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America’s School Districts at the Decision-Making Crossroad

Following the first coronavirus cases in the United States, most school districts across the United States paused in-person instruction in March 2020. Thereafter, these districts scrambled to provide quality virtual instruction that would continue the continuity of face-to-face instruction for the remaining two months of the 2019-2021 academic year. After students and teachers departed for their annual support vacation, most school administrators spent the summer planning for a virtual, hybrid, and face-to-face instruction for the 2020-2021 academic year. Due to pressures from varying stakeholders, school districts are forced to choose between two well known theories that are referred to throughout the field of education. These theories are known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs  is a theory in the field of psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review and in his subsequent book Motivation and Personality. This theory encourages human beings to fulfill basic needs before more advanced needs. As a humanist, Maslow argues that basic needs consist of self-actualization, self-esteem, belongingness, safety, and physiological needs. Based on the factors Maslow identifies as basic human needs, arguably the pursuit of formal education in a face-to-face setting can be considered as a more advanced need.

Dr. Antonio L. EllisDr. Antonio L. Ellis

To the contrary, Benjamin Samuel Bloom, another American Psychologist, developed a comprehensive system that described and assessed educational outcomes in the mid-1950’s. Bloom’s Taxonomy focused on educational outcomes of learners as opposed to their social emotional needs and human safety. The original taxonomy focused on creating, evaluating, analyzing, applying, understanding, ad remembering information. In 2001 a group of cognitive psychologists, curriculum theorists, instructional researchers, and testing assessment specialists revised the original taxonomy in their article titled A Taxonomy for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment. The revised taxonomy underscored this dynamism, using verbs and gerunds to label their categories and subcategories, as opposed to nouns from the original taxonomy. These verbs include remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating knowledge.

Due to a multiplicity of factors some school districts have started to return to face-to-face instruction. I argue that these districts are choosing to prioritize the need for Bloom’s Taxonomy for academic achievement over Maslow Hierarchy of Needs for the safety of students and staff. According to a joint report from the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as of September 17, 2020, there has been 587, 984 children COVID-19 cases reported nationally. Reportedly, New York City did not provide age distribution for state-wide cases. However, forty-two states, including New York City reported mortality rates. Children were reported 0% – .0.33% of all COVID-19 deaths. While eighteen states reported zero child deaths, among the states that reporting, 0% – 0.15% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death. Overall 74, 553 cases were reported, which is a 15% increase in child cases every two weeks. More than fourteen states reported more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most comprehensive U.S. accounting to date of pediatric infections and fatalities — show there have been 391,814 known cases and 121 deaths among people under the age of 21 from February to July. Of those killed by covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, more than 75 percent have been Hispanic, Black and American Indian children, even though they represent 41 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the children and teens killed, 45 percent were Hispanic, 29 Black and 4 percent American Indian.

Regardless of these staggering statistics and the growing COVID-19 cases in America among Black and Brown children, school districts are forced to choose between focusing on Bloom’s Taxonomy or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in deciding if children will continual receiving instruction virtually or transition into the hybrid or face-to-face instructional model. Considering the growing numbers of children diagnosed with COVID-19, if school districts continue choosing to open schools for face-to-face instruction, arguably they could be viewed as choosing to focus on students’ educational needs at the risk of prioritizing their safety and health. Amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic it is important for school district leaders to consider Maslow Hierarchy of Needs when making decisions about the best mode for instructional delivery during this unprecedented time. Student safety should be the primary determinant in the school opening decision-making process. While Bloom’s Taxonomy is critical towards academic achievement, during this global health crisis it is critical that the safety, health, and well-being for students and school staff remain the center of attention.

Dr. Antonio L. Ellis is a scholar in residence and director of the Institute on Education Equity and Justice at the American University School of Education.

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