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Bill Frist’s Empty Platitudes Provide Pablum Where Protein is Needed

May 19, 2020

The Hill provided former Tennessee Senator Bill Frist with a forum to offer his insights on how to solve the exceedingly thorny issue of how to improve public schools in the wake of the pandemic. Alas, instead of offering a specific prescription, Dr. Frist offered up a long list of platitudes that would sound good in a stump speech but cannot be translated into action. He echoed the call for universal high speed internet, decried the impact of the economic divide on student performance, and called for more vocational programs that prepare students for entry into high paying work…. all items that are on every voters (and every union leader’s) checklist. And how will this be achieved?

This crisis will exacerbate the many ongoing education policies and funding debates among adults. The economic recession will likely demand deep cuts in state and local budgets. Policymakers may be tempted to underfund or alter education policies that have helped advance student achievement. That would be a mistake. In our polling we found voters want policymakers to prioritize and protect education investments, especially teacher pay.

Policymakers and local leaders also should resist rolling back structural reforms, like annual assessments, school accountability, and curricular reform that have helped improve student outcomes. To provide students with the best support and know what they have learned, we need to protect assessments to quickly measure learning loss and create personalized learning plans for students. Transparency about school quality and student readiness remain critical.

The bedrock promise of public education is that all students have access to an excellent education. Our work and investments need to support that mission, regardless of whether they adhere to the contours of a pre-COVID world.

From the sound of things in these closing paragraphs it will take less money, higher teacher pay, and more tests… two “ideas” that are mutually exclusive (lower budgets and higher pay) and one that has NOT proven to be helpful in addressing the divide in student performance (testing). The post-pandemic public schools cannot look or operate the same as the “normal” pre-pandemic schools because they are going to be required to adhere to medical guidelines and budgets that make such a thing impossible. The time for TRUE reform is now. Dr. Frist’s pablum is not helpful.

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