Public School Leadership has Failed Our Students

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There are articles written every day about the negative impacts of covid-mitigation strategies on students, teachers, and schools.  Despite constant school closures, most governmental entities, health professionals and even the national teachers’ unions agree that the best place for children is in the classroom. However, the one topic that no one seems to be discussing is how we can entrust our children’s academic instruction to the administrators and teachers who are not critically examining the research around the mitigation measures.

Prior to March 2020, most parents sent their children to school and believed that teachers were focused on imparting facts and knowledge in the classroom.  They trusted that a balanced perspective was presented on controversial issues, and they trusted that teachers would identify their opinions as such, and not state them as facts.  Perhaps the most startling revelation of school closures and remote learning was the stark reality that many of our teachers are not critical thinkers and incapable of differentiating between fact and opinion.

However, the concern actually starts with school leadership.  Principals, and more specifically, superintendents are making decisions related to school closures and other “mitigation” strategies that are simply not based on facts or empirical evidence. At the end of the 2019-2020 school year when virtually every school closed for in-person instruction, we were already witnessing the unintended consequences of school closures. Domestic violence, child abuse, malnutrition, mental health issues, and suicide attempts rose exponentially those first few months, not to mention learning loss.  At the end of that school year, every superintendent should have viewed that data and made a commitment to opening schools in Fall 2020. The reality is that very few districts in the Northeastern part of the country did in fact open.

There was no evidence that school closures prevented or even decreased the transmission of the virus. So why didn’t more superintendents push back based on the “science” or lack thereof?  Why would a superintendent impact thousands of children’s lives and make decisions that had no supporting evidence?  Fast forward to January 2022 where school closures are still occurring, and all the experts agree that schools should be open.  Superintendents are typically highly educated professionals. According to the School Superintendents Association, approximately 50% of all superintendents have earned an Ed.D. or Ph.D. from an accredited university, while most earned at least a master’s degree. 

Is our education system so broken that even the most educated professionals are incapable of differentiating between politics and evidence? The unfortunate reality is that we will never be at Covid 0.  It will be impossible to fully eradicate the virus as it is already morphing into the seasonal flu. When the CDC stated a year ago that schools were not a source of transmission, they qualified by stating that mitigation measures like masking, distancing, and quarantine created a safe environment. A year later, the CDC is stating that regular cloth masks do not prevent the spread of the virus, and quarantine times have been shortened from 14 to 5 days.

Why are teachers not critically examining the evidence and discussing this in the classroom?  Instead, they are enforcing draconian measures upon our children and are subject to the misguided decisions of superintendents and their local unions. The crises among young people can no longer be considered unintended consequences.  The consequences are obvious, and every school board and every school administrator knows them.  With this knowledge, these decisions are at a minimum, neglectful and at the worst, criminal. 

School closures have opened up the biggest can of worms in recent history in terms of public education.  In addition to the long list of unintended consequences, we are also faced with a true dilemma regarding teachers and administrators ability to effectively teach our children critical thinking skills. Can our public schools truly prepare our children for success if they cannot differentiate fact from opinion?  One of the most important traits to acquire as an adult is the ability to admit mistakes.  It is well past time for our superintendents, school board directors, and teachers to admit the mistakes regarding mitigation strategies in schools and show our students that they are capable of doing the right thing. Absent that acknowledgement, many parents will be left wondering if their children’s education can be entrusted to the public school system. 

Beth Ann Rosica
Beth Ann Rosica is the Executive Director of Back to School PA PAC and is a parent in the West Chester Area School District in Pennsylvania. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and has spent her career advocating for underserved children and families.