Two years into the pandemic and we have yet to find our footing. The call to “get back to normal” continues, but I think “normal” no longer exists nor will it ever exist again. But isn’t that a good thing? As we look back at “normal,” should we be eager to return to that place? Do we want to return to low expectations and low achievement? Let’s look at what “normal” was.
We are hearing about “Pandemic learning loss” in the media. There is concern about gaps in learning that have occurred over the last two years. There should be concern about these gaps, but wide gaps were present long before the pandemic began. Reading and math performance scores have been alarming for many years. Almost 70% of students in the United States cannot read proficiently. Literacy failure has been a persistent problem in our nation’s schools. Math performance scores are similarly dismal.
Consistent academic service provision to students with disabilities was lacking prior to the pandemic and has worsened significantly since it began. Despite federal requirements to serve disabled students, many have fallen through the cracks and are experiencing social and academic failure in school and in life. Negative student behavior has increased in schools as well, as districts try to limit referrals and suspensions by keeping disruptive students in the classroom. In a recent news story, I listened as a local education administrator attributed the upswing in negative behavior to the pandemic. I offer the correction that severe student behavior long preceded the pandemic.
Is “back to normal” where we really want to go? The pandemic, as unfortunate as it has been, has given us an opportunity to reset education as we know it. All stakeholders in education should pay close attention to public education administrators’ next steps. Where we go from here will communicate the priorities of the public education system. Education statistics reveal the poor academic health of our schools. Will we address the weaknesses that have persisted in the system for so long or will we return to “normal” and maintain the status quo of low achievement?