Back to School: What Does 2020-2021 Look Like?

This coming school year promises to be unlike any other before it. With luck (and proper planning), it will be unlike any after it. While the future remains unwritten, here are some of the predictions and trends we foresee in American education this upcoming school year.

1. Unprecedented Times Call for Unprecedented Change.

Back to school does not look like past years and we do not believe it will be in the  future. COVID, has been a catalyst for us to reflect on what is necessary. As such, we have begun pruning our educational system, cutting back what doesn’t serve our students and our teachers. The pandemic has brought to light the barriers that exist for too many students, and we are finding ways to address them. We are seeing creative solutions as educators find new approaches to teach and inspire our students.

2.  Helicopter Parents on Steroids.

Say the phrase, “helicopter parent,” and watch educators run for their lives. Not anymore, though. Due to the pandemic, the number of families and teachers who communicate regularly is growing. Meaningful parental engagement should be a cornerstone of a “classroom’s” foundation. When teachers and families work in-lock-step with each other, they equip students for success—especially during this difficult time.

From their new front row seat, families have a new perspective and appreciation of the children’s schooling. An increasing number of educators are becoming aware of home situations in a new way and understanding students’ lives from a broader view.  Both groups are deeply committed and dependent on each other to ensure the success of young people. Families are ready and hovering, wanting to assist.   Historically, helicopter parents have been viewed negatively; however, during COVID times, helicopter parents just may be the necessity children need to thrive.

Schools and teachers will see a hyper-involved version of the traditional helicopter parent this school year—and that’s good. The strengthened family-teacher relationship that has emerged from this time will hopefully remain and become a new normal in education, even when the pandemic is in the rearview mirror.

Credit: Alliance for Education

3.  Mind the Gap.

The equity gap will continue to widen, and it will be crucial that educators and policy makers prioritize this so each and every student has the opportunity they deserve to succeed. Homeschooling and tutoring will likely increase in more affluent homes where there are options for parents to either work from home or adjust schedules. Many parents, however, do not have the same level of flexibility. Access for students furthest from opportunity is already a challenge and we will witness the widening of the equity gap. These unbalanced educational opportunities due to COVID-19 compound the typical loss of learning that occurs over the summer. The Collaborative for Student Success estimates suggest students will return in Fall 2020 with roughly only 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year. Additionally, in mathematics, students are likely to show much smaller learning gains, returning with less than 50% of the learning gains and in some grades, nearly a full year behind what we would observe in normal conditions.

4.  Record Levels of Stress.

Since it has been proven that COVID-19 has the potential to come back in waves, this might cause schools to potentially close or have to adjust their model of learning mid-semester. As a result, students will likely be exposed to more social and mental anguish at record levels, from the impact of school without any in-person classes. Addressing the concerns surrounding student mental health means it will be critical to ensure that school counselors and mental health professionals are available whether face-to-face or virtually. They are trained in the mental health needs of children and youth and can recognize signs of trauma that primary caregivers are less able to see because they themselves are experiencing the same family stresses.

5. Education Will Sadly Not Be That Special.

There will be an uptick in lawsuits at the Local, State and Federal levels in regard to Special Education. The Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) law requires districts to provide individualized services to students with special needs, a task complicated by the sudden switch to virtual schooling last spring. Due to the inability to provide in-person services to children, there is a growing concern that students’ Individualized Education Plans were breached during the pandemic. Lawsuits are surfacing nationwide based on the premise that districts ignored Federal laws by failing to provide legally mandated services to students who have mental and physical disabilities.

6.  2020-21 Will Be So Basic.

Curriculums everywhere will be narrowed, especially in the lower grades to focus primarily on the basics of math and language arts. Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a critical indicator of future academic success. It is a well known fact that students need to be on track to reading proficiency by the end of third grade. After third grade, children are expected to read to learn. In the same way, proficiency in middle school math is predicative of student success in high school and beyond. Educators have focused much attention on these two areas as they are annually assessed and used for school accountability. Upon returning to school, there will be a focus on getting students back on track in these core areas and thus there will be temptation to narrow the curriculum.

7.  Stretching Budgets Is the New Normal.

Parents across the country are paying close attention to what their school districts are planning to do this Fall. Concern over the health of their child is resulting in some parents opting to homeschool. Due to a potential decrease in school enrollment numbers, school districts could feel the financial impact for years to come. Although each state differs in its funding formula, student counts matter for the determination of per pupil funding that is allocated to the districts. This could be a call to school districts to up their efforts to engage families.

8.  Students Will Be “Lost” In Transition.

Since states are required to keep up with each student, schools/districts will have a difficult time accounting for all students when the year begins. It will be imperative that schools find their students for both the health of the student and the well being  of the school/district. (Schools will have a decrease in enrollment numbers which will affect the state’s allocation of funds). (See note above…the impact is on districts)

Angela Jerabek

Angela Jerabek began her career in education as a licensed K-12 teacher and secondary school counselor. Now, Angela serves as the founder and executive director of the BARR Center, a national school improvement network based in Minneapolis that is delivering positive results in schools across the United States.