While parents shelter-in-place maintaining a sense of normalcy for their children, those critical of public education won’t stop criticizing public schools. They believe that technology should replace teachers and brick-and-mortar schools. They imply that after this difficult period ends, we will move from brick-and-mortar schools to online instruction.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos
In her recent talk about the Covid-19 crisis, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said:
I’ve always believed education funding should be tied to students, not systems, and that necessity has never been more evident (4:23).
Joy Hofmeister the school chief in Oklahoma may have put this best. She told me school isn’t a building. It’s students, teachers, and families working together to advance learning. She’s right and that’s our shared mission (5:52).
Hofmeister’s state has been using four online programs:
- Epic Charter School
- E-School Virtual Charter Academy
- Insight School of Oklahoma (This is powered by K12 Inc.)
- Oklahoma Connections Academy
- Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy (This is powered by K12 Inc.)
Oklahoma has seen controversy concerning virtual schooling, especially surrounding Epic Charter School. All of these programs have troubling track records. Why they continue to drain district and state funding from legitimate public schools is questionable.
Concerns swirl around Epic’s use of funding, but the Coronavirus has delayed court hearings. The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has to wait to get Epic Charter Schools’ for-profit operator to comply with their state investigative audit. The online charter continues to thrive during this crisis.
Tulsa Kids editor Betty Casey raised questions about online Amplify’s Core Knowledge Language Arts CKLA. The point being, all has not been perfect with online learning.
School building criticism means to move students home to learn for good or to online charter schools, museums, or anywhere other than a place that brings students together with real teachers. Online charter schools will rely on facilitators, individuals who are more like babysitters, and not qualified teachers.
Whenever there’s disregard for public school buildings there’s an agenda to end brick-and-mortar public schools.
School Disruptor Advocate Michael Horn
Another concern comes from Michael Horn, who co-wrote Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns with the late Clayton M. Christensen and Curtis W. Johnson. Horn wrote an essay, “The Coronavirus Exposes America’s Misplaced Educational Values.”
Horn uses a parent’s complaint about attendance policies from the past to promote the idea that online instruction is best, that students learn better anytime or anywhere they want. It seems strange that Horn writes this while teachers work to get assignments to students online, and parents struggle to schedule their homes like a school environment to maintain consistency.
He gripes about public schools.
In an effort to create sensible policies that promote the well-being and learning of all children, we’ve built a system that is consummately focused on compliance around the time spent on learning—how many days do you attend school and how many minutes do you sit in a seat—that misses the bigger picture. That bigger picture is the “why” behind the various policies. In other words, when well-meaning policymakers wrote a specific law or regulation, what was the goal they were trying to achieve?
School leaders maybe should be more understanding when students miss school, but such accountability measures were placed on public schools years ago. Teachers and administrators understand the importance of school attendance to get funding.
A conversation on how to be more fair-minded when it comes to attendance might be warranted, but should we cast attendance laws aside? End public education altogether?
Horn makes a huge jump from attendance to what students learn in school.
The central questions we should care about revolve around things like: Are all students—each and every one—learning what they need to thrive as adults? Are we preparing them to participate in a vibrant democracy as informed citizens? Are they healthy? Are they receiving the social and emotional support and external relationships they need?
Most of the problems with public education came about due to the lousy policies foisted on schools by Presidents who wanted to privatize public education.
Horn works for an education ecosystem investment firm called Entangled Group. He’s also on the board of Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund and the LearnLaunch Institute. He’s executive editor at the conservative, anti-public school, pro-privatization publication Education Next, and he’s a venture partner at NextGen Venture Partners.
He says this about the Covid-19 pandemic:
The good news—amidst a sea of bad news with the COVID-19 pandemic—is that there may now exist an opportunity to begin to reset our nation’s focus on inputs over individual student outcomes.
Given that schools are no longer operating on a seat-time basis for the rest of the year—that is, they aren’t being funded based on the minutes students sit in seats as they customarily are—the onset of COVID-19 allows us to begin to rethink our flawed time-based educational model.
Remember Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s words after Katrina?
…that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.
Many don’t consider the Big Easy charter school experiment a success story. Ask parents of students with disabilities denied services what they think of the charter schools in New Orleans.
Hopefully, online learning is working out for students during this difficult time. Technology can be useful, but it is not always quality programming. I know some parents who are working on skills that don’t require screens.
DeVos, Horn, and tech enthusiasts like them, are banking on what could be a real possibility of ending brick-and-mortar schools after the Covid-19 crisis ends. They hope Americans will become comfortable with online learning and seek learning ecosystems where students will learn whatever and whenever they want. They believe structure and consistency won’t matter.
This train of thought is not hidden or unique. The Denver Post recently reported: “Covid-19 Exposes Opportunity in Colorado for a Stronger Schools Not Based In Buildings.”
Will funding after the crisis transfer from teachers and brick-and-mortar schools to screens and online programs? Parents might not seem excited about this today, but will they be on board for it tomorrow?
We can do some soul searching to figure out how to improve our public school system. But if there’s anything this crisis has taught us, it’s how we miss communicating in person. I hope that after the crisis is over, the country will have renewed hope for public schools.