Forty-three states, including Illinois, have closed K-12 schools for the remainder of the year. Mass closures and a sudden switch to crisis schooling from a distance have prompted reflections on the crucial role of schools for children and communities. It’s also prompted speculation about what changes might take place longer term as a result of the closings and the pandemic.
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While schools are closed
Without a doubt, the switch to remote learning has been difficult for families, teachers and staff, highlighting existing inequities in our schools and our society:
Standardized Testing: The closures have resulted in at least one positive thing this year: the cancellation of annual standardized testing mandated by the federal government. Annual standardized testing is a uniquely American education policy, and costly in terms of both time and money.
Although going forward, this testing may not be gone forever in K-12 schools, the shrinking role of testing in college admissions may be on a more permanent trajectory. Many colleges have said that there will be no testing requirement (SAT or ACT) for applications for fall of 2021, and several are now piloting a multi-year moratorium. (This is on top of the hundreds of schools that have already implemented test-optional admissions.)
Illinois has rescheduled the in-school administration of the SAT for fall; the College Board is preparing to offer an online version to be taken at home in school closures disrupt that date as well.
Tech and Privacy: Online technology is central to most schools’ strategies for continuing the school year during closures. As a result, existing student data privacy concerns about education technology have ballooned, particularly with the use of online video-conferencing tools. Read our explainer on videoconferencing and student privacy here.
Parents should know that the requirements of laws and regulations to protect student privacy have not been waived during school closures and remote learning. Note that any recordings of online instruction that include a student’s personally identifiable information, including their image or voice, are part of a student’s educational record. That means parents can request access to the recordings and that schools must protect them from inappropriate disclosures.
In addition, if your child is under 13, you likely have the right to have such recordings deleted by the tech vendor storing them. Requiring children to participate in video discussions, recorded or not, is especially problematic for families whose well-being is directly threatened by lack of privacy, e.g. families with undocumented members or domestic violence survivors; this is yet another equity issue with online learning.
What you can do now: We’d like to know how schooling during closures is going for families, especially with respect to tech usage. You can complete our short survey here.
When schools open again
This has been a tumultuous spring for public schools. By fall, the pandemic’s effect on schools will not just be felt as closures in place now (or possibly again) or attempts to implement social distancing in school facilities not designed for it. It will also have a severely negative fiscal impact on local and state budgets—the source of most of our schools’ funding.
There is some federal relief money (~$570M) coming from the recently passed CARES Act to schools eligible for Title I dollars, but if the 2008-2009 economic recession is anything to go by, the hit to public school funding has the potential to be very negative for many years. This makes passage of the constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that will allow Illinois to impose a graduated state income tax paramount.
The combination of looming austerity and a likely ongoing need for social distancing makes it tempting for anyone with an ideological or a financial interest in online learning to push for such methods as permanent policy, not just a temporary measure. In fact, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is using the CARES funding as a way to promote privatization via both online schools and voucher payments to families.
In the Public Interest blog: How to spot privatization schemes in the middle of a crisis
In the face of this, public school families will need to stay organized to defend the importance of schools as physical spaces central to our communities and our children’s formative years.
But beyond that, this is also an opportunity for us to demand that the schools our children return to have a shift in focus “from obsessing over test scores and accountability to an entirely different paradigm of physical, mental, and emotional well-being for students and staff.”
Here are two great proposals from play advocates that we encourage you to read and share:
NYC Public School Parents blog: After the Pandemic: Our Children Deserve an Education Revolution by school superintendent Michael Hynes (quoted above)
Washington Post: "A proposal for what post-coronavirus schools should do (instead of what they used to do)" by Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle, authors of Let the Children Play
What you can do now: Here’s two simple things you can do to advocate for the schools our kids deserve:
- Send a letter to your US senators and congressperson to tell them to to direct Secretary DeVos to stop using CARES Act funding to advance her privatization agenda via the Network for Public Education.
- Sign up for Yes for the Fair Tax campaign emails to get action alerts this summer and fall. A graduated income tax is crucial to Illinois’ ability recover from the pandemic and the unfolding economic crisis.
- Send your state representative and state senator a note to remind them of the importance of in-person schooling and what our children will need when they can finally return to their buildings safely: from small class sizes to support for not just the academic content but the social-emotional and physical experiences they forgo during closures. You’ll find a sample letter and more background reading here.
Supporting Illinois Families for Public Schools' advocacy
We are so grateful for the continued support of our monthly donors during this time! Before the pandemic, we had planned to hold our annual fundraiser as an event in May. We will be rescheduling for the summer, but it remains likely that it will need to be a virtual fundraiser even then. If you’d like to make a contribution, you can donate here.