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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Kate Ford on How Pandemic Will Impact Public Schools: "Education Will Never Be the Same"

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

The abrupt shutdown of public school classrooms and sudden switch to remote learning will have educational consequences for students -- and likely reshape ways and means of teaching and learning here and around the nation, Santa Barbara Unified School District board member Kate Ford said on Friday

In an interview with Newsmakers, career educator Ford acknowledged that the dramatic disruption of the school year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, will result in "learning loss" for students; however, she also asserted that the turmoil presents a unique opportunity for profound positive change in the district

"We know it's going to be a completely different world next fall, no matter what," Kate said. "I have a friend (in academia) and he's referred to what's coming as a tsunami -- an educational tsunami.

"Tsunamis change everything, and it will be a completely changed world," she added. "I don't think education will ever be the same -- and I don't think that's a bad thing."

How to handle a "catastrophe." At a time when some researchers are warning of a "learning loss crisis" and a "COVID slide" because of the widespread shuttering of public schools, educators are scrambling with how to respond when schools -- hopefully -- reopen after the summer.

In a lead editorial this week, the New York Times opined that:

"The learning setbacks that schoolchildren commonly experience over a summer vacation can easily wipe out one or two months of academic growth. The learning losses that are likely to result from more than 50 million childrenin the United States being shut out of school for weeks or months because of the coronavirus pandemic could well be catastrophic by comparison.

(snip) A learning reversal of this magnitude could hobble an entire generationunless state leaders quickly work to reverse the slide."

Ford, however, dismissed the Times argument as "pretty melodramatic" and expressed confidence that teachers and administrators in Santa Barbara will recognize and respond to the pedagogic impacts of the extraordinary conditions.

"There are all kinds of opportunities (and) I really like the responsiveness I've seen," she said:

"There's always a learning loss, especially with younger kids, with any human being, no matter what age. If you are busy learning, you're spending time reading, writing, thinking, computing, problem solving -- and then you stop.

Of course the loss is going to be significant but teachers and leaders and support staff don't just sit around and say 'oh well that's too bad,'" she added. "I expect to be part of a movement that changes things and really tries to figure out how to get kids up to speed."

Quick hits. In our conversation, Ford also provided some other newsworthy items.

Superintendent search. Kate said that the search firm hired to find a replacement for outgoing Superintendent Cary Matsuoka returned with "eight to 10" strong applicants, whose resumes and background materials the board reviewed on Thursday night. From this group they will select "three to six" finalists to be interviewed (virtually), by board members and a community group that has been part of the process. Despite the disruptions, the original goal of naming a new superintendent by the end of May is still on track.

Return to school. With the caveat that every sane person makes in any forecast of the future these days -- nobody knows nothin' about what's going to happen next - Ford said she expects classes to resume in the fall, but in a to-be-determined format; one possibility is an extension of school day hours, to allow two daily sessions for each class with staggered groups of students to enable social distancing.

Achievement gap. Assuming some measure of learning loss among all students, Kate said it will almost certainly widen the "achievement gap" by affecting Latino students overall more than whites. However, she also said an agenda for addressing the situation might includes steps like diagnostic tests at the start of the school year, expanded remedial learning, outreach to students who have not connected with the current remote teaching sessions and more professional education opportunities for teachers in online methods and systems.

Grading. Ford expanded on reports of the new grading system for the current semester, which the board adopted unanimously on Thursday night. Amid widespread community concern and controversy about how grading would affect high school students, the board approved a high school framework that includes a default "credit-no credit" mode, with an option for students to receive a final letter grade equivalent to their standing in a class as of March 13, the last day of classes.

Budget. Kate said the board has not yet seen budget projections for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, but like every other local jurisdiction in California is expecting a substantial reduction in available revenues. "It's going to be bad," she said.

Watch the entire interview by clicking below and...the podcast version is here.


Images: Frame grab depicting Jerry apparently in act of projectile vomiting (Special/Hap Freund).

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