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Coronavirus reveals education crisis

Betty A. Rosa is chancellor of the New

Betty A. Rosa is chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, which last week released plans for the fall school year. Credit: Hans Pennink

When the state Board of Regents released its guidance for school districts on the upcoming school year, it highlighted daunting challenges that are often ignored. The coronavirus has changed the ways schools operate, and highlighted the challenges of the districts most impacted by poverty and poor leadership.

The move to distance learning revealed unacceptable inequities in our schools and our society, and an education system that’s done too little to embrace technology and champion flexibility. Now schools must navigate their way through an emergency, and use the lessons taught by bad times to learn to do better at all times.

When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered the state’s schools to close in March, districts had to reinvent education on the fly. None taught as well without classroom contact, but many of the best-resourced districts fared decently. Catering to academically motivated children with involved parents living in stable homes that had technology and support, leaders in these districts say online academic achievement was significant. 

But parents and state education officials say that in the most challenged districts in New York City and on Long Island, education in the time of COVID-19 often consisted of mostly homework packets. Some districts had little online learning. Some students had little contact with teachers, and stopped logging in or never started. Many households had no adults present with the time and ability to help kids learn. And the pandemic exacerbated the crises of abuse, addiction, food instability and emotional issues schools do so much to address normally.

In many parts of the state, children do not have broadband access. In many households, they do not have computers.

Children’s future prospects are being determined by their ZIP codes, and that is as unjust now as it was in the last century. We must use this moment to make the changes that will ensure every child has the resources he or she needs to succeed.

But first we must get through a crisis. The Regents’ plan for the new school year lays out challenges districts must meet that many can’t meet, not least because there is no money to fund the state’s expensive demands. Districts must provide plans for learning entirely in schools, entirely at home, and a combination of the two, but it’s clear every district will have at least some distance learning to accommodate teachers and students who demand it.

Serving everybody well will require the flexibility and ingenuity in education that’s been resisted for too long. Now is the time to develop online learning methods that can supplement traditional classrooms everywhere. Now is the time to develop BOCES online academies whose classes on any imaginable subject can educate students in any district.

Now is the time to drop rigid state and union rules that do more to limit learning than enhance it.

The pandemic will end, and normality will again return, but we can’t go back to doing things the way we always have.

— The editorial board