Even before the coronavirus upended our K-12 educational system, systemic inequities prevented some students from reaching their full potential. But the COVID-19-imposed period of remote learning has created an even wider opportunity gap. Take, for example, recent research from the Raleigh-based educational technology firm LearnPlatform. It revealed that since the virus hit in March, students from high-poverty school districts have been using digital tools significantly less often than students from more affluent districts.
Although this problem existed long before the pandemic, our current situation demonstrates the tenuous hold we have on educating our most vulnerable students. A health or economic crisis like COVID-19 can create situations where children right here in the Triad might fall so far behind in their learning that they can never catch up.
We cannot allow that to happen.
Finding Common Ground offers a multifaceted approach to education that gives students in Guilford County and beyond have the tools they need to learn, thrive and develop. Most importantly, our approach puts our schools in a position to better prepare students for the jobs of the future.
Here’s a look at ideas we support:
Provide a quality education for all. Period.
We can no longer afford to let a student’s ZIP Code predict his or her academic achievement. We must transform our schools so only the wealthy receive access to high-quality instruction.
For that to happen, our teachers must be allowed to find students’ passions — whether that’s STEM programs or performing arts or vocational training — then have the resources in place to turn those passions into something real.
Schools should have the technology, the staff and yes, the money to remove barriers to learning and meet all students where they are. That means giving students in east Greensboro the same opportunities as students in northwest Greensboro.
Invest in entrepreneurship programs
One of the most effective ways to teach students soft skills such as teamwork, flexibility and creativity is through entrepreneurship programs. Students are paired with local mentors — business owners, inventors and entrepreneurs — and work in teams to create a product that will solve a problem in their communities. They pitch their ideas to real-life investors, and the very best ideas are brought to the marketplace. Teams that don’t receive funding learn important lessons, too, about coping with disappointment and persevering in the face of adversity.
Other types of K-12 entrepreneurship programs pair high school students with tradespeople, which allows them to build skills for the future while earning credits toward graduation.
If we’re going to prepare our students for the complex jobs of tomorrow, we need to think beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar approach to education.
Goodbye, rote memorization. Hello, ‘soft skills.’
Our teachers, through no fault of their own, spend too much time in the classroom prepping students to take standardized tests. It creates a vicious cycle of rote learning, where schools are rewarded financially based on how well their students memorize facts.
Increasingly, we’re learning that this isn’t what employers want or need — today and in the future. They want workers who are creative, flexible and resilient, people who have the skills to deal effectively with change and who understand the importance of collaboration. Many such employers are saying that those skills are lacking in high school and college graduates entering the workforce. A recent survey showed that 64 percent of employers say they have a very hard time or somewhat hard time finding applicants with critical thinking skills.
We must empower our teachers to spend less time preparing students to regurgitate facts and more time equipping them with problem-solving, interpersonal and communication skills that the job market demands.
Other ways Finding Common Ground seeks to transform education:
Give teachers the freedom to experiment with innovative teaching methods. They’re the experts, not state legislatures. They need the power to pick the teaching strategies that best fit their students.
Eliminate policies that cap enrollment at charter schools or that ban charter schools outright.
Provide free digital textbooks for rigorous diploma programs — such as International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement or Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education — for school districts that can’t afford them.
Make college more affordable through dual enrollment programs, need-based scholarships and the continued partnership between the N.C. Community College and University of North Carolina systems.
Finding Common Ground
We want to help educators build an educational system that recognizes the diversity, creativity and potential that has made America the greatest nation on Earth. And that means creating classrooms that promote equity — not reinforce it.