It was no surprise when state officials announced last week that Indiana K-12 schools would stay closed for the remainder of the school year, with instruction provided remotely. But important questions won’t be answered for some time.
First, when will schools reopen? Will there be summer school this year, or will schools stay closed until fall — or even longer? How will Indiana help students recover from losing over two months of their education? And finally, how will we pay for it?
A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says that, absent an effective educational response, the pandemic “is likely to generate the greatest disruption in educational opportunity worldwide in a generation.” That’s a frightening thought.
Indiana’s immediate response has been solid. Gov. Eric Holcomb initially said schools would close until May 1, then extended the closure when it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t slowing. His stay-at-home order, extended through April 20, should help.
The Indiana Department of Education is providing information and encouragement for schools and families. (The 52-page Continuous Learning Guidance document advises Hoosiers to “extend grace to all in these unique and trying times.”). The department is calling on school districts to submit continuous learning plans for the rest of this year by April 17.
According to a survey, 91% of school districts have been providing students with learning activities by e-learning or other methods. But learning at home isn’t the same as learning face-to-face from skilled teachers.
Meanwhile, the massive and sudden shift to online learning is exposing huge gaps in opportunity. Some communities lack reliable internet service. Many families are on the wrong side of the digital divide. As Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said, a parent and three school-age children may share a single device, often a smartphone.
“The kids who have the least are getting the least now,” UCLA education professor Pedro Noguera told Hechinger Report. “They will, in fact, be behind the kids who are learning still.”
To address those growing gaps, there will be a critical need for what Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, refers to as “educational recovery planning.”
Initially, some experts were looking to summer school to help. But there’s very little time to plan and implement robust summer programs this year. It may be better to focus resources and targeted student assistance to the 2020-21 school year and the summer of 2021.
Educational recovery will cost money, and that will be a challenge when the nation is almost sure to enter a recession, which will reduce Indiana’s tax revenue and could wipe out the budget surplus. The $2 trillion stimulus package that Congress approved includes funding for schools, but not nearly enough. Indiana’s share, $215 million, is barely 2% of what the state spends every year on K-12 schools.
In a state where schools never really recovered from the 2007-08 recession, we can expect challenges after classrooms reopen. May our leaders be up to the task.