April 10, 2020
The public education system is likely to be permanently changed by the response to the coronavirus pandemic – or more precisely, by the knowledge gained by principals, teachers, parents and children during the response to the pandemic. A growing number of voices appear to be reaching this conclusion. For example, just this week former political pollster and current author/political analyst Scott Rasmussen wrote in an op-ed for the Deseret News:
The pandemic has forced millions of teachers, parents and students to try an unplanned and unexpected experiment in homeschooling. Teachers are learning new ways to connect with students — some work and others flop. Parents are facing new questions about what to push and what to let slide. Many students will thrive, others will get by and an untold number will never crack an e-book.
But I also recognize that 82% of teachers consider making a difference in students’ lives to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. These teachers will not unlearn what they learned during the pandemic. Because they care about their students, most will try to bring effective new techniques into the classroom and teaching experience. Some will encounter pushback from bureaucrats who say we’ve never done it that way before. A few will begin to think that they can have a bigger impact in nontraditional settings.
Rasmussen’s analysis dovetails with that of Christine Cooke, Sutherland Institute education policy fellow, as she wrote about the potential impacts that the pandemic will have on public schools:
Planning and preparing for K-12 technological innovations in times of emergency may end up laying the foundation for these innovations as the new normal in K-12 education. For instance, if parents and students grow accustomed to online options and find them preferable, they may simply demand that they continue. Likewise, we may see an uptick in Utah’s statewide online education program or a flourishing in online homeschooling options.
Both Rasmussen and Cooke foresee changes to how we educate children in public schools, and point to the experience and learning of parents, teachers and students during the pandemic as the reason. Perhaps change will come in the form of teachers incorporating digital learning methods into their classrooms, or from parents demanding at-home digital learning options from public schools, or from more parents simply switching to home school.
Whatever the particular mechanisms of change in public schools, voices across the spectrum that span the nation seem to be reaching a consensus that public education will be different in the future. As the saying goes, “the only constant in life is change.” Post-pandemic, public schools are likely to experience that at an entirely new level.
Caring for children and families in vulnerable situations is an undoubted public priority, and everyone willing to provide good-faith help is needed.
The year 2021 has started fast and furious in the political space. Rioting at the U.S. Capitol and the banning of our president from certain big tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter have continued the national discussion about speech and ideas.
Ensuring that Utah civics education is adequate will take a statewide commitment from more than just the Legislature (and it’s usually better when it comes from more local decisionmakers), and it will demand that we avoid simplistic solutions about teachers or schools simply needing to “do better.”