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The Screen and the Schoolhouse: Five Recommendations From Teachers for 2021

Zooming into living rooms across the country and comforting masked children at a six-foot distance, teachers have acted as first responders to the crises facing American students. The twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial violence have created challenges and trauma among many and have had a disproportionate impact on low-income students and students of color.

Now more than ever we need unity, guidance, and hope. We are the teachers from around the U.S. who are members of the Teach Plus National Policy Advisory Board. As alumni of Teach Plus’ leadership programs, we have spent years addressing state and national policies that affect our students. Regardless of where we live, we have found more similarities than differences between our shared experiences. We have seen how inequity plagues the system of education affecting students and educators of color, we understand the growing need for trauma to be addressed to promote healing and growth for students, we have seen how their jobs drain our coworkers and want to fight for increased support, and we understand the dire consequences of the outdated methods we use to discipline our students.

Whoever wins the White House and leadership in Congress in the 2020 election will face one of the greatest challenges our country has ever seen. The following are five specific educational policies we would like the federal government to address.

1. Close the Digital Divide

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the inequitable access of low-income students to technology and internet services. According to an April survey by the Pew Research Center, four in 10 low-income parents said it was very likely or somewhat likely their children would have to do schoolwork on a cell phone and use public Wi-Fi to finish schoolwork because they don’t have adequate internet access at home. Many teachers are hearing of families that have to use the WiFi in the McDonald’s parking lot, even though they can’t afford to go inside and buy a meal. Many of our most under-resourced students were unable to continue learning when schools shifted to a virtual-only format, causing a historic academic regression that students must now overcome. In addition, major assessments such as Advanced Placement and the ACT have moved to a virtual format. However, those exams are inaccessible for students who lack access to technology or a stable internet connection. Also, students without internet access were unable to connect to other important resources such as counseling and mentoring, which negatively impacts student achievement.

If we are to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all our students, then meeting their connectivity needs is just as vital as early literacy programs. In order to close opportunity gaps, our students need access to the right tools and technological skills.

School districts around the country are working to solve this connectivity issue, but they cannot afford to do it alone. One day this pandemic will end, but the ramifications of not being able to connect digitally in today’s society will not. The time to provide all students with the ability to connect and extend their learning is now. We urge the federal government to provide funding to districts to be used toward reducing the connectivity gap to ensure every student can connect to opportunities that will increase their academic achievement.

2. Create Diverse and Culturally Affirming Schools

A robust and growing body of research shows that a diverse teacher workforce closes the achievement gap, increases graduation rates, lowers dropout rates, and improves outcomes for all students. Yet while more than half of public school students are students of color, only one-fifth of teachers are teachers of color. When the teacher workforce reflects the student population, teachers understand the social and cultural narrative of their students, creating win-win situations for schools and communities.

Students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds need teachers who affirm their identities in order to thrive. Educators of all races and ethnicities must grow their capacity to be inclusive by intentionally embracing diversity and recognizing cultural differences as assets to be cultivated. The federal government must set explicit guidelines and provide incentives for educator preparation programs and school districts to prioritize culturally affirming school climates and recruit and retain a diverse teacher workforce.

3. Provide Mentoring for New Teachers, Especially Teachers of Color

The federal government must address effective new teacher mentoring programs, especially for teachers of color. Research indicates that one in four teachers leave the profession within three years, and more teachers are leaving the profession after one year than at any time in the past two decades. The Teach Plus and Education Trust 2019 report, If You Listen, We Will Stay: Why Teachers of Color Leave and How to Disrupt Teacher Turnover, catalogues the many reasons why teachers of color leave the profession at higher rates than their white counterparts. In the research, teachers cited the lack of support and inadequate professional development as one of the main reasons for exiting the teaching profession. This teacher shortage most notably affects low-income students and students of color, challenging the national goal of providing equitable education to all children. The federal government should contribute federal funding to help states develop high-quality mentor programs so new teachers, and especially new teachers of color, receive support, collaboration, and resources to grow and thrive in the teaching profession.

4. Support Students’ Mental Health

The federal government must prioritize our students’ mental health. In 2020, COVID-19, food insecurity, unemployment, and the loss of homes have all had a dramatic and long-lasting effect on our children’s mental health. In its 2020 report, Barriers to Bridges: Teacher Perspectives on Accelerating Learning, Leadership, and Innovation, Teach Plus highlights that nine out of 10 teachers are more worried about their students’ mental health than before the pandemic.

Every school in our nation needs to be equipped not only with psychologists and social workers, but with ongoing and high-quality professional development for educators and other school staff on trauma. Educators want to be given the tools to support the wellbeing of their students and want to have the means to handle the complex mental health issues that affect them. We must understand, nurture, and educate the whole person, socially and emotionally. It is not only a question of our moral and ethical duty as educators, but a guarantee to cultivate a successful and healthy generation.

5. End the School-to-Prison Pipeline

In 2018, 67 percent of high school students and 45 percent of middle school students in the U.S. attended a school with a police officer on staff, while 1.7 million students attended schools with a police officer but no counselor. The U.S. Department of Education collects data on the number of students of color and those with disabilities referred to and subsequently arrested by school resource officers. The data includes details around the number of school psychologists, social workers, and counselors in schools compared to funding for police officers. Examining the funding and data around police and needed student supports is critical when attempting to understand the school-to-prison-pipeline.

Seventy-two percent of school-aged children in the U.S. are likely to experience a traumatic event such as abuse or violence. The record numbers of suicides that occurred between 2008–2017 made it the second leading cause of death among teenagers in this country. This is likely to be exacerbated by COVID-19 as economic uncertainty becomes the norm for millions of school-aged children.

It is critical to provide federal funding and supports for students so that the American School Counselor Association guidelines, which call for one counselor and one social worker for every 250 students, can be met nationwide. The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, introduced by Sens. Murphy and Warren, would address the school-to-prison pipeline and the shortage of school counselors.

This moment of health crisis and racial reckoning has forced us to acknowledge the flaws in our country. Whoever wins the White House and leadership in Congress must address these urgent challenges now, making bold decisions that will help to heal, educate, and ensure a positive future for a wounded nation.

Teach Plus Teacher Advisory Board

Kristen Rhodes Beland, Teach Plus Rhode Island

Katie Benningfield, Teach Plus Texas

Eileen Broderick, Teach Plus Pennsylvania

Natalie Brown, Teach Plus Texas

Morgan Craig-Williams, Teach Plus Pennsylvania

Chevonne Dixon, Teach Plus Tennessee

Dr. Tracy Edwards, Teach Plus Nevada

Cara Godbe, Teach Plus Colorado

Melissa Good, Teach Plus Colorado

Brittany Behenna Griffith, Teach Plus New Mexico

Stephen Guerriero, Teach Plus Massachusetts

Madison Hays, Teach Plus Colorado

Dr. Amelia Herrera, Teach Plus California

Carla Jones, Teach Plus Illinois

Kristine Lapierre, Teach Plus Rhode Island

Jen Loescher, Teach Plus Nevada

Dr. Al Rabanera, Teach Plus California

Alison Wenzel Rausch, Teach Plus Mississippi

La’Tia Taylor, Teach Plus Illinois




We empower teachers to make an impact in the classroom and beyond.

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We empower teachers to make an impact in the classroom and beyond.

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