This is the fourth in a four-part series exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education. COVID-19 has raised long-term questions about how our education system operates and how best it can serve its students, especially students of color, low-income students, and students with learning differences. Many of these questions demand action from federal policymakers to ensure we don’t return to the same approaches that have perpetuated systemic inequities for generations. KnowledgeWorks encourages ongoing discussion on these questions in the coming school year – and beyond.
What has COVID-19 taught us about how to build an adaptable and effective educator workforce?
COVID-19 significantly disrupted the delivery of instruction, forcing educators to learn new skills overnight in order to sustain learning and meet the needs of students. Their roles shifted in unexpected ways, including managing parents who inherited the role of instructional co-pilot and pleaded for greater transparency of learning targets, curriculum and effective instructional practices. These factors led to a very bumpy Spring semester in most schools, with the rare exception of schools that were already operating virtually or had adopted a personalized, competency-based instructional model that emphasizes transparent learning outcomes, a culture of student agency, and deep parent and community engagement.
It’s not surprising to witness the growing interest in personalized and competency-based learning models. With school calendars and one-size-fits-all learning designs now irrelevant, COVID-19 set off a flurry of state policy activity to waive traditional barriers to competency-education. Some districts, including Cleveland Metropolitan Schools, began to explore the feasibility of a mastery-based approach to replace grade levels with more flexible learning structures while some states, such as Kansas, began to explore a more formal shift toward competency-based education.
All of this transition has exposed systemic weaknesses in our educator workforce system. Most pre-service and professional development programs focus on traditional learning models and very few train educators to deliver flexible learning pathways that function in online and offline learning environments. Educators need better support to ensure they can deliver consistent high-quality instruction in the face of challenge.
A highly trained and engaged educator workforce will be the single most important driver of a successful competency education system. Read more in Laying the Foundation for Competency Education: A Policy Guide for the Next Generation Educator Workforce.
Federal policymakers should pay close attention to the evolving needs of today’s teaching force as they consider policies to shape and incentivize innovative instructional practices. The federal government can catalyze necessary reform through improvements to Title II of the Higher Education Act and Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. These programs must become more responsive to the needs of the field and reflect the instructional and leadership competencies that educators will need to effectively address learning loss and meet the social-emotional needs of a generation of students struggling with the isolation and trauma of disconnection from school.
Each of the questions posed in this blog series demand a national conversation and a deep commitment to solutions. Mass distribution of a safe vaccine should not come with a return to normal but a return to a better system that is equipped to withstand future challenges and address growing inequity. These will not be easy conversations, particularly amidst an increasingly divided federal leadership, but they are essential for our collective success. Fortunately, federal policymakers can learn alongside state and district leaders who are trying their best to seize the moment and provide a glimpse of what is possible if we commit to think and act boldly.
Look to KnowledgeWorks in the coming months for more state and federal guidance on designing resilient and equitable education systems.