California; Hayward — Amidst escalating political polarization within classrooms and mounting concerns about learning loss, schools are gearing up for the upcoming academic year. As the 2024 election approaches and test scores continue to decline, educators are facing the challenging task of balancing the expectations of students, parents, and politicians. Various factors, including technological advancements and book bans, are expected to present serious obstacles to educators, and debates at the legislative level about curriculum content and teaching methodologies are anticipated.
In a story from The Hill, one of the pressing issues is the enduring impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students' learning. Numerous studies reveal that children are lagging behind in crucial subjects like math and reading due to disruptions caused by online or hybrid learning. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reported alarming drops in math and reading scores for 13-year-olds, reaching their lowest levels since 1990 and 2004, respectively. Similarly, eighth graders' scores in civics and history have also declined significantly.
Controversies surrounding book bans in schools have become hot topics, particularly in GOP-led states, where certain books and literature are being challenged and removed from classrooms. PEN America, a free speech organization, documented 1,477 book bans during the first half of the previous school year, with concerns raised about content related to LGBTQ+ experiences, sexuality, sex education, death, and abuse. Republicans argue that such bans protect children from inappropriate material, leading to changes in Florida's policies, making it easier to challenge and remove books.
Artificial intelligence and chatbots, such as ChatGPT, pose challenges for high school and college educators, particularly in addressing concerns related to cheating. ChatGPT sparked controversies in the previous school year, prompting some institutions to ban the use of the technology. This upcoming academic year marks the first time educators will navigate the widespread popularity of AI, necessitating the development of guidelines and training to assist professors in understanding and modifying assignments to accommodate AI use appropriately.
Moreover, some states have undergone controversial curriculum changes, with particular focus on K-12 education and concepts like critical race theory (CRT). Over a dozen states have passed laws against CRT, while Florida introduced new standards for teaching African American history. The curriculum sparked opposition due to a section that suggested enslaved people "developed skills" to cope with their circumstances. Critics argue that such changes misrepresent history and seek to censor crucial topics.
As schools prepare to face these challenges in the upcoming academic year, educators must find ways to bridge the learning gaps caused by the pandemic, address concerns over banned books, adapt to the rise of AI, and navigate contentious curriculum changes. Striking the right balance between meeting student needs, respecting free speech, and delivering comprehensive education will be essential for schools to thrive amidst the growing political polarization.
Noumaan Faiz, (he/him) is a journalist and entertainer from Hayward, CA who covers culture and entertainment.
Edited by Nykeya Woods