Back to School: What’s Your “Magic Wand” Education Solution? (Part Three)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay for Pexels

Join Ahead of the Heard for a lively back-to-school series expanding on Andy Rotherham’s original Eduwonk post, What’s Your Magic Wand?, featuring reflections on wish-list education solutions heading into the fall from teachers, school leaders, academics, media types, parents, private sector funders, advocates, Bellwarians…you name it.

At Bellwether, we’re focused on the 2021-22 school year ahead but also on what we’ve collectively endured since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a gross understatement to say that it has been a lot, that mistakes have been made, that many rose to the occasion achieving amazing things for students (while others did not), and that countless lessons were (re)learned. It has been a season where optimism was sometimes elusive and where challenges often seemed insurmountable.

So we thought we’d do something a little different…and try to have some fun.

We turned to contacts across the country in the education sector and asked them this simple, hopeful question. Answers vary as widely as each participant’s background and will be featured over a two-week span.

Teachers, students, and families will enter into a 2021-22 school year unlike any other. If you could wave a magic wand, what’s the one education issue you’d address or solve right now, and why?

Diane D’Costa
Current Washington, D.C. Teacher

“If I had a magic wand, the one education issue I’d solve right now is reinstating the moratorium on evictions* and providing families impacted with financial hardship during the pandemic adequate resources to catch up on rent payments. After a year of instability and uncertainty, students returning to school are facing the reality of being kicked out of their homes because of the financial hardships caused by the pandemic. Restrictions being lifted and expectations that we are ‘back to normal’ at the same time as the start of the school year are a perfect storm to create another year of instability and distress for students that will inevitably impact if and how they are able to show up in the classroom. We will not be able to adequately heal from this last year and move on to the next one successfully unless we truly allow folks to recover before we simply pull the rug out from under them again.”

(*Editor’s note: Submission received prior to the Biden administration’s Aug. 3, 2021 eviction moratorium reinstatement, in effect through Oct. 3, 2021.)

Bart Epstein
CEO, EdTech Evidence Exchange; Research Associate Professor, University of Virginia School of Education & Human Development

“We need two things urgently:

First, we need an immediate and dramatic expansion of federal funding dedicated to studying thousands of edtech products. Why? Because our schools collectively spend tens of billions of dollars each year on edtech products with no clue about which products work, or how to effectively implement them. The needed research simply does not exist. As a result, a majority of edtech is barely used, used improperly, or not used at all. If the feds spend more than $40 billion annually on medical research and development, the budget for the entire federal Institute of Education Sciences should be much more than $00.6 billion per year

Second, we need a national online tutoring and homework help service to provide 24/7 on-demand academic support to every student in the country who needs help. It is shameful that such a program does not exist right now. The U.S. Military has provided a program of this type to children of servicemembers for more than a decade, and it has been a huge hit. Encouraging 13,000+ school districts to develop their own local tutoring programs is a mistake of epic proportions.”

Anne Mahle
Senior Vice President of Public Partnerships, Teach For America; Parent

“I’d wave my magic wand so that every school in the United States, no matter where it is located, is led by a well-supported transformational leader: one that is highly effective, culturally competent, and infused with creativity and courage. Effective school leaders are transformational — for students, for teachers, and for the broader school community of families and community members. We need school leaders who are compassionate and skilled in coaching and developing their teams to excel in drawing out the best in their students — inspiring curiosity, conviction, and engagement — while ensuring that students learn and grow academically and socio-emotionally. My magic wand would also ensure that these school leaders are compassionate and courageous enough to coach out teachers who do not create classrooms full of belonging, academic rigor, and joy. We have an opportunity to transform our schools into places of intellectual rigor and deep belonging for all students, enabling them to learn, lead, and thrive as we move into a future filled with both uncertainty and tremendous possibility.

And as a bonus, here’s my daughter Esther’s response (age 10) with no prompting from me: ‘I would have teachers respect all of their students, care for all of their students, and actually teach them all of the things well.’”

Laura McKenna
Education Writer, The Atlantic, Edutopia, The 74, and HuffPost

“I would love to fix many, many things with a magic wand, but if I had to pick one thing for kids and schools, it would be to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as originally promised by Congress, so that children with disabilities can get an education that they deserve.”

Dan Weisberg
CEO, TNTP

“My magic wand would fix the fact that too many kids — particularly students of color — never even get the chance to do work that’s on their grade level. This is partly about instructional materials and teaching techniques, but our research has shown it’s just as much about belief in students’ potential. Teachers are usually trained to ‘protect’ students from grade-level work if they’re struggling academically — which only causes them to fall even farther behind. Underestimating what students are capable of is usually a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But when given the chance and the right support, most students can succeed on grade-level work regardless of concepts they might have missed in previous grades. We could provide dramatically better and more equitable opportunities to millions of kids if we just started assuming every one of them can do grade-level work. Heading into a year when schools will need to accelerate more students than ever back to grade level after the disruption of the past 18 months, it’s never been more important to make this shift.”

Becca Bracy Knight
Former Executive Director, The Broad Center

“If I had a magic wand, I’d make all non-public school options disappear, requiring all families to enroll their children in the public school system. With a second wave of the wand, I’d make the student assignment to schools random so that families don’t have different options based on where they live. (I’d also provide teleportation services so that every student, caregiver, staff member, etc., could still easily get to and from their schools, regardless of distance.) A magical world in which everyone is personally invested in ensuring that all public schools provide an excellent education to all children — where no one can simply opt out based on their individual resources and options — might provide the funding and political will we need to actually deliver on the promise of public education.”

Stay tuned for more in our “Magic Wand” series and join the conversation on Twitter @bellwethered.

(Editorial note: Some organizations listed in this series may include past or present clients or funders of Bellwether.)