Bad Leadership Drove Schools into Crisis: COVID-19 exposed how important teachers are to students and families--but politicians and policy leaders are still not listening to them.

AuthorBryant, Jeff

Michael Barbour, a professor at Touro University California and an expert on K-12 online learning, believes that more than half of the nation's school superintendents "should be fired."

His blistering criticism stems from the fact that, deep into the 2020-2021 school year, many schools are still struggling with virtual learning during the pandemic.

Stories of school districts' online learning systems crashing are widespread. Teachers complain about being excluded from decisions regarding online curriculum and pedagogy. Alarming numbers of students are not engaged or not showing up, especially in low-income areas and among communities of color.

The chaos is especially concerning given that 76 percent of parents say their children are attending school remotely, either full or part time. "Any school leader who didn't reach out to teachers to ask what had worked well and what didn't and then use that [to prepare for the fall reopening]," Barbour tells me, "committed a dereliction of duty."

Barbour's ire might be justified. In California, for example, fewer than 10 percent of school districts offered more than sixteen hours of training for teachers during the summer, when schools could have been preparing to reopen with online learning.

Improving remote learning, many experts agree, would mean creating spaces for teachers to collaborate and share models of effective online instruction and lesson planning.

"The disregard of teachers' shared professional expertise and practical knowledge is no accident," wrote Diana D'Amico Pawlewicz, an education policy historian and author of Blaming Teachers, on the debacle of fall school reopenings.

This disregard is all the more galling given the #Red4Ed wave of teacher rebellions that took place in 2018-2019, when educators--mostly in politically red states--held sickouts, walkouts, and street demonstrations to protest a lack of funding, attacks on teacher professionalism, and threats to close and privatize public schools.

The teachers' actions led to increased teacher pay, smaller class sizes, and more nurses and counselors in schools. But during the pandemic, when support for teachers would seem to matter most, their wisdom has too often been overlooked.

"In the spring, we had to come up with creative ways to support our families," says Milwaukee, Wisconsin, educator Glenn Carson. He describes an intense effort to deliver devices and hotspots to homes, learn new technologies, and conduct family outreach.


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