Who is accountable for the education of K-12 students during the pandemic?

With unprecedented circumstances seeping into every aspect of society throughout the world, essential functions have had to find alternative ways to take place amidst mandatory shelter in place orders. Institutions for primary-secondary education have had an especially tricky array of puzzles to solve throughout the past year. Within the education system, which has had issues prior to the complications brought on by the pandemic, who is responsible for the adequate education of the approximately 5.8 million students enrolled in elementary and secondary public schools throughout the United States?

To find an introspective glance into the current distance learning experience, I interviewed one of the “middle-men” in this situation, a teacher. In order to understand the “new normal” being faced by current public-school students, here is what a teacher has to say.

Constantine Singer, a teacher at Locke High School in Watts, teaches in one community that was hit hardest by the pandemic in California.

“It was our students and their families who suffered the worst of anyone in the State with the exception of prisoners and meatpacking workers. Our students live in densely packed, multi-generational households where income is earned in front-line work.”

When it comes to the quality of education provided by schools during the pandemic, the main question is,

“Is the school doing the best job you can under the circumstances without creating further risk to the community?”

According to Mr. Singer. The school he says has been doing a great job throughout the transitions and restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

“It is incredibly difficult to create the interpersonal and personal relationships and dynamics and allow for teachers to give or for students to receive it.. With that being the case, we’re doing the best we can.”

In terms of grading and rubric, Singer says,

“There are elements of our assessments, which are actually much more stringent and much more specific in distance learning that ever could have been in, in-person learning, because of the sort of subject objectivity that online submissions create. So, it’s much harder to let a student’s personality influence our decision-making in terms of assessment than it would be in in-person learning at the same time because it’s so much more difficult. And I’ve got one student right now, he’s a super senior. He’s working on his last 10 credits to graduate. He has five younger siblings; they live in a one-bedroom apartment. He works, and they have one computer between the three school-age students. So, I get him when his little brother and his little sister aren’t in school. So, I’ve taken to opening up my classroom till seven to nine at night. Other teachers are doing it too because we have to. It’s not like teaching at Walnut, where every kid has three computers. Every student got a Chromebook and a Wi-Fi hotspot because our school did that, but the schools that his younger siblings go to didn’t.”

Before the pandemic, the weight of a student’s success has always seemed to be placed squarely on the shoulders of their teachers. Amidst the pandemic, this has proved to be no different. While district and school leadership have their part to play, those essentially responsible for a student’s success are the students themselves, and the involvement of their teachers.

Some parting wisdom from Mr. Singer,

“[The events over the past year have] revealed a lot of the fault lines in our society that we all knew were there.”