And fresh off what I’ve been unofficially calling “Policy Week” – the virtual meetings of SETDA on November 16-17 and of ECS on November 18-19 – I wanted to share some of my thoughts and impressions of the key discussions.
SETDA Leadership Summit
SETDA’s annual Leadership Summit brought educational leaders from more than 40 states together with experts in educational technology, assessment, instructional materials and professional development.
Kenneth Shelton provided an inspiring keynote address that challenged educators to design for inclusion and let students hold us accountable. He spoke about “techquity” – the intersection of technology and equity – where educational technologies merge with culturally competent learning experience to support the development of students’ essential skills.
Of all the “techquity” issues brought into sharp relief by COVID-19, few have been more concerning than the lack of reliable internet access for students who are distance learning. Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, the Consortium for School Networking, shared some exciting news on that front: CoSN, together with SETDA, are beginning a student home internet research project. Funded by a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the project aims to release public recommendations on upload/download requirements in early 2021.
As part of the event, SETDA offered its private-sector partners an opportunity to exhibit in the virtual expo hall. My MIND colleagues and I were delighted to share more about what makes an effective distance learning tool, how to help families combat math anxiety, and how ST Math’s unique learning model works. We even played some games, which you can try out for yourself at www.stmath.com/play.
Hundreds of state commissioners and edtech policy leaders joined the ECS Live! events, which delivered the latest news and thinking on education policy.
ECS staff shared information about their COVID-19 resources available at ecs.org/covid-19-pandemic, with seven new policy guidelines focused on:
Accountability & School Improvement
Professional Learning for Teachers & Leaders
State Task Forces & Advisory Groups
Upskilling & Reskilling
From the whole week of events, one of the most informative sessions I attended was “Funding K-12 Education Through Unique Circumstances” with Michael Griffith of the Learning Policy Institute and Dr. Marguerite Roza of the Edunomics Lab.
Districts are having to spend money in ways that are atypical – plexiglass, PPE, rapid testing, hot spots, and more. And while districts have been afforded emergency spending powers and funding to make this feasible, the pandemic has also illuminated inequities in facilities and maintenance that are more challenging to address. For example, Mr. Griffith cited an estimation that 40% of school buildings don’t have proper HVAC systems.
While many districts do have reserves in place to help with extraordinary spending needs, a concern is that many of them have already had no choice but to dip into those funds, which makes looking ahead to next year a worrying prospect.
Looking to what the education community can do to meet these significant challenges, the presenters spoke of the general innovative spirit that has transformed so many industries during this pandemic, like mobile health and food service. And while there are individual organizations that are meeting the moment for kids, it will be a challenge for the “full machine of U.S. education” to shift as effectively as other industries have done. Ideas like extending the school year, extending the school day, and offering tutoring resources were all discussed, but the panelists acknowledged that a sustained, well-funded, multi-year effort at the federal level will be required.
While signs point toward another federal stimulus, how much of that will be targeted to education remains in question. With ARRA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, funding was aligned with state population. However, this pandemic has affected states disproportionate to their population, and therefore needs are unevenly spread. Panelists also cautioned against an impulse to tie funding to Title I, citing that it may put rural districts with fewer pupils at a disadvantage.
And speaking of fewer pupils, panelists were especially concerned about enrollment drops, which have ranged from 3 to 12%. Even a 1% drop can be difficult for a district with respect to funding impacts, so such large drops will surely have massive implications. The question remains: is this a one-year phenomenon of homeschooling and pandemic pods, or does this signal a longer-term change?
On behalf of MIND, I extend our thanks to both ECS and SETDA for their informative and dynamic programs. We look forward to joining both organizations at their next meetings in summer 2021.
About the Author
Liz Neiman is Vice President of Engagement at MIND, leading the marketing team's plans and activities to promote MIND's initiatives and impact. Besides education and gaming, her interests include music of all kinds (from musical theater to heavy metal), cooking and baking, and fashion. Follow her on Twitter @lizneiman.