How the pandemic spotlighted inequities and opportunities in WA education

Donna Blankinship explains why the newest season of our podcast This Changes Everything focuses on public education.

Four photos of students and teachers

Clockwise from top left: 9th grader Anastasha Kathireson (Lindsey Wasson/Crosscut); First grade teacher Carter Allen (Genna Martin/Crosscut); ; Lindsay Eicher, lead teacher at the Madrona Village School (Jovelle Tamayo/Crosscut); 11th grader Adar Abdi. (Genna Martin/Crosscut).

The pandemic has upended all of our lives. But no one has experienced more change these past two years than parents and their school-age children. Dealing with illness and death in our communities and struggling with confusing public health guidance are harrowing enough. Add to that the struggle to work while simultaneously supervising your child’s education, and it’s obvious that few will look back on this time fondly. 

But for the optimists among us, some glimmers of a silver lining have shown through. One that has become apparent to me — and my fellow journalists at Crosscut — has been the way the pandemic has spotlighted already festering inequities. School districts, for example, could no longer ignore that many families didn’t have computers or reliable internet in their homes. Of course, kids already needed computer access to do their homework before the pandemic, but few administrators seemed to be wringing their hands in 2019 about this deficit. The problem wasn’t addressed until 2020.

That is just one example of the ways our public schools offer an unequal education for children based on their ZIP code. 

When I came to Crosscut 2½ years ago, one of the first things I asked for was a reporter to cover education. Our newsroom had a stated commitment to tackle issues around equity and inclusion, but it’s hard to cover equity if you don’t write about education. School is supposed to be the great equalizer in our society, but it often fails that lofty goal. As a former education reporter and a parent, I knew this to be 100% true.

So last year we hired Venice Buhain to be our education reporter and worked with freelancers to build out the beat. When talk turned to Season 3 of This Changes Everything, we all agreed that the podcast should focus on education. But we didn’t want to just look back at the pandemic and all the things that were lost during the COVID-19 years. We decided to look forward at changes the pandemic brought that might live on: a renewed focus on mental health, more attention to inequity, a recognition that every student has different educational needs.

Take a listen. Let us know how we did. Tell us what stories you think we should pursue on the education beat. We’re listening to you.

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