March 15, 2021
The post-pandemic three R’s of education: Recover, restore, and rebuild
By Tim Lavallee
Editor’s Note: This editorial was published in the News and Observer on March 15, 2021.
When state leaders recently announced a compromise on returning to in-person K-12 instruction, it lent hope to the idea that our state can move forward on a post-pandemic plan for public education.
Amid all the discussions about getting kids back into the classrooms there has been little focus of what schools will look like next fall and what students will need to recover. However, throughout the COVID-19 ordeal, there has been plenty of discussion about learning loss, lack of equity, and the social and emotional health of students.
Those are very important issues that existed before the pandemic started and were made worse over the past year, and they will exist for the next few school years. Now with a steady rate of adult vaccinations and falling positive cases and hospitalizations, state and local policymakers should shift their focus from managing the pandemic to developing a long term recovery plan.
The year-long COVID-19 crisis is a natural disaster, and North Carolina is used to dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters. It’s one of the things our state is very good at doing. We know how to recover what was lost, restore what was made worse, and rebuild what was broken.
This time, instead of recovering lost property, we need to recover lost learning. Instead of restoring power, we need to restore learning. Instead of rebuilding homes and businesses, we need to rebuild our education system so it can meet the new and persistent needs of students.
With the right amount of education professionals in the right places, our students can recover from most of the negative effects of a year’s worth of remote instruction.
With the right amount of preparation, our school systems can restore their learning spaces to pre-pandemic, or better, conditions.
With the right amount of academic resources, our educators can provide the support students need to rebuild their self-esteem and learning confidence.
These solutions won’t be found in a six-week summer camp. It will take a full school year or likely more to get students back to where they need to be for those who have that time left.
This response will take a combination of trained, certified people who are dedicated to student successes, and who will range in expertise from instructional assistants who support certified staff through behavioral health specialists whose can make clinical recommendations for learning strategies and outcomes.
The most emphasis should be placed on elementary students who are still learning the fundamentals that will serve them for the rest of their lives, on students who are close to graduation and need support to get their diplomas, and for students with the most significant gaps in learning. That said, no student should fall through the cracks.
Hiring these folks will costs millions of dollars in new spending that may need be recurring for a few years because recovering after any natural disaster is a long, expensive process.
Planning needs to be flexible to respond to improving or worsening needs while restoring best practices and processes.
Our policy leaders are going to have be lenient with testing and accountability regulations and timetables because rebuilding achievement and growth is slow and deliberate.
Our K-12 professionals will continue to need the grace that they have asked for since the start of the pandemic. They will need the same type of goodwill and community support usually experienced following a natural disaster. They will need government to get out of the way the people who are experienced and certified to bring about a return to normal while also providing the conditions and resources necessary for those professionals to get their work done together.
If we want to return better than before, our leaders need to continue the work that was started with the legislative compromise to return to in-person instruction and create a pathway for K-12 education to recover, restore, and rebuild their way to overcoming the COVID-19 storm.
Tim Lavallee is Vice President of Policy and Research for WakeEd Partnership, a business-backed nonprofit group that supports public schools in Wake County.