In January 2022, things looked bleak. But we Americans pulled ourselves together.
For nearly all of the previous two years, the COVID-19 crisis had ravaged schools across the country. Moribund by bureaucratic stasis and special interests, we failed to meet our kids’ needs. Our attempts at remote instruction were a debacle. Large swaths of students struggled and dropped out. Educators got exhausted and burned out. Everyone was worried about staffing shortages, and overwhelmed with student challenges they often didn’t have the expertise or capacity to address.
Parents turned to any imaginable source for help. They spent money on childcare, tutoring, and mental health services, or resigned themselves to desperation if they could not afford those services. Many advocated for individual assessments and customized learning plans, but district leaders told them, “We can’t operationalize that.”
But eventually things shifted, and we changed all that. We managed to keep schools open despite the Omicron variant in early 2022 and quickly caught students up on what they’d missed. Students, policy makers, educators, and family advocates came together to do something better. It took some time. But in the end we pushed through the old barriers of the past and built a public education system we can all be proud of.
The community became a source of expertise, tutoring, mentoring, and supports for students. Now schools focus on excellent teaching.
Parents no longer act as passive observers—they now expect to help design and support their children’s learning. Parents who wouldn’t otherwise have the means receive public dollars to take time off work to volunteer in schools and tutor their own children. All parents have access to a timely and customized reports on their children’s progress toward mastering the content and skills needed to graduate ready for college and careers.
They helped design schools that were joyful but challenging. Those who had spent time in pandemic pods said, “We are not going back to boring, irrelevant, or physically and emotionally unhealthy schools.” Older students asked for more flexible school schedules, allowing them to do internships or work during the day and attend school in evening.
Districts didn’t fear risk or let bureaucracy get in the way, and teachers unions helped create the innovations instead of blocking them.
Leaders in government, business, faith communities, and other civic organizations came together to invest in a massive retooling. Districts redesigned their schools and systems to prepare all students for an uncertain future and to meet diverse needs. High schools became talent development centers, where after mastering basic graduation requirements, every student had access to career and college courses.
We recognized that students have diverse needs and require diverse solutions. We viewed choices and options as a core characteristic of a resilient system and a necessary tool to achieve true equity. We stopped trying to protect institutional interests at the expense of students.
We threw out the old model of one teacher and 30 students and replaced it with flexible staffing models. We completely redefined what it means to be a teacher; now, adults inside and outside the building take on a variety of educator roles and work in tightly coordinated teams, like in the medical field.
Research and evidence drive instructional decisions. Data and accountability systems have been embraced, so parents and teachers can know that kids are getting what they need to be successful. School systems can be sued if they fail to use evidence-based curriculum and proven interventions like high-dosage tutoring. Like medical doctors, schools must meet a basic “standard of care” to continue to operate.
If a child has a disability, comes from a challenged or unique background, or just thinks differently, we see that child as a source of untapped potential. We guarantee ways to build their unique skills and perspectives to become our country’s next leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs.
And we can now say with confidence that we are ready for the next pandemic, natural disaster, or civic uprising, because our schools are built to respond, adapt, and innovate.
Like a phoenix rising from its own ashes, we have rebuilt the educational pathways so all kids can become successful in America. In the aftermath of a pandemic, we have done something truly remarkable.
At the start of each new year, CRPE has a long tradition of looking forward. Even as the Omicron variant seems determined to drag us back into the chaos of the past two years, we choose to see the promise of the future. The next few weeks will be challenging and frustrating, and CRPE will continue to try to be helpful in the moment, providing data and commentary to cut through the rhetoric and politics.
We will get through this (hopefully) final stage of the pandemic. But then what? Realizing a vision like this one will require a new coalition for change, informed by data and ideas.
All of us at CRPE look forward to working with you to create a public education system that lives up to the promise of this generation, and future generations, of students. Happy 2022!