Could American high school learning improve with COVID planning?
Most of the planning for opening schools this fall around the world is being driven by how best to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID.
Can you reduce class sizes? Rethink meeting in large groups? Break up schedules to meet less often or more often for longer stretches of time, like Colorado College? Have more students spend more time online for some assignments? Rethink how to use existing facilities? Only have some students meeting in person?
Thinking through all of these questions can naturally lead to other questions about equity, learning, curriculum, pedagogy, community, relationships, assessment, student responsibilities and the teacher workday.
I’m a grizzled veteran high school reformer that has engaged in several waves of reforms over the course of 33 years. I knew then and know now that our high schools were never designed for educate everyone. They were built to propel the privileged which often means white and better off students to college and success.
I began my education career studying the writing and experiences of Ted Sizer, Debbie Meier, James Comer and others. I knew then it was critical and also possible to rethink high school. Far too many students were and are not getting the education they deserve (and this is particularly true for students of color and low-income students).
I now know how hard it is to improve these remarkable self-perpetuating institutions but I also know it is possible with the right circumstances, including a critical mass of innovative educators, to create a school that can support all students to “use their minds well” and prepare them for building a better world.
Is COVID the opportunity to rethink the American High School?
We have seen many educators do some remarkable things over the last three months to support students. And many others have built some amazing high schools over the last twenty years. I suspect many of those innovative educator practices may stick, including hybrid and more competency-based learning. The question is whether new educator practices can be combined with new models of high schools to create new opportunities for kids.
This fall could be one of those Sputnik moments for American education when some of us rethink the American high school and build one for all and not just some students. I can not wait to see.