As schools wind down and families begin to settle in for the summer, school districts across the United States are deliberating how to allocate the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) dollars in the coming year. And while so much of the public school dialogue is understandably about addressing learning loss, we must not lose sight of the unique moment that we’re facing on the heels of the pandemic.
Since March of 2020, we’ve witnessed the harm of a one-size-fits-all approach to school. When the spectrum of school resources is inequitable, and student needs vary wildly, we can see more clearly now than ever before that students aren’t learning the skills needed to succeed in a global, dynamic society and that the current factory model of education perpetuates systemic inequality.
It is imperative that we reframe the notion of “lost learning.” Attempting to get students caught up on the skills that were not transferable prior to the pandemic will only add incredible stress to the educational system, our educators and students. If we lead with the notion of loss, our past inequities will persist and we will miss the opportunity to deeply understand what was learned and what needs to be learned moving forward.
Partner with students
It’s time to truly reinvent public education, and we need to do so in partnership with our students.
For two years, I’ve convened groups of students who argue that we need to reimagine an entirely new school community that promotes mentorship, personalization, competencies, feedback, internships, co-creation, restorative justice, and authentic learning. This kind of school community could become a learning lab for other schools and collaborative teams to visit, learn, reflect, and implement their own ideas.
Students need to engage in meaningful learning experiences and co-design these experiences with their teachers while situating this learning in context to address local and global issues. And they deeply crave opportunities to problem-solve and contribute solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues. Furthermore, students need to be able to partner with businesses and community organizations to grapple with authentic problems and ensure that their learning experiences will guide them to develop skills that lead to success in the future.
More funding without transformation isn’t the fix needed
Some education experts argue that perhaps an increase in education funding is the way to fix public schools. Yet the fact is that Minnesota has had some of the worst achievement disparities in the country for years, and this problem is deeper and more complex than what a simple increase in funding can fix. School systems stepped up in incredible ways to support our students and families in the midst of the pandemic and continue to face significant deficits in funding. And at the same time, throwing more money into the same dinosaur of a school system without intentional strategies for transformation is not the way out of this pandemic.
I call on school districts across Minnesota to commit to authorizing and powering the voice of students as they determine how to allocate the ESSER funds. I ask you to commit to seeking their ideas, thoughts, and reflections as partners in transforming education.
We all benefit when school is an experience that is equitable, inclusive, powerful and engaging for every learner.
Nicole Dimich is an educator, author, innovator, and expert facilitator who has worked with elementary and secondary educators, administrators, and school districts across the globe. Through presentations, training and consultations, she helps power student voices and build on educator strengths to create spaces where all feel possible and empowered. Dimich lives in the Twin Cities with her children and is also the executive director of a nonprofit called Thrive Ed.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)