I apply the above logic to several policy areas discussed recently in the context of the coronavirus. The first two topics—online tools and fully online learning—are the first topics that come to mind. The rest are potential long-term changes, which may be more of an "indirect" category.
Use online tools? From my argument above, it is clear that schools will use online tools more. Most students in the country will soon have laptops and some type of Internet access (although the digital divide will still be a major issue). Teachers will like many of the tools there, and because students have some experience with them, they will be easier to use them. As Dave Deming recently pointed out, online tools can be a useful supplement to face-to-face teaching—rather than replacing it—allowing teachers to focus more on attracting and guiding students.
Switch to homeschooling and completely virtual teaching? There may be some changes in this direction. Families will become more accustomed to online learning. However, an obvious disadvantage of this method is that the family must play the role of minister and teacher. Given their work schedules and other responsibilities, few families want or can afford it. In addition, research consistently shows that students learn less in a completely virtual environment. Face-to-face, teacher-led teaching has too many advantages.
Switch to charter schools? A key question is: Which schools will better deal with the current crisis? Traditional public schools may respond better, which means they provide better education services for children and their families. This is possible because they are designed to have a larger capacity. They have IT departments and supervisors to promote special education, procurement, etc. They benefit from economies of scale and expertise. On the other hand, charter schools have fewer rules to follow. With the reduction of government rules and restrictions on union contracts, charter schools can respond to crises more flexibly.
It is too early to judge which department will win. A recent report indicated that charter management organizations (CMOs) are more actively switching to online teaching than traditional public schools, even though most charter schools are not actually operated by CMOs. In addition, CMOs often receive large amounts of additional funds from philanthropists, which gives them an advantage.
But if a department responds better, it will be a meaningful victory, and parents will undoubtedly take note of this. The schools that respond best can expect more parents to choose them and look forward to more political support.
Switch to a private school? All of the above about charter schools also applies to private schools, with one exception: private schools may suffer financially. Except for a small number of students who hold vouchers, families must pay tuition fees. Although middle-class families attending private schools will not be severely hit by the COVID-19 economic crisis, everyone will be meaningfully affected. In the next year, we are likely to see a surge in private school closures.
Moving to competency-based learning? Some education experts believe that this may be the big winner of the current crisis. However, I think this is unlikely. Like homeschooling, the ability-based approach has great limitations. Although they allow students to learn at their own pace, ability-based methods atomize learning and rely heavily on standardized tests. Students provide their abilities, and only after passing the test can they proceed to the next topic. Ability-based learning is "individualized" because teaching is adjusted to existing skills, but is also within the scope of the test. Some of these methods are better than others, but I still think that teachers and students will not tend to adopt more ability-based methods in the current crisis. Ability-based learning suffers from the same problems as the more general high-stakes test, which has fallen out of favor.
Yes, given the lost study time, we will need more ability-based methods in the short term to determine which students will be promoted to the next grade. However, a major long-term shift to online learning seems unlikely.
Changing the roles of students, parents and teachers? Switching to some online tools may change the role of teachers, making them more like coaches and mentors. They can provide students with very good online lectures, and then provide guidance and feedback there, and establish cross-topic connections. The roles of students and parents may also change. Now that they have more places to look, they may be more likely to try to solve their learning needs by themselves. When the role changes, everything else changes with it-albeit in a less predictable way.
Another indirect influence: education politics
Of course, the main change in school education after Hurricane Katrina was that some leaders decided to no longer give the local school district the responsibility of educating children-that’s why my book is called "charter school city" instead of "traditional public school city. "But this is not mainly about the power above. It is about politics.
I don’t mean it’s bad. Politics is about how we make collective decisions. It involves values and power struggles. In a later post, I will consider that the COVID-19 crisis may (or may not) reshape the politics of education. Will this lead to major changes in public policy that are not yet obvious? May we see a reduction in state and federal regulation? Provide more flexibility for students choosing courses and tools?
The form of reform in New Orleans was not clear until a few months after the storm made landfall. The current crisis is still in its infancy, and we are still trekking in the thick fog. It is difficult to know how tens of millions of students, 3 million teachers and thousands of educational organizations will act in the coming months and years. However, start thinking about what might happen—and what changes we should encourage to be useful.