2020 to 2021 Review Preview
Posted January 3rd, 2021 by George Farmer
January 4th, 2021 marks the day schools return to session in the new year. While the calendar year has changed, the pandemic has school returning under the same circumstances from 2020. The circumstances are vast since 2020 started rapidly and never looked back. Ending 2020 was welcomed by many. However, it is essential to look at some key components of 2020 that will shape education in 2021.
Pandemic Impacts Education
Within the first quarter of 2020, schools abruptly closed for what was thought to be a few weeks. Weeks turned into months, and many schools are still closed for in-person learning. The 2020-2021 school year was preceded by schools creating pandemic and restart plans for in-person learning. All staff personnel were required to wear masks, classroom sizes were smaller than in previous years, and dividers separated students. With specific parameters in place, schools were required to offer virtual learning options for parents who were not comfortable sending their children to school. COVID-19 completely upended education, and districts were forced to rethink and assess effective methods to educate students properly.
COVID-19 vaccines are approved and have arrived. As states create plans to vaccinate the general public, educators are not first in line, and children are further down the line as the vaccine has not been tested on children. Simultaneously, the vaccine is in circulation, along with a mutation of the COVID-19 virus. There is much unknown about the mutation of the virus. It remains to be seen how long schools remain closed for in-person instruction and what schools will try to move ahead with in-person instruction. If schools open for in-person instruction, one can be sure there will be a constant revolving door of closing and opening when staff or children test positive.
COVID-19 severely altered education in 2020; how will schools prepare for the lingering effects of the pandemic.
The initial school closing caused by COVID-19 in 2020 sent schools scrambling to salvage the school year and student learning through remote instruction. The summer of 2020-2021 school year should have involved schools creating comprehensive remote learning programs; instead, the sole focus was reopening schools for in-person learning. Teachers did not receive adequate training for teaching remotely, and supports for parents and students was minimal. The inequities were put on public display as Black and Latinx communities did not have availability to computers and the internet as their White peers. Slowly, computers were purchased and given to students who did not have computers, but many questions remained about closing educational gaps and achieving significant remote instruction gains. Parents were stretched and divided between helping their children with remote learning while balancing job responsibilities coupled with home life. The strain and demand created contentious relationships between parents and schools. 2020 ended with a much-needed break for students, educators, and parents.
Many questions have emerged about remote learning and if students are “learning.” With the new strand of the virus, it is not out of the realm of possibility for remote learning to remain for the remainder of the 2020 – 2021 school year. Among the big questions that remain is if states will require standardized testing and, if so, how can the testing environment be secure with remote learning. The bigger question is, what are the long-term effects of remote learning. Would the educational gaps have grown, resulting in lowered expectations for proficiency? All great questions with severe ramifications that 2021 will have to answer.
An abrupt shift to remote learning was stressful for all stakeholders; districts must create comprehensive plans to close educational gaps during and after the pandemic.
The murder of George Floyd highlighted the reality of the need for social justice in America. No longer could schools ignore the harsh reality of systemic racism Black people face daily. The calls for social justice reform were loud and clear and could no longer be ignored. Schools were forced to recognize their shortcomings in hiring practices, cultural competence, bias, and perpetuating stereotypes. School buildings named after confederate generals and monuments were demanded to be removed by the community. Professional development on diversity, equity, and inclusion for elementary, middle, and high schools were in demand, but would schools continue to lean into diversity, equity, and inclusion permanently?
The depth of commitment to social justice by schools will be evident in 2021. The focus and attention schools gave to social justice in the summer of 2020 and the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year has waned. In 2021 schools will have to answer what changes will be made in the curriculum that reflects the actual historical events in American history? How will the curriculum reflect the various cultures and backgrounds of non-white Americans? Will districts provide professional development, develop equitable practices, and policy changes to ensure social justice is a priority.
Districts cannot allow the attention of social justice reform to be diminished as diversity, equity, and inclusion should always be a priority.
2020 was an eventful year that sits in the rearview window. While 2020 is behind us, many questions must be answered. Although 2021 has arrived, questions remain and may remain for some time. Nonetheless, as 2020 was eventful, 2021 has a full deck of cards that have not been placed on the table. We wait in anticipation to see how 2021 will shift the climate of education.