COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on almost all areas of life in the United States, and one of the most severe problems has been the impact on our public school system.
So, it was no surprise that the first meeting of the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education on June 2, 2020 focused on presentations on the state’s public school system’s impacts and future planning related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presentations were made by Oldham County Public Schools superintendent Greg Schultz and by Interim Commissioner of Education Kevin Brown and several of his staff members. These presentations made it very clear: vast numbers of questions about what needs to be done to safely open schools again simply have no answers at present.
The presentations were short on statistics because a lot of data simply isn’t available at present. There’s been little testing (all state KPREP tests were cancelled, and even ACT testing remains incomplete), so concerns education loss and the probable increase in achievement gaps remain unanswered at present while plans on how to evaluate the gaps and overall learning losses are only in early development.
Another unknown surfaced in very general comments from the commissioner. He expects some students not to return to classrooms in the fall even if the schools do reopen.
We’ve already explored some potential numbers for non-returners in three blogs available here, here, and here. Based on the three different polls examined by these blogs, it’s possible that somewhere around 40% of the students might not be coming back, avoiding public school buildings completely due to either health concerns with the virus and/or public education’s poor educational performance for numerous students. The polls indicate a notable number of students might be permanently switching to homeschooling after their parents discovered their children performed better in a homeschool environment courtesy of the virus.
In any event, the commissioner offered no numbers or even estimates about how many students might not return to the school house. While he never mentioned the potential for a notable homeschooling increase, he admitted that going forward models for school reopening need to consider that some remote learning will probably be required, acknowledging some students won’t want to return to open school buildings due to health concerns (perhaps because the family has an older adult living with them).
Overall, it looks like the education department hasn’t begun to really wrap its arms around who isn’t coming back, or why. But, the commissioner is now generally aware that this situation is a factor for reopening, though he admitted planning to this point has not taken it into consideration.
The presentations to the committee make it clear that a lot needs to be learned if school reopening is going to work, as a comment in the department’s slide presentation to the committee on slide 18 makes clear:
“Much is still unknown about how the COVID-19 pandemic will unfold during the summer and into the fall.”
Absent that knowledge, planning for reopening is going to be really tough, a case amplified by Superintendent Schultz, who outlined many questions he must answer before he can reopen his schools.