The last few weeks have been surreal as we learn about the Corona Virus and how to protect ourselves and our neighbors. One of the largest disruptions has been school closings in order to contain the virus. No one knows when schools will reopen.
While Covid-19 is of utmost concern, parents and educators, who’ve worried about the replacement of brick-and-mortar schools and teachers with anytime, anyplace, online instruction, wonder what this pandemic will mean to public education long term. Will this disaster be used to end public schools, replacing instruction with online competency-based learning?
We’re reminded of disaster capitalism, a concept highlighted by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, how Katrina was used in New Orleans to convert traditional public schools to charter schools. Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. (p. 5-6). Who thought that could happen?
The transitioning of technology into public schools, not simply as a supplemental tool for teachers to use at their discretion, but as a transformative means to remove teachers from the equation, has been highlighted with groups like Digital Promise and KnowledgeWorks. Both promote online learning and it’s difficult to find teachers in the mix.
Combining this with the intentional defunding of public schools, shoddy treatment of teachers including the unwillingness to pay them appropriate salaries, inadequate resources and support staff, crumbling buildings, and the destruction of public schooling in America, should we not question what placing students online at this strange time will mean in the future to our schools?
In Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns describes transitioning to online instruction. This threat seems more real.
Something has to give. The old public utility model of public education struggles more each day with what society increasingly asks it to do. Other options on the outside continue to grow in number, as state laws permit public funding to support a widening variety of schools. Technology is also navigating around the traditional model and getting more sophisticated and user-friendly (p.235).
Audrey Watters, who often discusses the tech threat to schools, recently observed how the effects of the Covid-19 crisis were impacting Washington State and Seattle.
I’ve heard lots of local tech workers complain angrily that, in a region that’s home to Microsoft and Amazon, there is really no excuse for schools staying open. Digital learning, they argue, is already preferable. And now, they say, it’s necessary.
But many have never believed, nor is there proof, that digital learning is already preferable.
The Nation Relies On Public Schools
In “Coronavirus Has Shown Us the Vital Role Schools Play, But Will America Listen?” Glenda Cohen outlines how parents and the nation need public schools for survival. I have added some additional services and citations.
- Public schools are on the frontline fighting against childhood hunger. According to a CNBC report: Each day, the National School Lunch Program serves over 30 million children. The fact that many children will go hungry without their public school should give us pause.
- Students rely on school counseling. Students rely on school counselors for support.
- Parents need childcare so they can work. Working parents need schools to take care of their children so they can work. When schools close, parents are unable to do their jobs. This has a negative effect on the overall economy.
- Schools provide homeless children with stability. As Cohen points out, many homeless children rely on public schools. U.S. News and World Report claims 1.36 million students in the 2016-17 school year were homeless.
- Students with disabilities need accommodations and services. Most guidelines indicate that during the Covid-19 crisis, students with disabilities must have access to the same services as students without disabilities, but this leaves out accommodations that address the differences. Here are questions and answers from the Department of Education. How will students with autism, ADHD, and many other disabilities get the services they need?
Shortcomings of Online Instruction
- Many children don’t have access to Broadband. Nearly 12 million children, many living in rural settings, lack access to an Internet connections. While ed-tech enthusiasts will claim it’s a matter of time before everyone has Broadband, looking for funding to do so indicates it will take time for this to occur.
- What happens with student privacy and information? Parents already worry about their child’s online personal identifiable information when they work online at school. How is a student’s online information protected when they work online at home during a public heath crisis? Here’s information about Covid-19 and FERPA.
- Socialization is missing. Speaking to someone on a screen is better than nothing, but it’s still isolating.
- Students work online alone. Many students need guidance and might not be able to focus on screens.
- Children enjoy social gatherings that schools provide. The Covid-19 virus has left students agonizing over the field trips and school social events that they will miss, that cannot take place online.
- How good is the instruction? There’s no research to show that working only online is better than teacher instruction.
- Parents have to supervise their children. Usually parents have to monitor their student’s work and make sure they stay on task.
Teachers Are Loved and Respected.
A college student whose classes were cancelled and switched to online stated they would miss their teacher who had provided extra help and whose class everyone enjoyed.
Teachers have been the unsung heroes during this Covid-19 crisis. They have struggled the last few weeks to take care of their students, cleaning and disinfecting their classes due to an overwhelmed custodial staff, along with keeping students calm, comforting confused children and teens.
Now they struggle to go online to provide lessons from home. As blogger Nancy Flanagan notes in “Once Again Teachers are First Responders:”
Keeping a functional learning community together is job #1. Meaning: every child, K-12, who is out of school involuntarily, knows for sure that the adults who have been his/her teachers, playground supervisors or joke-around buddies in the hallway, still care. Staying connected and checking in matter much more than reviewing fractions or watching a dissection video.
Online learning can never adequately replace public schools and teachers. In such a desperate time, closing public schools due to this pandemic is showing Americans how reliant we are upon those schools to fulfill, not just an educational purpose, but the real social and emotional needs of children and families.
We’re left with stark revelations about this country’s shortcomings, while at the same time we witness the heroism of teachers and staff who care for all children at this dark time. It is that caring and love that have always been the hallmark of what teaching and public schools have been all about. It is and will continue to be what saves public education and the teaching profession.
This crisis will not throw students into a future of nothing but online learning. It will instead remind parents and students of how much their public schools and teachers mean to them.
Or, as American television producer, television and film writer, and author @shondarhimes lamented on Twitter: been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.
We must have hope for the future, hope for our democracy, and the great and enduring role of teachers and brick-and-mortar schools, which are temporarily closed.
Stay well and take care of yourselves.
Christensen, C.M., et al. (2008). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: McGraw Hill.
Klein, N. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Picador, 2007.