In March 2021, Kate Way reported in Truthout that the urgency to reopen schools ignores fundamental educational inequalities across the United States that existed before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Way describes how American public schools are intertwined in a complicated relationship between local, state, and federal guidelines surrounding the global public health crisis that is COVID-19. The pandemic has consistently highlighted the fractured education system and how administrators “fail to account for a larger political, economic, and historical context of public education in the United States.”
Concerns about students’ health and wellbeing while returning to school have sparked attention-grabbing reactions by public authorities. Through an educational lens, Way details the systemic obstacles that students of color face, including lack of access to technology and support resources. Failure to address the adversity faced by students of color contributes to achievement and opportunity gaps in the American education system, especially at a time when remote education, intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, renders already-vulnerable student populations even more susceptible to falling behind or failing in school. As Way emphasizes, the inequities faced by students across the nation were not caused by school closures; they were already present in these institutions.
The success of the education system is dependent on the health of the economy. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Way reports that the economic system was driving the education system “to the brink of collapse” through steep expectations for the transfer of students to the work force. Now schools face additional challenges include building repairs, upgrades to inadequate HVAC systems, and staff shortages. Despite these challenges, Way highlights how the economy still requires the development of “human capital.” Way describes the concept of “human capital” as an element of neoliberal policies that have “dominated” US society since the 1980s, justifying “the privatization of public assets and services, the deregulation of the market, and severe cuts to spending on the public sector and social welfare.”
While the push to open schools following the COVID-19 pandemic has been widely chronicled in corporate news media, these sources have often failed to take account of enduring educational inequalities that pre-date the pandemic, as addressed by Kate Way’s report Truthout report.
Source: Kate Way, “The Frantic Push to Reopen Schools Ignores Educational Inequality Before COVID,” Truthout, March 8, 2021.
Student Researchers: Thomas Gruttadauria, Emily Kenyon, Alex Stacy, and Shauna Driscoll (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Professor Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)