Long before Covid-19 hit, far too many students were struggling to stay engaged, experiencing the effects of learning loss, and had inequitable access to high quality educational opportunities. Nine months into the pandemic, we’ve seen these barriers amplified, and students and families are calling on education providers to not just respond but use this crisis to innovate. Now, more than ever, we need an agile education system that ensures that every student has the resources they need to learn everywhere, and has access to relevant educational opportunities that set them on the path to a bright future.
Like many organizations and thought leaders, the events of 2020 led Colorado Succeeds, where I am the Government Affairs Manager, to refocus our work and respond immediately to the Covid-19 crisis. This pushed our thinking and reinforced the need to build a policy vision that addressed the critical needs of learners. To do that, we convened multiple stakeholders—students, families, educators, and policy experts—to help us dig deeper and identify the challenges facing students, and the opportunities that exist to meet both the short- and long-term needs for learners in Colorado, and nationally.
We uncovered five central themes:
- Learn Everywhere. The amount that affluent families are investing in rounding out their children’s educations is significant, and the education system is not designed to make up the gaps for families with fewer resources. Schools can more effectively address the unique needs of learners by providing multiple pathways for families to be seen and heard, while providing resources for, and certifying, learning that happens outside of the traditional school.
- Reimagining High School. Students are facing the challenge of finishing high school remotely, and they are seeing post-secondary opportunities compromised by Covid-19. As a result, youth are at a much higher risk of becoming disengaged from their education. The learning experience can be made more relevant to students by increasing learner choice and connection to college and career pathways.
- Emphasizing Equity. Though states like Colorado have a strong foundation of policies to help high school students access college courses and work-based learning experiences, priorities are often not clearly stated to ensure that these efforts reach the most marginalized students. To truly address systemic inequities, each policy should be carefully designed to engage those furthest from opportunity.
- Aligning Business and Student Incentives. A robust network of companies is required to ensure meaningful career-connected learning opportunities for students. When time is taken to engage and support employers in the co-design of programs, communities can build sustainable work-based learning programs, and companies can benefit from student ingenuity and develop a strong talent pipeline. This can be incentivized by creating competitive advantages or additional funding for recipients of economic development and small business recovery funds who commit to some number of internship or apprenticeship opportunities for youth, and especially youth furthest from opportunity.
- Higher Education Innovation. Career pathways provide students with knowledge about what employers are hiring for, and what skills are needed to progress in a particular industry. The education system should align to provide seamless opportunities for students to obtain these necessary skills efficiently, saving students from spending unnecessary time and money navigating the education system. This can be achieved by making stackable pathways consistent, more visible to learners, and more time- and cost-effective.
These findings provide important insight that can inform how we address the challenges facing our learners today, and can help us lay the groundwork for their long-term success. To learn more about these policy ideas, check out our “2020 Policy Papers: Agility in Response to COVID-19,” or reach out to me at [email protected].