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School systems should share their best practices as they examine lessons learned in an effort to champion educational excellence and equity

As schools share best practices, equity can emerge from the pandemic


School systems should share their best practices as they examine lessons learned in an effort to champion educational excellence and equity

Another school year is underway, and many of you may be feeling an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Pandemic preparedness, mask mandates, quarantines–it’s starting to sound a lot like where we were last fall. But, luckily, it’s not.

Our public schools are not where they were at the start of the last school year. In fact, in terms of investment in new teaching and learning capabilities and student supports, we are currently leaps ahead of where we were in fall 2019, too–a not-so-distant past. Pushed by the pandemic, school systems and learners acquired new skills at a rapid pace. If we help them learn from each other and keep building upon these innovations, we will be in a new and better place this time next year.

This is the lesson of our recent white paper, “Launching Forward: Leveraging Pandemic Innovations to Advance School Systems.” In our research, we looked across U.S. school systems and found that through the hardship has come considerable growth. We didn’t want those lessons learned and innovations made to be lost; we didn’t want the hardship to be for naught.

So, we collected the stories and surfaced innovations. We talked to the experts. From that work, we identified patterns across schools and systems, and we collected those ideas to offer K-12 education leaders concrete actions in a broader Hop, Skip, Leapfrog toolkit for advancing excellence and equity for all students moving forward.

What we want is for a school system in New Hampshire to learn how the Austin Independent School District in Texas met the demand for digital materials by bringing together a cross-section of academic coaches to develop and roll out centrally vetted, standards-aligned course “blueprints”–because that, or at least a similar strategy, may work for them as they face this challenge too.

We want schools in Arizona to be aware of the work education leaders did in Nashville, Tennessee to reimagine the central office as a support hub for students, families, and schools–because the same kind of investment may pay dividends for their communities.

We want to connect the dots for school systems across the country, so that they learn from each other for the benefit of all students and teachers.

Some might argue that last year was just a blip–a once-in-a-lifetime set of circumstances that required unique, one-and-done solutions. But what our learning alongside school and system leaders has shown us is that the lessons learned are about much more than just navigating the pandemic.

As in other parts of our society, the pandemic simply laid bare deficiencies and inequalities in school districts nationwide–and it accelerated the need to address these deficits. To think of last year as a blip would be to imply that we were in a great spot before the pandemic, and, quite frankly, our public schools were not. Moreover, to think of it as a blip would be disrespectful to those who conquered the challenges of last year. We would be missing an opportunity to grow from it.

As we progress through this school year, the news cycle may look the same, but our education communities are not. Our students are not the same. School leaders, teachers, learners, and families proved that they can tackle the challenges of the pandemic and get to a new, different, and better place. We must move forward from where we are now. School systems should look to each other and embrace the lessons learned to drive greater educational excellence and equity for each and every child.

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