COVID-19 has exacerbated the existing challenges across public school districts, but now is also a great opportunity for change in public education.

August 20, 2020

Urban public school districts have endured decades of funding constraints. Technology and data platforms in many districts have become antiquated and ineffective. In addition, organizational culture has often become more segmented and siloed, limiting innovation, collaboration, and strategic thinking. The combination of these impacts can result in fiscal inefficiencies, poor student outcomes, and difficulties meeting compliance and reporting requirements.

These challenges have recently been exacerbated by the economic, employment, health, and safety impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, public school districts across the country have had to quickly move to remote learning models, as we saw in the spring of 2020. As we approach the fall of 2020, school districts face continued uncertainty regarding safe and effective learning models, many of which have never been used by public schools. This presents new data-collection challenges – regarding student attendance, interactions, services, and testing (for both general education and special education) – on top of the existing technological and organizational issues.

And yet, perhaps never before has there been as much opportunity for transformation in public education as there is now. The rapid pace of technological advancements is changing how, when, and where schooling is conducted. By using data, applying iterative processes, and engaging key stakeholders – including administration, teachers, principals, parents, students, service providers, and other community leaders – to evaluate new learning models and service delivery, public schools may recognize significant cost savings. They may also develop targeted and customized learning solutions that maximize student success, accurate reporting, and compliance.

Pillars of Transformative Change in Education

Humans are at the center of transformative change in education. Any transformative change strategy in education needs to appreciate the role that each person plays, the valuable feedback they can provide, and the systems and processes that can be implemented. Such an approach ensures progress toward goals and milestones.

It is not solely the invention of new technologies that drive transformation, but rather the manner in which humans work to develop a shared understanding of the goals. Collaborative efforts toward feedback, research, strategy, and iterative processes, along with unique expertise and experiences, can create environments in which transformation is possible.

Nevertheless, data and technology can be important enablers of dialogue and collaboration. Through effective data strategies, parties can understand which learning models are working, where these models work, and where they need improvement. Parties can also discover opportunities for enhanced data collection in order to assist with compliance and identify service delivery gaps.

Navigating transformation demands that we collaborate to ask better questions so that together we can create better answers.

 

Transformative change strategies in education require...

  • collaborative environments
  • consideration of the diverse viewpoints and capabilities of stakeholders

...to develop strategic solutions that create long-term, sustainable transformative change toward shared aspirational goals.

 

While each school district is unique in the challenges it faces and the solutions it needs, these pillars can serve as the foundation on which effective strategy can be developed and implemented. 

Recent Stout Experience – Public School District

Stout was engaged to assist with an ongoing class action involving one of the nation’s largest public school districts. For students with special needs, the litigation sought to ensure the timely evaluation of students’ needs and their subsequent placement in individualized programs according to their needs.

As with other public schools, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated many aspects of delivering services for children with special needs and the ability to track and monitor compliance associated with delivery. In addition to the variation in learning modes, additional complications arise with potential contingencies if a school closure is required. Furthermore, the ability to understand who is being served, who is not being served, and the reasons for either non-compliance or poor outcomes is made more difficult.

To help overcome these challenges, Stout assisted the parties involved in the matter, including the department of education, the court system, and advocates for families of children with individualized education plans. We developed new pathways to apply data strategies for compliance purposes and collaborated with the parties to establish a sophisticated understanding of data. These processes have allowed the parties to identify local and systemic opportunities for improvement and also recognize the challenges of current infrastructure as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

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