Perhaps with the exception of the travel and leisure industry, the pandemic has disrupted education more than any other area of American public life. From university boards to pre-school administrators, everyone is confused and not sure how to proceed. Parents are desperate to understand how they should continue to best educate their children.
- Is it safe to go back to in-person learning?
- Is it too late to resume a yearly academic calendar?
- Should we go to a permanent hybrid model?
- Has remote learning kept my child apace with his academic age group?
- Does everyone have equal access to remote learning technologies?
- Is my school district keeping up with all the changes that charter schools seem to have embraced?
- Am I better off homeschooling my child?
The pandemic is the new reference point for the evolution of public schooling, and the changes resulting from COVID-19 will be more rapid and far reaching than any measures of the past 38 years. From fiscal restructurings to fresh configurations, from a renewed focus on vouchers to millions of new homeschoolers, there is no going back to a pre-COVID world for public education.
Where Education Professionals See This All Going
Educators have been hard at work imagining their new post-pandemic world. They say we would be missing a great opportunity if our goal is to reopen our schools to look exactly like they did a year ago today. While discussions around reopening schools seem centered on class size reduction and sanitation, we need to think bigger as a country, they say. We now know education can be more flexible than we thought and cater to different needs and preferences. For instance, charter schools have experienced enrollment increases because they adapted quickly to remote learning and offered a customized education that fit the needs of their students. They listened to parents and communities that had varying levels of comfort about sending children back to the classroom and figured out the logistics.
5 Steps Toward a New Normal
Permit me to summarize the consensus of educators collected by Nina Rees in her article, Reimagining the future of public education after COVID, 03/11/21.
- The one-size-fits-all education model should be gone. Full-time virtual learning came with big challenges, but we've proven that education can happen anytime, anywhere, if kids have access to laptops, Wi-Fi, and an adult who can help keep them on track.
- We must broaden the definition of school infrastructure to include portable technology. No topic has received more attention over the past year than the digital divide - the gap between students who have ready access to reliable internet anywhere and those who don't.
- Extended school closures and virtual models taught us that if parents are dissatisfied with what is offered to their children, they will make changes. Large school districts that have been slow to adapt have lost students, while a record number of parents decided to home school.
- Schools with more flexibility - such as charter schools - adapted more quickly to the needs of their students. But thinking even bigger, states and school districts should give all their school-level leaders more flexibility and autonomy to pivot their instructional models and practices based on the needs of their students.
- The traditional school calendar is meaningless and could actually be harmful. Students progressed from one year to the next last fall without reliable data about whether they were prepared to do so. Now, as more schools resume in-person instruction, students will almost immediately be sent away on summer break. Borrowing again from the charter school sector, it's time to rethink school calendars.
A Work in Progress
Not since April 1983 when Ronald Reagan's education secretary, Terrel H. Bell, released a landmark report about the nation's public education system, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform has the country imagined such radical changes in education. That report ushered in the era of rigorous standards, state and local tests to measure achievement, stronger graduation standards, and curriculum changes to give students a solid foundation in practical skills like computer science.
It is going to take some time for the current radical changes to take effect. We will need both persistence and patience during this 21st century transition to a new normal.