What Lies Ahead - Planning for the 2020-21 School Year

May 14, 2020
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Usually May brings with it exciting times for schools. In some areas of the country, it means end-of-year celebrations, graduations, proms, and a beginning to the summer season. In other parts, preparations for all these things would be starting. 

Unfortunately, these are not typical times. Now May brings an early end to the school year for many and a muddling through the final leg of remote learning for others. Educators face new challenges every day, dealing with crisis management on a scale never seen before. Filled with constant worry for their students’ well-being, educators continue their herculean efforts to feed, educate, support, engage, and triage. Wow. I want to start by acknowledging how hard all this is and how grateful I am to all those on the front lines of schooling.   

Normally educators would look towards a brief break - one they need now more than ever - before gearing up for the next school year. Instead in the middle of this storm, educators must prepare for a new school year that will look unlike any other experienced by educators’ in the past.  

How do you play a basketball game or deliver instruction at 1:30 teacher-student ratios while staying six feet apart? How do you protect vulnerable students or educators in heavily populated school buildings? How do you quickly scale technology infrastructure when you anticipated a multi-year timeline? Oh yes, and how do you do all these things when faced with budget cuts? 

If your only tool is a hammer...

The charge is extraordinary. And as always, educators will meet the challenge. It will require rethinking processes, structures, and policies for almost every element of the school day. States and districts will need to grapple with what role they play and what tools they need. The adage “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” feels applicable right now. The ways we are used to serving students, just don’t make sense in our new reality. A seven-hour school day doesn’t translate to remote learning environments, no matter how hard you bang. Thankfully, educator ingenuity and resourcefulness will surface new and necessary tools to solve these problems. 

Processes will be key because relying on traditional solutions won’t work. Delegation will be equally important because the workload is monumental.  And the skills needed to anticipate pitfalls and execute new processes will be vast. Long story short, districts need new plans and different tools. 

What we created? 

Over at ClassLink, my work is a few steps removed from the classroom. It is a much different role than my previous ones as a teacher, practitioner, and Assistant Commissioner of a state department of education. It provides for a more zoomed out lens to view the effects of the pandemic on education. I, along with other leaders at ClassLink, are following as state departments of education, educational think tanks, non-profits, and other organizations release guidance on dealing with this pandemic. Many pieces focus on how schools can continue to drive equity and excellence in the context of a pandemic. Other guidance touches on compliance, policy, and resource allocation. A lot of the work represents a furthering of pre-existing efforts with COVID-19 framing. The result is a range of perspectives highlighting how to operate during remote learning and the unique circumstances of the 2020-21 school year. 

In our review, we noticed a lack of tools that synthesized all the guidance on remote learning and returning to the classroom. To help educators quickly access and make sense of all this guidance, ClassLink created two tools. These tools help states, districts, and schools self-assess their readiness for remote learning and returning to school this summer/fall. The first is the Back to School Plan Rubric. The second is the Education Continuity Plan Rubric for remote learning. Both include a comprehensive list of core elements to consider, what various stages of planning may entail, and progress monitoring metrics. The rubrics are grounded in making purposeful, data-driven decisions that work for each district’s circumstances. They include exemplars and a list of the resources we collected in case you want to dive deeper into a specific area. 

Why ClassLink?

ClassLink’s mission is to empower educators to improve learning through innovative systems and services. It provides web-based and cloud-based education products and services. ClassLink works with districts and states to support their education technology strategies. We support remote learning plans through reducing access barriers, providing powerful analytics, and collaborating with industry experts. As part of this work, we provide powerful data that gives educators valuable analytics on student usage of education technology. This powerful data also provides us insights into how districts are responding to the shift to remote learning. The combination of these efforts uniquely positions us to serve educators as they plan for what’s ahead.  

What’s our vision for these tools?

We want these rubrics to exist in the public domain as living documents. They are marked with an open Creative Commons License to allow anyone to use or adapt them for their own purposes. We encourage professional leadership associations and education organizations to adopt and contribute to the improvement of these resources. Our vision is that these tools will evolve through the collaboration of the education community as they work through the planning process. 

We hope they will serve as a clearinghouse to share best practices and lessons learned. We welcome feedback from education leaders to continuously improve the rubrics as they encounter best practices.


Education Leaders
Remote Learning

About the Author

About the Authors

Mary Batiwalla

Director of Evaluation Analytics



For over a decade Mary has dedicated her career to education, serving as a practitioner, researcher, and executive leader. In her most recent role as Assistant Commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Education, she led assessments, accountability, and data governance.