Letter From the Editor: Rethinking How We Cover Schools in a Time of Chaos, Closings — and Reinvention

By Steve Snyder | March 20, 2020
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: A classroom is empty on what would otherwise be a school day as teachers and faculty members learn remote teaching and methods for students at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 in the Manhattan borough of New York City. Public schools in New York City have been shut down until at least until April 20th amid the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

An unprecedented closure of the nation’s school system has now sparked an unpredictable era of challenges, struggles and innovation. What happens next?

With the majority of America’s public schools now closed due to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, a public health story has also emerged as the biggest education story in a generation.

Students are dislocated. Educators are scrambling to conceive the classroom as a virtual daily gathering. Parents have been deputized overnight as homeschoolers. Advocates are surveying this foreign landscape and raising urgent concerns surrounding issues of equity, inclusion, curriculum, safety, standards and … well … everything else that shapes the functioning of a school community.

We’re just beginning to process the new normal for America’s 74 million children — a seismic shift in daily life, as well as learning, that officials warn could continue beyond this school and calendar year. This is why we’re now asking parents, educators, students and district leaders directly to send us their stories, innovations, breakthroughs and concerns. We have a new email address — coronavirus@the74million.org — and we welcome your insights into the stories we should be chasing.

As an education newsroom, we can sense our mission expanding and evolving by the hour. Over the past four days, we’ve torn up the standing publication plan, canceled all standing projects and company travel, and reoriented our national team to focus on this once-in-a-lifetime education experiment that’s about to play out in real time in our cities, homes and living rooms.

We now have reporters and contributors positioned coast to coast, from New York to Washington, Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, Texas, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Beyond our core enterprise reporting, we’re expanding our upcoming slate of educator commentaries, expert analyses, everyday explainers and first-person accounts of our new 2020 educational system.

We also find ourselves fielding more offers than ever before from district leaders looking to share the challenges and breakthroughs they’re experiencing — as well as their latest updates on what’s working — with others across the country.

As we now prepare for week two of a national shutdown, we turn our reporting to key issues of equity, inclusion, access and curriculum amid the new landscape. We’re also looking to better understand how districts, educators and families are innovating and rethinking the system in these difficult times.

For those of you who, like us, are just trying to get caught up on all that’s changed and how educators are responding, I’ve included some of our most widely circulated links from week one. It’s a good primer of how we got here, and where we seem to be heading.

We hope you’ll continue to see us as a resource in these unprecedented times, and as a partner in trying to share out evolving practices and innovations as we retool a system in a matter of days. I welcome your thoughts directly on what’s working, what’s not working, what you find interesting and the critical questions no one is yet asking — reach me day or night at steve@the74million.org.

Finally, we also realize that families across America are in a crisis that goes far beyond education. They are facing job losses, separation, sickness and, in the most dire circumstances, death. We wish first and foremost that our readers are able to stay safe, healthy and secure.

To the extent that we are able to do what we do best at The 74, inform and enlighten, we would like to share our expanding coronavirus reading list (you can also bookmark our ongoing series at The74Million.org/Coronavirus):

First-Person: Social distancing without a social safety net — How shutdowns came to my child’s fragile school community. By Beth Hawkins (Read the full essay here)

Innovation: Success Academy goes virtual — New York City’s largest charter network shares how it’s restructuring to provide online learning. By Taylor Swaak (Read the full article here)

Standards: States are begging the federal government to cancel spring testing. What happens if they get their wish? By Kevin Mahnken (Read the full article here)

We’re All Homeschoolers Now: Coronavirus has turned families into unwitting homeschoolers. Some suggestions for how they can treat it like an opportunity. By Catherine Fraise (Read the full analysis here)

Special Education: ‘Absolutely, I’m worried’ — For children with special needs, unprecedented coronavirus school closures bring confusion and uncertainty. By Mark Keierleber (Read the full story here)

Public Health: What should schools do to help ‘flatten the curve’ in fighting coronavirus? A lot of what they’re already doing. By John Bailey (Read the full story here)

Equity: As schools shift to virtual learning, educators worry that online instruction is inequitable. But no learning at all is worse. By Robin Lake (Read the full analysis here)

Road Map: Education leaders must act to keep teachers, students and families safe from coronavirus. Here’s a road map for them to follow. By Dr. Mario Ramirez and Andrew Buher (Read the full commentary here)

Photo History: Scenes from a lost school year — Photos from the month coronavirus derailed classrooms & campuses. By Meghan Gallagher (See the full gallery here)

Lead image: Getty Images

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