State Rep. Terry Canales wrote Gov. Greg Abbott yesterday calling on him to officially end the academic school year so that teachers and school districts can turn their attention to preparing for next year, which will bring new and intense challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The current strategies for instructing students while schools are closed rely heavily on online education, take-home packets, and often parents becoming educators overnight to try and guide their children through the curriculum in the absence of a teacher. Schools and families have scrambled to prepare for the transition to home instruction and have mobilized all the resources at their disposal to continue educating students under unprecedented circumstances. However, there is no getting around the fact that some districts and communities are better situated to handle these demands than others–which highlights the inequalities in our education system.
Representative Canales points out in his letter that these strategies simply do not work for all students. The example he gives is Rio Grande Valley where more than 40% of people do not have access to reliable internet, and many parents still must work all day, and contend with significant language barriers and minimal knowledge of pedagogy. These challenges are not unique to the Rio Grande Valley, but can be widely found in districts across the state, and will no doubt have an impact on how students learn the material being provided schools.
These issues raise the question of whether keeping the school year going is likely to cause more harm than good. At at this point, by order of the governor, the earliest schools will open is May 4. For most Texas schools that means that students will be coming back with less than a month remaining in the school year. While trying to ensure students don’t fall behind, we could be widening the equity gap that already exists in our communities. Rep. Canales said in his letter, “My greatest fear is that we are doing a terrible disservice to the future of our state—our Texas students. Students across the state are learning from home in silos, and they are not all learning equally.”
Gov. Abbott could use his executive authority to immediately end the school year and direct districts to refocus on readying themselves for 2020-2021. At Texas AFT, we’d like to know your thoughts. What would ending the school year now and refocusing look like for your campus, and what supports do you and your students need to be ready for next year?