A Letter from Executive Director Diana Spencer
Commencement of the new school year has always been a time for joy and renewed hope as children and youth prepare bookbags and weekly schedules. They anticipate the year ahead: new teachers, friends they’ve not seen over the summer, and conversations about which classes will be hardest and the “mean” teachers versus those more forgiving of late assignments. Parents prepare their children—and themselves—for milestones.
Education, the great equalizer, is a promise and a commitment that our country has made to all children, and one that is not to be taken lightly.
As I explored the history of the public education system, it became clear to me that it has been in a perpetual state of evolution, beginning as early as the 1600s. We have tackled many challenges and crafted many solutions, including, in the last 75 years, desegregation and national standards such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core. Most recently, we’ve faced a global pandemic, perhaps the most unprecedented disruption to education of our time. It brought us remote learning, uncovered technological deserts, and sometimes literally lost students to the streets (see “In the Wake of a Wild Year”).
What will this pandemic and removal from schools mean for students in the long term? I believe that everyone agrees some learning loss has occurred, sometimes significant. As classrooms reopen and hopefully remain open, will this be a year of intense catching up or the beginning of years of perpetual loss?
Research from Brookings Institution predicts that “learning poverty” could lead to $10 trillion in labor earnings losses over the work life of the 1.6 billion students kept out of school over the past 18 months. To arrive at these staggering figures, Brookings engaged methodological work using assessments. You can find out more here. The upshot: The education of our children is a doorway to America’s future. To fail to cross this threshold and revive our cherished equalizer is to fail multiple generations beyond us.
These alarming figures raise immediate questions. How can education and social emotional intelligence loss be mitigated? How can we retrieve the living connection between schools and communities? How can we regain the collective sense of purpose around our schools? There is no question that the work ahead is challenging. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 allocated $122 billion1 to public schools. Coupled with the $68 billion2 for COVID stimulus funding allocated in 2020, this represents the largest infusion of federal funding for primary and secondary education in U.S. history.
But we know that dollars do not solve problems. People do. That’s why seeing this as a time for positive disruption, where we reimagine how kids can learn and thrive to become a better generation than ours, seems like the best use of our time. How can we—parents, communities, educators—share in building solutions, not only for the remaining time in this global crisis, but for one of the most important changes to occur in the history of U.S. education? It is, after all, our shared responsibility—as parents, teachers, community leaders, citizens—to restore and revive American education and to reinvent when necessary.
All kids deserve our best collective efforts. Federal funds are on the way. The rest of the challenge is ours to face and conquer. I look forward to continuing this conversation with existing and new education partners.
1U.S. Department of Education. March 17, 2021. “Department of Education Announces American Rescue Plan Funds for All 50 States, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia to Help Schools Reopen.”
2National Conference of State Legislatures. June 23, 2021. “Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund Tracker.”