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NM has work to do to make the fall better

The families of New Mexico’s 330,000 students have suddenly found themselves in an untenable position with the 2020-21 school year beginning in as few as two weeks.

With a ticking clock, families are deciding how their children will experience the upcoming school year. Will they return to their school building or opt for a 100% online semester? Perhaps they will scrape together savings for private school or pool funds with neighbors to create a learning pod. Or, maybe they will withdraw their children from school altogether and opt to homeschool.

This past academic year, New Mexico schools closed March 16 due to COVID-19, creating an unprecedented challenge that found our communities unprepared.

The repercussions for our students were severe. A report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education found that of 100 districts surveyed nationwide, only 22% provided live instruction to some students during the spring shutdown. According to the continuous learning plans submitted to the New Mexico Public Education Department, only 30% of New Mexico districts had a plan to support students who fell behind. A poll from EducationNext found 40% of parents nationwide reported their children had zero one-on-one interactions with their teacher during the school closure.

Are we prepared to do better this fall?

We have to ask ourselves if we have done everything we can to ensure that regardless of how students return to school, the quality will be better than what families experienced this past spring. We can no longer fall back on our claim that we are not ready for the impact of COVID-19 because we’ve had five months to get it right.

Though we hoped the fall semester would begin with the triumphant reopening of schools, we knew there was a chance it would not. We knew there was a high likelihood that parts of the upcoming school year would require intervals of online instruction. Knowing that, it was our duty to do everything we could to prepare. Did we?

The risks have never been higher. Recent studies from both the Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee indicate New Mexico students could experience three to 12 months of learning loss. The impact on low-income, Hispanic and Black students, who make up over 70% of New Mexico students, will be 15-20% worse.

As we look ahead to a new school year, one that will be different than any school year we have ever experienced, we need to bring every community resource together to ensure:

• Every student has their own learning device and access to high-speed internet;

• Where internet solutions are not available, a plan is in place to transmit daily student work and feedback;

• Students are receiving one-on-one academic check-ins with a teacher at least once a week;

• Parents receive a call to discuss the academic year ahead from a teacher or administrator at their child’s school, before the year begins; and

• Students have access to daily live instruction, with opportunities to watch later if family work schedules or circumstances prevent live attendance.

Most importantly, as a community we need to do our part to reduce community spread so we can get our students back into classrooms as soon as it is safe. We all have a role to play. Even the best virtual instruction struggles to compete with in-person learning, and we have to be honest about where we stand. As of today, we are not prepared to deliver anywhere near “the best” to our students in two weeks. We have work to do.

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