Driving school innovations in the event of a pandemic | Opinion


By Tim Nesbitt, Oregon Capital Chronicle

As parents and children celebrate the end of mask mandates in Oregon schools, for many it is a huge relief to return to the “old normal” in our classrooms.

But the old normal will not be enough to overcome what our children have lost over the past two years. Nor will it be enough for them to succeed in the years to come.

We will need to do whatever it takes now to get our children back on track, and then apply what works to improve the learning path of the future. It’s not two tasks; it’s a. What works for learning recovery can also work for learning enhancement.

Oregon lawmakers understand this.

In just 10 months, they have implemented what could become one of the most significant overhauls to our K12 system since we transitioned to state funding in the early 1990s.

It all started with a rushed response to the pandemic-related disruption to our education system last April, when the Legislature authorized $205 million for summer schools and community learning programs to stem the learning losses evident across the state. Now, with another round of funding earlier this month, these investments have the potential to make permanent an extension of the school year and an expansion of community learning that will reshape our school system.

Lawmakers also launched a new educator recruitment and training program, which should help overcome the staffing shortages plaguing schools today and enable an expansion of innovative learning programs.

Unfortunately, it took the great disruption of the past two years to accelerate these reforms. But crises like this can challenge old habits and disrupt institutions in ways that accelerate the pace of innovation, as we see in the breadth and scope of Oregon’s new commitment to learning. of summer.

When it comes to classroom time, Oregon was already far behind other states when it closed schools in March 2020, so we had a lot of catching up to do when lawmakers added voluntary programs to calendars. school in the summer of 2021.

Unsurprisingly, the response was impressive – an eightfold increase over the previous year to nearly 109,000 student participants.

In addition to these traditional programs, community outreach programs have exploded, reaching some 340,000 schoolchildren in a variety of learning and social activities.

Allowing for double counting in this latter number, it is still likely that well over half of Oregon students participated in some form of organized summer learning last year, with at least one one in five students engaged in full degree programs.

We can expect to see even more turnout this summer.

But the number of participants is only part of the story.

The 513 community programs that populated the learning landscape last summer ranged from library book clubs to more intensive job training and credit courses at community colleges. Not all will prove equally effective. But results over time will help identify those that not only advance learning during the summer months, but also motivate students when they return to class in the fall.

In addition, the involvement of community organizations in these summer learning programs will help foster better relationships with local schools. Oversight will be transferred this year to the state’s 19 education service districts, whose leaders will focus on strengthening those ties in new community-district collaborations.

Finally, it should be noted that funding for these new summer programs bypassed the state’s decades-old school funding formula. The same was true for the expansion of technical career programs under Measure 98 (2016). Ditto for the dedication of funds from the Student Success Act (2019) to programs targeting underserved students.

This should tell us something about how reform happens and how it can be sustained. Summer learning programs, along with the innovations that preceded them in the years before the pandemic, will eventually have to earn their way into a more updated approach to funding Oregon’s school system.

Senate Speaker Peter Courtney, D-Salem, is optimistic that will happen, seeing the commitment made by the Legislature last month as “the start of really talking about a full year of school.”

“It’s as much about helping students who are falling behind as it is about helping students of the future,” Courtney added, foreshadowing a new normal to be celebrated in years to come.

Tim Nesbitt, a former Oregon labor leader, served as an adviser to Governors Ted Kulongoski and John Kitzhaber and later helped craft Measure 98 in 2016, which provided targeted supplemental funding to Oregon high schools. Oregon Capital Chronicle (oregoncapitalchronicle.com) is a nonprofit, professional news organization focused on in-depth and helpful reporting on Oregon state government, politics and politics.

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