Sobremesa: Falling through the cracks of COVID-19

We build snow days and national holidays into our academic calendars, but certainly not pandemics. In March of this year, public schools were forced to grapple with what learning in the age of a pandemic was going to look like. Now, in a school year completely changed by COVID-19, many have accepted our current situation as the new educational norm. It is time we take a stand and challenge this norm as unacceptable.

The United States Department of Education (USDE) usually has accountability standards that require each state to meet certain public school standardized testing requirements. Rather than devising creative ways to uphold these standards, the USDE decided to relax their requirements — allowing for lower scores and less standardized testing during the pandemic. Some people may argue that standardized testing is inherently flawed; while I agree to some extent, it is currently the backbone of public education. Standardized testing is our nation’s only measure of determining where students stand in their progression through the system. They help answer questions like: Are students ready to move to the next grade? Is the curriculum structured properly?

The effectiveness of an American education doesn’t start or stop with children; adults are very much intertwined in this system. “Essential worker” became a buzzword this past spring when our society realized the importance of people like cashiers, bus drivers and prep cooks. Some members of this over 55 million person sector earn disproportionately less money than workers considered to be “nonessential.” While still working long hours for low wages, some essential workers had to leave their children home without the parental guidance or financial resources necessary to ensure remote academic success.

Not only were many children left home without proper academic resources, but they have also been left without proper nutrition. You’ve probably never considered the link between sandwiches and the effects of COVID-19, but students receive about 20.1 million free school lunches everyday. While several school lunch programs have adjusted to accommodate remote students, many have left members of our nation’s youth without the sustenance they need.

We must implement concrete solutions to get American children back on the path toward academic success. Our country’s first step should be increasing training and resources for public school teachers as they navigate the hardships associated with online schooling. This will require researching what the most effective online learning tools are and increasing funding of those programs. Furthermore, our federal and local governments must provide the technology necessary for students to access these resources. The pandemic has left us with cracks in our public educational system, most of which we could have never foreseen; it is time to start patching them.