December 7, 2020

Today’s uncomfortable truths lead to tomorrow’s solutions

Let the handwringing begin.

I read today about the shock that “studies” are showing that students are “falling behind” as a result of remote learning.

Really? Do you need to do a study to have this revelation? Instead of a study, just ask any educator or parent and you would have found out that students are not learning at the same levels as if school was in-person.

So, let’s not pretend we are in shock…

Uncomfortable Truth #1

I am going to say something that is not politically correct.

Are you ready?

Money matters in school…there I said it.

That is an uncomfortable truth for our society.

The “studies” mentioned in the article say that students of color, students with disabilities, and students from poor communities are disproportionately negatively impacted by remote learning. These students do not have access to technology, they might not have internet, their home life may not be conducive to remote learning, or their needs cannot be met in a remote learning setting.

In my last blog post, I talked about the stories we tell ourselves about education. One dominant story in education is the “Hero” story. A “Hero” story states that heroic teachers, principals, and superintendents can take any student (or school) from any background and overcome any disadvantage in educational opportunities faced by the student or school.

The hero story is hogwash. There may be times when this story does occur, but it happens so infrequently that it proves that the story should not be held as a dominant theme.

The fact is simple…those schools and students who reside in poorer communities are disproportionately negatively impacted by the COVID-19 related instructional models.

It is not about the will of the educators or students in these schools or communities.

It is not about the inherent intelligence or ability of the educators or students in these schools and communities.

It is not about the educators and students believing they are victims in any sort of way. (A shout out to 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney for perpetuating this myth about poorer communities)

It is not about a lack of creative will to do something different.

It is about funding, plane and simple.

Uncomfortable Truth #2

I have another politically incorrect statement to make.

Education policies put in place over the last 25 years have gutted the education workforce.

We are getting to the time and place where staffing schools is going to be extremely difficult.

Why is this so?

“Accountability” measures of “student growth” based on test scores is a great place to start. The lips of education policymakers (on both the left and the right) said the word “accountability,” but what they meant was “we want to shame you.”

Accountability policies based on tests scores shame students.

Accountability policies based on tests scores shame educators.

Accountability policies based on tests scores shame schools.

Accountability policies based on tests scores shame communities.

I ask you, dear reader, how enticing is it to go to work in a sector where shame is brought down on everything you believe, based on the false assumption that test scores actually reflect anything accurate about the worth of a student?

Uncomfortable Truth #3

Let’s stay with my politically incorrect theme.

I believe the following to the core of my being.

When the story of the pandemic is written, educators belong in the pantheon of heroes who answered the call.

After 9 months of COVID-19 wreaking havoc in how schools provide learning to students, the dedication of the educators is inspiring. For some reason, it is not politically correct to recognize educators for their service to the community. I suspect the pandemic will not change this view. However, just because society does not recognize it, does not make it less so.

Uncomfortable Truth #4

In a great book about the making of the 1990’s cult classic movie Dazed and Confused, the director of the movie states the reason the movie resonates across generations is that the experience of a high school student has not really changed much since 1945.

The fashion of the students has changed.

Society’s norms have changed

The role of the school in trying to cure society’s ills has changed.

The overall experience of what it is like to be a high school student has not changed that much.

Students still report to a school building

Students still participate in extra-curricular activities

Students still move from class to class at the ring of a bell.

Students are socialized to society’s norms.

I believe that us older folk have always underestimated kids because we transfer our anxieties of the current moment onto kids. Every generation looks at the current generation and believes the younger generation is softer, or have it easier than older generations.

We underestimate the will, the skill, and the abilities of the current generation.

Kids in school today are facing a significant disruption in the education doubt about it. The current generation may be the first generation to lay claim to rightly say, “Our school experience is significantly different than any other generation since 1945.” The disruption is HUGE!

Just wait and see how the generation in schools right now adjust to the current challenges. They will make us all proud! I am full of hope and promise they will step up and meet the challenges now and in the future.

A Final Thought

There is no doubt the challenges facing schools right now are unprecedented. Period.

We must be careful about making the solutions to the challenges more complicated than they need to be. We can accomplish a lot to help students and schools if we approach solutions in two ways.

  1. Allow money to flow to schools and communities that need it. Schools with fewer fiscal and human capital resources must be prioritized for funds. Full stop.
  2. Allow, and encourage, grassroots solutions to the challenges faced by schools. Let’s not make the mistake that occurred under the Obama Administration with the Race To The Top funding. Race To The Top was a top-down, coercive funding stream that did not take into account local nuances. Funding to help students and schools can have guide rails, but not a one-track method that claims to have the “right” answer.

I welcome your comments!

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

  • Hi Tom,

    I applaud your courage in calling out how money needs to flow directly to schools and communities. That testing has tanked public education. The focus has blinded even some of the best administrators.

    I think until we are willing to recognize that teachers and learning cannot be measured by a test, that agency is the most important factor in learning.

    I also think that money needs to flow away from athletics to more academic and career based education – that provide more equitable experiences. Athletics only include a small part of the populations. Athletics, while valuable, only engage a small percentage of the district.

    Just my opinion, also not highly politically popular.


  • Having completed intense research (dissertation) on the question does money matter in multi indicators of schools’ success, I can tell you – yes, it does! Money spent on the “right” things will help us meet our moral obligation to raise everyone’s achievement and narrow the achievement gap.

    It time to face the uncomfortable truths about education and take action!

  • It sounds as though the challenges of the pandemic have really had a significant impact on you. And, that impact comes out as “I have had enough of the ‘loose talk’ about what kids need and what schools need.” Kudos to you for talking about truths and how influential people characterize schools instead of the real need to really listen to the people on the front lines. And talking heads who think they know it all even though they do not have one ounce of an ability to truly empathize, let alone analyze, spew the air wave with truly ignorant information. Sorry about the run on sentence but I think I have had enough also. Yet, we are still measured on a lousy test score! I hope this has an impact on how we all need to rally around our greatest profession by facing these uncomfortable truths.

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