The nation’s families recently received another clear message that our education system is not serving all students. Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “nation’s report card,” last month revealed the extent of the learning decline during the pandemic.
It’s time for students to get the help they need. And families have never been hungrier for more options to make that possible.
They are exhausted. Students are frustrated. K-12 educators have one of the highest rates of burnout in the U.S. workforce. Despite this, our schools are being asked to take on more. Which all begs the question: Should we expect the traditional education system to add responsibilities when we already know that it has not been able to keep up over the past few years?
Findings show that two years of pandemic-induced shutdowns and learning interruptions wiped out 20 years of educational progress. To call it disastrous understates it.
We know that many federal education dollars are still unused; we believe families should have direct access to educational resources so they can find the right fit for their children’s unique learning styles.
States such as Indiana, Idaho, West Virginia, Virginia and many others are modernizing learning and allowing parents the power to choose the education that’s best for their children. Indiana is offering families grants of up $1,000 to support after-school tutoring. Idaho started a $50 million program so that eligible families can buy education-related items, from online instructional materials to tutoring services. West Virginia is providing families with up to $4,600 to use toward creating individualized educational experiences. Most recently, Virginia agreed to distribute $30 million in recovery grants to families for resources such as tutoring in direct response to disappointing NAEP scores. While the pandemic may have catalyzed all of this, now is the time to make direct funding to families central to how we deliver education across the nation.
Related: Plunging NAEP scores make clear the long and difficult road ahead to pandemic recovery
We need to encourage innovation in our education system and explore learning opportunities that can work alongside traditional public schools. There are better ways for students to learn and grow, and using them will help relieve the unsustainable burden public schools carry. We can start by providing education grants directly to students and their families — as Indiana, Idaho, West Virginia and Virginia are doing — to help accelerate learning, from tutoring to online programs to additional educational materials and expenses.
This moment gives us an opportunity to address accessibility as well. Transportation is key to expanding access and fostering open systems that let kids learn anywhere. But this too requires a local approach, unlike the tactics of states such as Massachusetts and Alaska, which are seeking solutions from the federal government, going so far as to call on the National Guard to address bus driver shortages.
Relying on drastic, federal solutions does not offer a sustainable path forward. We need more organizations like HopSkipDrive, a school ride-service company, that work alongside school transportation services to meet the specialized needs of families. While that is one way to address the bus driver shortage, removing policy barriers is another.
A new law in Arizona will allow districts to use smaller vehicles, carrying just 11 to 15 people, to transport students, thus bypassing the unnecessary red-tape requirement for drivers to have commercial licenses.
Just as there is not only one way to provide transportation and academic support, families should not be limited to one school option in their neighborhood. Most students are currently assigned to schools based on where they live, but what if we remove the attendance boundaries so that children can access any school that fits their unique needs and learning styles?
Families want options for their children other than the district school they are assigned to attend. During the pandemic, families who switched schools were happy with the choices they made.
The real lesson from the past few years is that the education monopoly was pressure tested, and it did not live up to the promise of public education.
If families can use services like HopSkipDrive, we can begin to get rid of zoning regulations, and families can make decisions that benefit their children. Funding every kid with resources for tutoring and other learning opportunities can enable parents to make the choices that are best for their children.
Changes like these are how we can break down the barriers that prevent access to public education, especially for students living in underserved districts. Offering solutions that empower parents can create more opportunities to uplift students, no matter their family’s income or background.
As schools emerge from the shadows of the pandemic, we are only scratching the surface of its immediate and long-term impacts on children. Perhaps the real lesson from the past few years is that the education monopoly was pressure tested, and it did not live up to the promise of public education.
In our struggle to do everything we can to help students recover emotionally and academically, traditional schools are still being asked to do more. Instead of trying to squeeze additional responsibilities into the confines of an outdated system, let’s use this time as an opportunity to strengthen and modernize how students learn in a way that benefits everyone.
Transitioning from a standardized education system to a personal, individualized one will not be easy. But with the right solutions, we can create better options for teachers, students and families.
Craig Hulse is the executive director of yes.every kid. Previously, he has worked in public policy and government affairs for both Tesla and Uber. He’s also served as the chief of staff for the Nevada Speaker’s Office and has vast Capitol Hill experience.
Derrell Bradford is the president of 50CAN. In his national role, Derrell recruits and trains local leaders across the 50CAN network and leads the National Voices fellowship.
This story about education grants was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.