In the long run, the coronavirus pandemic will alter the American education system. Although it likely will take researchers and educators years to fully understand the impact, some changes already are being seen.
As Daniel Huld of Camas School District recently told The Columbian: “COVID provided a great opportunity for schools and everybody to re-evaluate, ‘How does all this work?’ It’s a great opportunity for education to see that online learning really can work.”
Huld recently started as principal at Camas Connect Academy, the district’s online alternative. And his arrival reflects changes in school districts throughout Clark County.
The Evergreen, Vancouver and Battle Ground districts had online-only programs in place prior to the pandemic. Now, the Ridgefield district is planning to launch an online program borne of last year’s school shutdowns, and Washougal Learning Academy is preparing for its second year.
Washington officials have instructed public schools to prepare for in-person learning in the fall, but the plans of local districts indicate that some remote learning is here to stay.
That is not the case throughout the country. In New York City, the nation’s largest school district will eliminate remote learning for the next school year, and several other states are requiring in-building classes for all students. As USA Today reports: “Many education experts say in-person instruction is the best way to help hasten an academic recovery for those who fell behind and to address emotional and social consequences after two disrupted school years.”
The results will bear watching, adding to a debate over the effectiveness of remote learning. But we believe Washington’s approach, which provides options to students and parents, is preferable.
Providing an online alternative is far different from the emergency measures required when coronavirus arrived in March 2020. Then, teachers had to quickly reinvent lesson plans, and families were unprepared for suddenly having children at home with parents adding the role of tutor to their many duties.
Various studies have indicated that remote learning was particularly difficult for low-income students who were less likely to have adequate computer facilities or broadband access. Those educational difficulties also led to emotional difficulties in many cases, with the novelty of the virus creating unforeseen difficulties.
As Aroutis Foster, a professor at Drexel University, told the American Psychological Association: “Remote learning is not the same as online learning. Online learning facilitates different types of learning preferences, provides learner flexibility and uses online quality metrics.”
Developing specific online curriculum can be effective and can provide a worthy alternative for many students. At the same time, parents must be cognizant of the role in-person learning has in the development of a child. As Lacy Fehrenbach of the state Department of Health has said: “Schools play such a key role in child and family well-being. They are foundational to child growth, development, learning and health.”
Families who opt to continue online learning must also facilitate interaction that helps their students develop socially.
All of that is part of rethinking how schools can best serve students. As U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told The Washington Post: “There may be an opportunity to reimagine what schools will look like. It’s always important we continue to think about how to evolve schooling so the kids get the most out of it.”