We don’t know what K-12 education will look like this fall, just that things will be different.
What does that mean, what should it mean, and how can parents be empowered to make the best decision for their children and their family?
Here is some of what we know
Schools in Mississippi closed after spring break, which was the middle of March, and every student completed the year “virtually.” Though what exactly that meant varied by the school you attended. To say the transition to distance learning has been hit or miss depending on where you live would be an understatement. (Though that’s certainly true of government education in general.)
But it’s a tough thing to pull off overnight, and we certainly paid the price for never recognizing online learning in Mississippi to this point.
Contrast that with higher education, which has two plus decades of experience, depending on the institution, with online learning. In this case, the transition was relatively smooth. Obviously higher education has long had a vested interest in adopting the online model, it showed, and it paid off.
We also know there will be some investment in expanding internet access. We hear about disparities in high-speed internet on a daily basis. Our Congressional delegation trips over themselves to get money to Mississippi. And whenever the legislature starts spending any of the remaining $900+ million from the federal government, high-speed internet and computers will obviously be a key component. Or it should be. But that will all take time.
Here’s some of the scary
National data shows us that the death rate for those under 18 is essentially zero. In Mississippi, it’s literally zero. So, after months of data, we can report that children have no chance of dying from coronavirus. They’ve also been a tiny percentage of positive cases. Side note: Two children in Mississippi have died from influenza this year. Just to put everything into perspective.
Yet, new federal guidelines would essentially turn government schools into prisons if enacted. In this graphic that has been banned from Facebook, the CDC has laid out various guidelines.
Basically, things that made school fun and can be categorized as positive are now prohibited. Again, these are guidelines, and this is a simplified rundown, but guidelines from CDC carry weight. After all, they’re supposed to be the experts.
Already, the Tupelo school district has said they are not going to use the cafeteria and students will eat in their classroom. I can’t imagine they’ll be the only district implementing that change. The Mississippi Department of Education has offered similar guidelines, encouraging a certain distancing between students.
Parents aren’t sure about next year
Currently, somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of students are homeschooled. Obviously, that increased to essentially every student in the country with the shutdowns, but the idea is that will be temporary.
Still, poll after poll tells us parents aren’t so sure about sending their children back to school. Favorability of homeschooling has skyrocketed, and we see somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of parents saying they are leaning toward that option.
While even the most ardent proponents of homeschooling such as myself know numbers won’t be that large when all is said and done, we also know that just 5 or 10 percent of families leaving government school would be significant. Consider this: If 5 percent of government school students in Mississippi decided to homeschool, that would represent between 20,000-25,000 new homeschoolers. That would double the number of homeschoolers in the state overnight. Imagine it was 10 percent. That’s close to 50,000 kids leaving government schools, probably the number of kids in private school in the state today.
This has naturally led to the attacks on homeschooling we have seen, for a couple reasons. One, every student that leaves government school in Mississippi takes $10,000 with him or her. Obviously, the family doesn’t keep that money for their education, but neither does the government school. Therefore, funding would decrease as the students that are being educated decreases.
The other attack comes from those who believe government, not the parent, should control children. This is partially driven by a dislike for those who are religious. There is a certain belief from the elites that they are smarter than anyone who is religious, along with a general belief that it is the government’s responsibility to raise your child.
One positive of this growing competition is schools are transitioning and offering new options to families. MDE is outlining various reopening models, including hybrid virtual learning and a full-time online program. In Tupelo, students will have the opportunity to do a full distance learning program. Will other schools follow? Probably.
What does the future hold?
The easiest answer for the future of education is we don’t know what it will look like, just that it will be different. And that’s a good thing. Because just maybe this experience of being homeschoolers by necessity has shown us how we can do education differently.
Because when a child is receiving an individualized education, a couple things happen. If a student is excelling at a subject, you can move forward as fast you would like. If you need more material, you can access it. YouTube might be a place for funny videos, but it is an immense library of knowledge if used properly. If there is something your child is interested in, chances are you can find something online to supplement their learning needs.
Similarly, if your child is struggling you can take a step back. Go slower. Maybe take a break on that subject for a couple weeks. It’s not unusual for homeschoolers to be, for example, doing one subject at a 5th grade level and another at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. In fact, the more you do this, the more you’ll learn that numbers and grades don’t really matter. Just learning.
You’ll also learn that as opposed to this idea that you can’t socialize, there are as many groups and extracurricular activities as you would like. Just as long as we’re not all quarantined.
For those who are looking for glimmers of hope through the tragedy that came with the pandemic, perhaps a new approach to education away from the industrial model will be something that remains.