The future is the only thing that stands in front of you that you cannot see. We can, however, inform it. We can define it. We can make sure that the future glows brightly for generations to come. Since March 13, however, it hasn’t felt like that. In fact, the future of Nevada’s education system and economy have felt more fragile and uncertain than they have in over a decade.
Under normal circumstances, the first day of school would include students standing at bus stops and butterflies flapping in their stomachs as they see their new classroom and start a new stage in their young lives. We would be smiling with pride and maybe choking back tears of joy as our kindergarteners and seniors set off to start the first days of the rest of their lives. Instead, we’re missing many of these things. Meanwhile the impacts of school closures cascade beyond empty buildings and classes administered electronically.
Preliminary national estimates of the impact of school building closures on learning retention suggest that students will have lost 30% of gains made in a traditional year, and anywhere from 50% to a full year of gains in mathematics when returning to school in Fall 2020.
With increasing regularity, I have been asked: “What can we do to make sure kids continue to learn? How do we ‘fix’ the impact of this global pandemic on teaching and learning?”
As we’ve seen in the public discourse, both locally and nationally, there are many possible answers to those questions.
Many of us have been focused on tackling solutions that feel solvable. More computers, better connectivity, stronger online curriculum. All of these things are necessary, and their availability is lacking—but let’s be clear: those solutions solve for one moment in time.
If the past several months have taught us anything, I hope it’s that we need to make foundational changes to the organization of our systems—education being chief among them— not minor adjustments.
What the Nevada education system needs is an articulation of its values.
Do we value education as the great equalizer for poverty and opportunity? Do we value education as the critical primer for a diversified, long-term economy? Do we value education as day care for kids while their families work? Do we value education at all? If so, how?
Previous legislative efforts have appropriately focused on funding education. There have been mixed reviews on the efforts, but the most significant missing piece is funding to what end. What do we expect to be true when we provide additional funding? Does the State’s education budget reflect our values?
Right now, as a state, evidence indicates that we don’t really know the answer to these questions. That’s problematic. And yet, there is hope.
We may not agree on everything, but I believe we can come together to decide on where we want to be after the pandemic and well-beyond it. We can decide how to interpret data and to make decisions against a set of values that are consistent. We can decide, collaboratively, on what we want our futures to look like. We can commit that during the next national or global crisis, we will not be given the honor of the state most economically impacted. Instead, we will re-align our actions in K-12 education to a value of economic sustainability. We will work towards a clear, common goal, even in the face of setbacks. We will work through challenging disagreements with a clear focus on what we have committed to ourselves and to each other.
The challenges we are facing are vast, but not insurmountable. Let’s commit to a set of values that articulate what must be true for our children’s education. Then, let’s write a plan for our future that aligns with those values.
After that comes the hard part.
We have to live by the values that we define and make decisions in alignment with them. We have to stay the course. We may not see the benefits next week or next year, but we will set the foundation for a long-term shift in education, our economy, and the story of our future. More importantly, we’ll finally be putting our students first, not just in words, but also in action.
Jana Wilcox Lavin, Executive Director of Opportunity 180