on. A million different scenarios. And so these are decisions that parents and educators are going to make together. We ought to have options. I think most school districts are doing that, but there is great risk of kids not being on track educationally as well. And so all of those factors are going to have to be taken into consideration when families and educators make these decisions.

Margaret Spellings:

It is very complex but vital to the functioning of our society to get these kids back learning. When I think about Katrina, it was a large scale dislocation of students and educators from their schools. That’s similar to this. I mean, students are being dislocated from their schools into their homes and online, and so that is going to make for some gaps.

Margaret Spellings:

Clearly, there’s a lot of uncertainty. There are questions around resources and funding, and there were questions around how long it will take for us to be normal again, back with our peers. Yeah, there are definitely some similarities. We got through those things and we will get through this and we’ll learn a lot and it’s going to take patience and real understanding around risk and reward as we navigate these really treacherous waters.

John Liddle:

Do you think there’s enough guidance coming from the federal level?

Margaret Spellings:

Well, I mean the Trump administration, Secretary DeVos has urged schools to open and kids to be in school in-person five days a week. That has been their primary talking point. Now I think frankly, educators and families are not looking to Washington, they’re looking to their local communities, they’re looking to governors, they’re looking to County judges and health officials, and their own superintendents and their own teachers.

Margaret Spellings:

Again, we know that the situation is so widely varied around our country from rural Montana to urban Dallas and everything in between. And when I say options and adaptability, really this is going to come down to a personal decision for educators and families. And I like the way Commissioner Morath has said, “Look, we want you to have some options. We want you to stick with what you’ve decided for a grading period, six or nine weeks. If you want to opt out, that’s okay too. Give us some notice.” But these are very personal decisions that parents need to balance the educational needs and risks for their kids, along with the health considerations as well. They’re difficult and they’re unique.

 

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