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January 15, 2021
Creating new options for students and teachers to succeed in a post-pandemic public education system
The crisis in education created by the pandemic, and the experience of many different people with remote and/or hybrid learning, is leading many organizations and thought leaders to focus on a few basic recommendations. First, that learning should be personalized, for if not, efforts to successfully reach a wider spectrum of children will continue to fall short. Secondly, a competency based framework, whatever it’s called, is critical for ensuring that children learn not only basic academics but also the civics and other skills that will enable them to become productive, caring, citizens. With those two essential approaches in place, plus the stronger social support networks being developed, schools and programs can choose different specific “flavors“ – such as place-based, whether physical or virtual, thematic, blended, work study, part-time enrichment programs, community based services, etc.
The next most critical item is to allow students, families and teachers to choose among options, because those choices are the first step in creating better engagement in the education programs offered through state dollars. We will need to see if choice among programs within a school, not just among schools and districts, is sufficient for this dynamic to work its wonders. The high level of autonomy that can be afforded to different educational programs and projects seems to be essential to their ability to meet the needs of the students who choose to attend. This is not so much about competition, as allowing leaders to figure out how to educate a wide variety of children and to have consequences for education providers if they don’t. Having assigned schools in the existing public school system has shown itself to have many downsides, especially in not serving minority groups well, often because school district boundaries reflect past prejudiced housing patterns. To improve students’ life-chances, our public education system needs to be able to respond more quickly and effectively to family needs and to support teachers’ innovative efforts.