Myra G. Crouch, Ph.D., Education Consultant
February 24, 2021
The current crisis is reminding us how vital our education system is to the ecosystems that we engage, develop and grow. This crisis has also exposed us to the magnitude of the level of inequity that exists and its importance of schooling that affects children and families from all backgrounds and cultures. At the heart of this crisis, we are also learning of the tremendous effort it will take to build back education that affords all children and youth the equal footing they need to be successful, no matter where their education pathway takes them. Keeping students and staff safe and healthy throughout the COVID-19 transition is at the core of everyone’s minds, along with their social-emotional development. Reopening schools seems to be the central issue that could unite concerns from parents, teachers, policymakers and professionals from a variety of disciplines by getting students to adapt to a new normal and the quality of life for families.
However, the national conversation has not focused nearly enough on early care and education, which is a critical period of child development. While child care and early childhood programs struggle to keep their doors open, young children birth to age 8 are experiencing a loss like no other. The value of early childhood educators during this disruption are at huge risk as the industry begins to adjust to their new normal. There is so far that remote learning can go to support the social-emotional development and special learning needs of young children as they strive to thrive. Moreover, the professional learning for early care educators has also faced their own hurdles.
As an educational psychologist, my biggest concern is the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on how early childhood educators are preparing to ensure that their practices of equity and inclusion are fully sound and ready for young children as they re-enter classrooms, specifically, adjusting to being back in the classroom. The call for action is tremendous and a great weight will be lifted if we get it right. Making the investment in child care and the early childhood infrastructure, connecting caregivers to community services, and supporting families as they return to the workforce after being without a job is only one critical step to what will make the return successful. As we know that one-size does not fit all. We must be intentional and educate the workforce and parents on the emphasis of intervention and transition practices that must be instituted to ensure that all children's needs are understood and addressed. However, without federal action and state collaboration, we will not be able to get back to the health and economic well-being of families.
While there will be many efforts around education reform, how will educators come together to apply competency to measuring and assessing learning, especially, the learning losses and shortfalls in social-emotional learning across a wide spectrum of student achievement? Parents and teachers’ fears about the impact of the pandemic on students’ learning gains and losses, have just begun to surface as one of the key issues throughout the crisis. Advocates of education reform will point to gaps between where students are and where they should be pre-and post-COVID. The pandemic has exposed us to so many inequities that will persists in the education system unless we take the time to reimagine how to meet students where they are to get back to their full potential. The pandemic period has been stressful for all of us. Many children and youth have experienced loss at so many levels. The call for action lies within us all, but we must seek the leadership and collaboration from a myriad of disciplines to ensure that recovery, and reform of the American education system can serve as a trailblazer for how the lessons learned from pandemic will influence the millions of students from across the globe. Left unaddressed, a disproportionate impact on students of color, English language learners, and students with special needs will have the potential to widen the existing achievement gaps and lead the future generation from opting out of education.
Of specific interest, educational psychologists can take a more active role to support an all in approach toward collaborative efforts to shape and institute the current administration’s legislation to address key aspects of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and other pending legislation earmarked for states to engage in education reform. It will take all of us, respecting the diversity we all bring to reimagine education that adapts to an agile education ecosystem for us to emerge stronger, collectively that allows for success and failure as we move forward.