It’s time for some hard truths about education. Our current system is failing too many Texas students, especially low-income and minority children.

This has been the case for a long time, but the current coronavirus situation has shined a much-needed spotlight on the problem.

Unfortunately, Texas isn’t prepared for the fall semester because no matter how well-meaning districts may be, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to managing a pandemic’s effects on schools, families or students. We have approximately 5.5 million students in Texas who have not been in school since March, and this extended “summer slide” is likely to impact many students, particularly those from low-income and minority families.

Fortunately, there are several effective solutions if we would just have the courage to act on them.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard all the anguished cries about racial disparity, social justice and how America is failing the African-American community. There is no place where this is more true than in our schools.

The reality is that too many students have been completely and totally failed by our education system — especially now during the pandemic — and Black and Hispanic students tend to be hurt the most.

For example, more than 70% of Black children are born to single mothers. How can we possibly expect a single mom to both work to support her family and educate her children at home because their school is not open?

The idea that virtual schooling or reducing in-person days, or rotating weeks, or any other plan can work for everyone is wrong — each student and household has different needs. So by insisting on a one-size-fits-all-approach throughout our state or within each school district, we’re setting many kids up for complete, total failure.

The only way we can prepare for the fall and provide a quality education to all students is by offering families more options that will meet the specific needs and circumstances for their student.

In a recent poll, 65% of Texans said it is unsafe to send kids to school. Parents need safe high-quality options that work for their students. Parents should be given the option for their child to attend a virtual program if their child is able to focus and learn through that source. If a smaller school, such as a private school, would serve a student better, that should be an option. If childcare centers and churches have the facilities to provide socially-distanced class settings for students, that should be an option. If successful public charter schools have the ability and facilities to set up additional campuses, that should be encouraged and funded.

We must recognize that each family is different, each child is different and that the needs of every student, particularly our low-income and minority students, must be met. It’s time for Texas to ensure our education funding follows each child to the school of their choice so we can prevent even greater disparities among those most vulnerable.

The bottom line is that parents need more options to meet their individual child’s needs and circumstances. All options should be on the table — we need to facilitate the ability for remote and in-person learning this fall with as many choices as possible to help kids succeed.

 

Richard Johnson III, Ed.D., is the director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Booker T. Washington Initiative which examines the effects of public policy on African-American communities. Mandy Drogin is Texas Director at the American Federation for Children. AFC is the largest school choice advocacy group in America dedicated to empowering families, especially lower-income families, with the freedom to choose the best K-12 education for their children.

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