Lessons learned from pandemic: Bay Area school districts have opportunity to transform learning system

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Many educators will agree that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the education system was broken. When you think of it, not much has changed in the way a classroom operates.

The teacher is in front of the room lecturing, students study at home and take tests to measure how much they have mastered the material. There has been little innovation. If there is one thing educators and school districts agree is that for the first time in years, there's a real opportunity to see some transformations that will benefit all children.

When we think about America's classrooms, you have to ask yourself how many private companies would be around today, had they not made changes to keep up with the times, to be innovative?
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced teachers and school districts to "leap" out of their comfort zone.

"We're going to take this tragedy and we're going to turn it around into something better than we've ever had before," said Hillary Ronen, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

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When students were forced to learn from home, for the first time since the advent of the internet the digital divide was finally addressed.

It was a tectonic shift.

Going forward laptops will continue to enhance learning as long as all families have high-speed internet access.

The pandemic also postponed standardized testing. Now universities are considering making this kind of assessment optional to allow for a more diverse number of applicants.

But the road to academic recovery at locals schools will be an extended one. Studies are now telling us that if students lost one year of in-person instruction, it may take three to five year for them to catch up.

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"We are working really hard to plan for some other extended learning opportunities, specifically targeting our elementary students, those who couldn't and didn't engage in distance learning and those how might have demonstrated some learning loss early on," expressed Enilia Ford-Morthel, Deputy Superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

There are two approaches being considered to deal with the learning loss.

Small group tutoring for the most needed students and-or extending learning time which would mean adding an extra month of school or extending the school day.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisor approved the creation of RISE, the Recovery with Inclusive and Successful Enrichment, a long name for a working group that hopes to create a plan and generate funding to address the COVID learning loss. But there's more.

"Number two, we will increase enrollment in SFUSD because what has happened we this pandemic is we've seen record numbers of families flee the system because there has been no in-person learning and number three is to get back the enrichment activities that make an education a full experience for children, the music, the arts, the sports, the libraries," added Supervisor Ronen.

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Property taxes were once the main source of school funding but that source of income was cut short because of Proposition 13 passed in the late 1970s which protected homeowners from future sharp increases.

The RISE initiative proposed for San Francisco Public Schools would require $2.5 billion over five years to meet those goals.

The money would come from the city's general fund, state and federal dollars and philanthropists. But to sustain that level of quality, school districts need that funding to be in perpetuity.

"At the end of this we want the state to properly fund our education system. This is going to mean is going back to the ballot, what it means is going back and doing Prop 13 reform again," said Ronen.

That's something that voters have resisted for more than 40 years. Some lawmakers believe it may be time to try something drastic to rise from the ashes of COVID-19.



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