A new vision for equitable learning

Core tenets for a high-quality education

THE PHYSICAL CLOSURE of schools due to COVID-19 is taking a toll on our most precious resource; our children. The impact has been even more significant among black, Latinx, and low-income students. A recent analysis by McKinsey and Company determined that the nation’s students, on average, could fall behind in their learning by almost seven months, with 10 months lost for black and Latinx students, and over 12 months for low-income students. As we approach the beginning of a new school year, in unprecedented times, the stakes could not be higher.

It is our collective responsibility to ensure our children get the education they need and deserve. There is no better place than here, in Massachusetts, to pave a new path forward; one that will not only provide immediate solutions to short-term challenges, but will resolve long-standing, systemic obstacles inherent in our public school system.

The Commonwealth has been a leader in public education since the founding of the nation’s first public school, Boston Latin, in 1635. It was the collective vision and perseverance of many that established the foundation on which we have built one of the strongest public education systems in the country – if not the world. It is with the same tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit that we must tackle the obstacles COVID-19 has presented.

While we understand there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, we must, together, create a new vision upon which there is equitable access to learning for every child — whether that be physically in a classroom, or virtually. For this reason, we are calling on ourselves and others, from educators to administrators and parents to innovators, to come together and embrace the following core tenets to ensure that Massachusetts continues to provide all of our students with the highest-quality education possible.

A focus on equity by assuring that students with the highest levels of personal and family need receive top priority. We cannot compromise the level of individualized service and one-on-one support these students require under remote learning scenarios or hybrid models.

Eliminating the digital divide that is prohibiting tens of thousands of Massachusetts students from gaining equal access to remote and hybrid education. Plans can only be successful if every student can connect with teachers virtually. As former US Secretary of Education John King said in a recent forum, “This should be a New Deal moment for the nation,” referencing how electricity service was made universal in the 1930s as a necessity in support of economic recovery. The state has made strides with grants to schools for student access to devices and connectivity, but more must be done. Additionally, these investments should lead to longer-term instructional innovation and greater effort to increase digital literacy for all students.

Utilize diagnostic assessments to determine each students’ learning needs.  Parents have shown a broad desire to have this type of information, which will be vital for teachers and parents to measure the impact of this disruption on students and should lead to individualized and small group instruction to get students back on track. Additionally, Massachusetts should not abandon use of its existing annual assessments. While the use of data from assessments in this COVID-era for accountability purposes should be weighed with appropriate context, the data collected is essential to understand district and statewide impacts and will help to target resources.

Include college and career readiness in recovery plans. COVID-19 has opened a chasm between high school and students’ next steps. FAFSA completion rates are down, internship and apprenticeship programs have been disrupted, and traditional hands-on approaches in vocational schools may not be possible. Failure to facilitate smooth post-high school transitions for the class of 2021 will create costs that will be with us long after the pandemic has subsided. Early College programs have quickly adapted to keep students on track and should continue to be a priority. Awarding industry-recognized credentials to high-school students and creating accelerated and flexible programming at community colleges should also be explored.

Promote innovation and enable flexibility to meet students’ needs. Over 60 percent of parents in a recent surveysaid they want long lasting systemic change to come from this disruption; something that serves students better than the status quo. Innovation is happening in every sector, and education is no exception. For example, Success Academy in New York is using its best teachers to deliver asynchronous remote instruction for large numbers of students with individual teachers doing the follow up with their own assigned students. The scale of the challenges before us require changes to standard teaching practices, an embrace of technology, and flexibility in regulation to allow for these changes to be fully implemented.

Meet the Author
Meet the Author
By prioritizing equity and embracing innovation, we can help students overcome this crisis and thrive in a new economy. Whether the challenge we face is one of resources, statute, contract, technology, or resistance to change, we have an obligation, all of us, to identify solutions and advance high-quality student learning.

Jay Ash is president & CEO of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership and a former Massachusetts secretary of housing and economic development.  Ed Lambert is executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education and former state representative and mayor of Fall River.