“As a retired educator, what do you think we should do about school this fall?” our oldest grandson asked. Not a trivial question. In fact, an absolutely relevant question, which got my retired brain churning. In previous years, instead of seeking innovative solutions, we picked up our hammers and tinkered with old traditions. I hope that in response to our coronavirus disaster, we will design different and innovative models of public education.
As we seek to marry a good education with health protection, we have a chance to implement a variety of models. An exciting aspect of this exploration suggests that when we provide choices to students, we will be more likely to meet individual learning needs. Providing educational options can also help us bring poverty schools up to the achievement levels and advantages of opulent schools. The considerations below can simultaneously be implemented:
Individualized Instruction with Technology: Technology has become more attainable than ever during the pandemic. Using individual contracts and technology, gifted learners can soar beyond the curriculum. Likewise, students needing additional time and repetition will be able to take as long as necessary to master core objectives.
Virtual Learning at Home with Parents: Some parents will prefer to keep children at home to learn. For many children, combining virtual classes and parent participation will provide superior opportunities.
Virtual Learning for Older Students: After receiving content objectives and materials, some students will prefer to teach themselves. One teenager told me, “I don’t like to waste time. If a teacher provides an assignment, I can learn by myself. If I need help, I’ll ask.”
Virtual Group Learning: Other students prefer to learn through class discussions. Fortunately, many of today’s students have become experts in applications that host virtual meetings.
Virtual Learning with a Teacher: Many students and their parents feel more comfortable keeping kids home but want interactions with a real teacher. Simply getting assignments and learning material does not work well for all learners. Some students what to hear about a topic and to present their questions to a real human being.
Arts Education in Virtual Classrooms: We have already demonstrated that art and music can be taught virtually. Why not add drama?
Classroom Learning at School: To meet the needs of students who long to go to a physical building and mingle with their peers, schools can implement safety measures such as: reducing the number of bodies in each classroom, alternating times in the classroom with virtual learning, maintaining physical distance on buses and in classrooms, providing boxed lunches, washing hands frequently, and requiring masks and protective eye coverings.
Physical Fitness and Interactions: Recently, scientists have suggested that being together outside is less precarious than breathing air circulating inside. This information, along with awareness of the importance of sunshine and movement, will encourage schools to plan times for both free play and structured physical education.
Will implementing numerous learning options cost additional money? Yes, initially it will. However, if schools do not open, the sacrifice of failing to educate all children—especially our less affluent children, will be insurmountable. Opening without safety measures will increase the spread of the virus.
Considering the price tags involved, I am convinced that we have money in this country. We must now make better choices about where to spend our national and state money. No area, not even defense, rivals the importance of educating our children. Without giving our best to this cornerstone of democracy, everything else will fail.
I believe we must at least partially open schools in the fall, as we continue to monitor the pandemic. If we return with more of the same, we will get more of the same: too many failures in our lower-income schools, along with increased illness from COVID-19. This cannot be a time for limited thinking; we can now convert education into whatever we can imagine it to be. One size never has and never will fit all. The time has come to meet individual needs and to equalize education for schools in every neighborhood.
We can be courageous. Let’s take public education into the 21st century.