In March 2020, schools closed across the country, and more than a year and a half later, the problems caused or exacerbated by the pandemic persist. Much attention has been focused on bridging the gaps between curriculum and technology, but I would say that, given the scale of the issues facing students, families, and schools today, and the potential devastating long-term effects, something more fundamental is needed.
Governors and their education departments should fund accessible two-way communication as a foundational investment to help educators build – or rebuild – critical relationships with students and families.
STATE OF PLAY
In addition to the continued instability of in-person education due to COVID-19 outbreaks, many students are dropping out of formal education altogether. According to a McKinsey report As of July 2021, chronic absenteeism for students in grades 8 to 12 has increased by 12% in the past year, and of those students, 42% are not attending school. A recent poll of Education week found that only 56% of teachers believed that every student had adequate access to all the devices they needed for online learning, and that around 9 million to 12 million students still did not have access Internet adequate. When you remove so many students from the learning equation, or consider the general disruption and stress of another unpredictable school year, gaps in learning are inevitable.
McKinsey found that at the end of the 2020-21 school year, students were five months behind in math and four months behind in reading, on average, compared to previous years, black, Latino and Asian students. being disproportionately affected. These deficits have consequences. McKinsey estimated that unfinished learning related to the pandemic could reduce the lifetime incomes of current K-12 students by up to $ 61,000 on average. Beyond the diminished potential for long-term earnings, there are also social and emotional costs. Parents are worried about their children, as are administrators, with nearly 70 percent of principals saying they cannot meet the mental health needs of students with the staff they have, according to one. investigation last year of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
Rather than focusing exclusively on massive and extremely expensive initiatives, such as broadband for all, we must first prepare the ground: invest in communication tools that allow educators to develop strong relationships with students and the parents they accompany.
WHY IT IS IMPORTANT
Intuitively, most people agree that the relationships between teachers, students, and families promote student success. Each successful student can nominate key teachers or mentors who have helped them discover a new passion, overcome challenges, or maintain themselves at a higher level. The data confirms this intuition: relationships are the engine of success.
Review of educational research, a peer-reviewed research journal, conducted a large study analysis of 46 studies which showed that strong teacher-student relationships were correlated in the short and long term with improvements in most of the parameters considered by schools: higher school engagement, higher grades and attendance, less disruptive behavior and suspensions, and lower dropout rates. This was true even after taking into account different family backgrounds and different educational backgrounds. The education trust, a nonprofit focused on equity for students of color and low-income families, noted that “strong relationships with teachers and school staff can dramatically improve student motivation and therefore promote learning ”. And many other studies show that when students and families make a meaningful connection with a teacher, student outcomes improve.
But these types of positive and constructive relationships are increasingly rare. Before the pandemic, a investigation of 25,395 students in grades 6 to 12 in a large school district showed that less than a third of students had developed strong relationships with their teachers. By grade 12, the numbers fell to just 16%, and even lower for low-income students. Things have only gotten worse since. Reversing this trend will be essential to reduce learning gaps.
DESIGNED TO CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS
To place strong school-family relationships at the forefront of the educational experience, every school and district in our K-12 system should implement communication technology that supports the unique requirements of K-12. This includes complying with FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), and obtaining iKeepSafe certification. In addition, districts should not rely on social media platforms or private messaging services, which lack adequate oversight.
Additionally, we need to facilitate conversations between educators, students and parents, going beyond one-way mass notification announcements. A teacher’s ability to communicate both ways with a student and / or parent is crucial to the relationship building process.
Schools and districts should meet people where they are, which for almost everyone is done through their cell phones. Delivering automated calls to landline numbers, sending emails, and putting paper prints in a student’s backpack should all be replaced by two-way mobile communication.
On top of that, the communication needs to reach everyone in the community. SMS text messaging should be an option, especially for those who don’t have a smartphone or unlimited data plan and therefore can’t use mobile apps. School messages should reach recipients in their preferred language, even by text message.
Our educators, students and parents deserve the same modern communication experiences in our education system to which they have become accustomed in their daily lives.
FUNDING OF TWO-WAY COMMUNICATION IN K-12 EDUCATION
Now is the time for state governors and their education departments to fund two-way communication in each of their districts and schools so that our communities can thrive through stronger home-school relationships. States are responsible for funding the most basic operational needs and the basic “public services” that keep schools functioning. For example, they finance the electricity and water that circulate in school buildings, and they have invested in HVAC and air quality systems to promote healthier environments. Two-way communication should be viewed as the water, electricity, and air flowing through K-12 buildings as a basic “utility” that supports healthy relationship building.
In addition, states have taken a more practical approach to funding other elements of education services. A current example is state-level investments in learning management systems. While an LMS can certainly help educators, students, and parents, it becomes more effective when paired with a robust two-way communication system that facilitates a unified distribution of learning content from the LMS. In addition, a two-way communication channel becomes a distribution channel to disseminate all learning content from other partners in which a school or district invests.
As the pandemic has rocked our public education system and exposed its inequalities, we see clear opportunities to close the gaps that continue to widen. Now is the time to support the building of relationships between our educators, our students and our parents. Now is the time for public education officials to fund modern two-way communication in every school and district.
Brian Gray is the executive chairman of Remind, a company that sells communication software for schools.