By Amanda Conschafter
Schools are broken. Kids are doomed. So goes the current media narrative on education in America.
This week it was plummeting reading and math scores reported in the Nation’s Report Card. Before that, it was ACT college admissions scores hitting a 30-year low. And before that, alarming teacher shortages that fuel overcrowded classrooms.
Whatever the topic du jour, the underlying message is predictable and bleak. It’s also incomplete.
Yes, public schools face unprecedented challenges. Pandemic disruptions dealt a serious blow to an education system already fighting aging infrastructures, crowded classrooms and growing staff shortages.
But many public schools are bouncing back in a big way.
- In Ohio’s Dayton Public Schools, the superintendent hired 100 new teachers and implemented a double-teaching approach in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms. With more educators delivering focused instruction to smaller groups of students, learning has taken off. The district has seen third-grade reading proficiency more than double in just one year.
- In California’s Mountain View Whisman School District, leaders committed to providing internet access to 100% of students. The district created wi-fi hot spots in school parking lots and leveraged the Citizens Broadband Radio Service to broadcast a far-reaching internet signal. Reliable access allows district students to use their school-supplied Chromebooks to complete school assignments and research.
- In Tennessee, state leaders pioneered a “Grow Your Own” teacher development program to help address educator shortages. By blending educator preparation with national U.S. Department of Labor apprenticeship criteria, the program allows members of local communities to earn a salary while also completing their teaching certification.
Some efforts are fueled by historic federal funding. COVID relief funds for elementary and secondary schools have topped $190 billion, empowering districts and schools to accelerate education in ways that were previously unthinkable.
But schools can’t stop there.
In addition to innovating, they must be communicating. That means informing not only parents but also community and state leaders, local businesses and – yes – the media. Because the education battle being fought today isn’t just for higher metrics. It’s for control of the narrative.
School leaders don’t need to read a newspaper to understand what they’re up against. But the media does need education leaders’ input to understand how local schools are getting students back on track.
It’s not enough for schools to buck the narrative. They also have to rewrite it.
Amanda Conschafter is a partner and senior vice president at Woodberry Associates.