Gov. Andrew Cuomo made some waves earlier this week when he announced plans to partner with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reimagine education in the new normal.
In the short-term, it’s important to note that the move to online education has not been as seamless as the governor and his supporters seem to think. Rural schools haven’t had many children drop away from education when schools closed in mid-March, but we have heard the message loud and clear from Dr. Bret Apthorpe, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, that the district has had a hard time tracking down some students after school buildings closed. Zoom classes at the elementary levels have been, at times, sparsely attended. And, both times that parents in at least one elementary school were given pretty clear instructions how and when to pick up packets of school work for their children to do at home, district officials have had to extend the pick-up times or even take the step to drive packets to children’s homes.
Not all districts have enough technology devices to send home with all students, and New York state is still struggling to deliver broadband internet in all homes, particularly in rural areas. Some homes don’t have the internet at all, in part because we still have people for whom there is a choice to be made between having the internet and having food. Even free offerings have hoops to jump through that are off-putting for some people.
For decades, educators have decried the struggle to get some parents involved in their child’s education. Some parents make the choice not to engage in education because they don’t care, but others simply don’t have extra time for additional home schooling because of work and family constraints. Children who come from households of parents who are still working are surely not getting the undivided attention on learning they would receive in school –and that isn’t the fault of parents. There are economic realities that have to be factored into the home-schooling equation, and school officials in all of our local school districts have rightly recognized that fact. The governor and his friends at the Gates Foundation must realize that, too.
With that said, education has been ripe for a makeover for quite some time. We have often said in this space that there are too many school districts here for a shrinking county to support. We have advocated for mergers, consolidations and regional high schools. We have advocated for more use of online learning. We have advocated for more use of career and technical education. We have advocated for fewer state restrictions and paperwork in favor of more teachers and paraprofessionals who work directly with students. We believe all of those things remain as true as when they were first written.
And all of this can be part of the governor’s plan, if he so chooses. The state Board of Regents’ focus on new graduation requirements for New York students has always been doomed when one considers that changing the graduation requirements without considering the entire system of education from kindergarten through either college or a career is kind of like deciding on a baseball cap or a top hat while you’re wearing a lime green 1970s leisure suit. Does the hat really matter if your suit is ridiculous?
The amount of money government at all levels spends on education in New York state is far too high. Too few students are prepared for college and careers, a problem that takes root not in high school but in the elementary and middle school years. If the governor wants to reimagine education in the post-coronavirus world, then take a big swing rather than nibbling around the edges. There is money to be saved that can be reprogrammed into a better education if the governor has the political will.
Technology can and should play a role in reimagining schools, but let’s not fool ourselves. Technology alone is not the key to the type of education our students deserve.