Michael Wood, Manager, Education & Workforce
Of all the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps none have been felt more widely by North Texans than the sweeping closures of schools.
While parents and students deal with the inconveniences and changes associated with these closures, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is working diligently to minimize disruptions and ensure continuity of learning for the 5.4 million public school students in Texas.
The Dallas Regional Chamber discussed the challenges facing Texas public schools with Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath as part of its Virtual Town Hall series on the COVID-19 crisis. TEA’s foremost priority has been providing technical and operational assistance to school districts across the state to support their rapid transition to remote learning.
The shift to online instruction has presented a substantial challenge, says Morath, but districts are rising to the task. School districts statewide have identified innovative solutions to meet the needs of their students, such as setting up mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and creating meal distribution centers.
Yet, Morath worries that existing achievement gaps are being exacerbated as students transition to remote learning. Gaps in student achievement will be difficult to quantify as the state waived end-of-year assessment requirements, such as the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) – a key diagnostic tool to measure student proficiency. For that reason, Morath is prioritizing efforts to equip districts with effective measures to assess student progress remotely so that districts can intervene appropriately when students return to traditional school settings.
As for when students will return to ‘normal’ school, Morath says it is unclear. While it is possible some districts return to in-person operations before summer, others may be closed for the remainder of the academic school year. Still, TEA is planning for the eventual return to normalcy and is considering options to adjust curriculum or the school year to address academic gaps that may arise as a result of time away from the classroom.
In the meantime, TEA is permitting districts to use their closed facilities to provide emergency childcare for the children of health care workers.
Morath expressed confidence in North Texas school districts to provide strong support to students throughout the closures, but he also encouraged patience and compassion as we all confront this unprecedented challenge together.