This week, the Education Lab team visited Mobile to attend the MEGA Conference and meet with teachers and Mobile-area folks to talk about issues affecting schools and kids.
We heard from a wide range of educators and advocates about a wide range of issues — and got tons of ideas about solutions and issues to explore in future stories.
Here are a few things we learned:
1. Early literacy is top of mind. Of course, every year teachers are helping children learn how to read. But I heard a big range of opinions on how the state and local schools should tackle reading, and whether more delays or supports are needed after the pandemic. The state currently is moving forward with accountability efforts and says test results released in August will show if more interventions or retention for struggling readers will be effective. One thing stood out: People want more information about how many children are on grade level, how interventions are working and who exactly is in danger of being held back.
2. The critical race theory debate is a distraction. Critical race theory isn’t taught in K-12 and state officials said they haven’t received any specific complaints about negative influence in schools. Educators said they weren’t sure if state efforts to curb discussion of race and racism would actually affect what they teach in the classroom — State Superintendent Eric Mackey has said it won’t stop them from discussing tough topics. They did tell me they were worried about general state and public interference in curriculum and whether the debate would further politicize education.
3. Lots of educators are proud of the effort to reopen last year. Several teachers told me they were proud of efforts to get children back in classrooms as quickly as possible last school year. I didn’t hear much fear about whether the Delta variant might affect school this fall. It seems like it’s full steam ahead from districts and the state to start the school year next month as normally as possible. We’ll have more updates on what to expect in terms of masks, vaccines and back-to-school efforts soon.
4. Rural schools are struggling to find certified teachers. Will TEAMs help? I talked with several administrators who really struggle to find qualified teachers; some districts don’t have any trained teachers for specific topics and rely on emergency-certified staff. We talk about “teacher shortages” in Alabama, but really there are multiple workforce gaps, and different communities might need different assistance programs. We’re interested to see how many teachers take up the TEAMS stipend offer and whether it will be effective at plugging gaps. Then, what’s next?
5. Communities are using creative strategies to tackle mental health. Several people brought up new hires, initiatives and programs directed at mental health and general wellbeing, for both children and adults. Fairfield has a medical clinic. Mobile is hiring new social workers. We’ve written about some statewide initiatives to add mental health coordinators, fund counselors and add other supports, but it was neat to hear about more localized efforts. Those are exactly the type of solutions the Ed Lab is interested in hearing more about and seeing whether they’re effective in the long run.
We also heard about grading efforts, social-emotional learning, outreach to students who don’t have a permanent place to live, rural transportation and attendance efforts. Educators are doing a ton of great work. I’m excited to continue to tell stories about Alabama schools. Want to tell us more about your school? Let the team know at [email protected]