A week ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York is collaborating with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a plan to develop a "smarter education system."
The coronavirus pandemic resulted in moving the remainder of the school year online, leaving students, parents and teachers wondering whether there might be physical classes in September. Cuomo says remote learning necessitated by social distancing offers an opportunity to take advantage of technology to reimagine education.
"When we are reopening schools, let's open a better school. And let's open a smarter education system. It's not just about reopening schools. When we reopen schools, let's open a better school and let's open a smarter education system. We've been talking about tele-education, virtual education, remote education. And there's a lot that can be done, you know the old model of everybody goes and sits in the classroom, and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms. Why, with all the technology you have?"
Jasmine Gripper, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education, finds the idea "problematic." "We believe technology is a great tool to enhance learning, but it is not a tool for learning on its own. We know that children spending too much time in front of a screen, whether it's a computer screen, a TV screen, or a phone screen, is not really healthy for their development. And in fact, students should be spending more time interacting with adults. That is how genuine learning takes place. That is how we get children to meet their full potential."
Molly Heekin teaches second grade in the Onteora School District in northern Ulster County. "Teachers have seen in the past seven weeks how difficult this is to educate children remotely. It just heightens the equity issues that are already present in our society. Our ability to reach every student has so many variables. When a student walks into a classroom, It's almost like this great leveler that we're all in The same space, with the same materials, the same accessibility. That's not what happens when you have remote learning."
Gripper claims the governor and the Gates Foundation both have a history of pushing privatization and agendas that could undercut public schools. She says schools need more resources, not cuts. New York State United Teachers union President Andy Pallotta is on the same page. "If we want to reimagine education, let's start with addressing the need for social workers, school psychologists, school nurses, enriching arts courses and smaller class sizes in school districts across the state. Let's secure the federal funding and new state revenues through taxes on the ultra-wealthy that can go toward addressing these needs. And let's recognize educators as the experts. They are by including them in these discussions about improving our public education system for every student."
United University Professions President Fred Kowal takes a different stance: "The present crisis gives us the opportunity to build a much more equitable society through access to public higher education, more access, more affordable, and also, more diverse. This is the time to expand, for instance, medical education, so that we have the specialists needed to deal with circumstances like the coronavirus and other long-standing medical challenges in New York. This is a time to grow our public-sector expand it and fund it to a progressive tax system."
Cuomo has not offered a timetable or expanded details of the plan.