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It’s The End of Public Education As We Know It, But I Feel Fine!
Apt. 11D, 3/20/20
What I’ve witnessed in the past week is the absolute implosion of public education. Who knew that this 100-year old institution would falter so severely? I suppose that at this moment in time, schools are the least of our problems, but I’m still going to talk about them anyway.
In the past week, more than half of all school districts in the country shut their doors. Some shut down entirely. Some are doing some sort of online education. But nobody knows for sure, because only one online education journal is keeping track. And this journal doesn’t even know which schools are shutting down entirely and which ones are attempting some sort online education. Nobody knows. Isn’t that weird?
Or maybe it’s not weird. We have a system of hyper-local schools in this country, which is hopelessly inefficient and expensive. This is just one of the many problems with public education that is being exposed by this pandemic.
Perhaps even more important than its job in the provision of learning and wisdom, our schools feed the nation’s poor. And as we’re discovering, it is also a system of childcare for just about everyone, regardless of income. When the school system collapses, children go hungry, and parents get fired from work.
The other problem with our education system is that nobody is in charge of this mess. It’s all up to each town. So, each town is handling this crisis differently. A thousand different superintendents are coming up with a thousand different plans. And some of these plans royally suck. Some closed the schools for two weeks and formed a coherent plan. Others shut the schools for an afternoon — just a couple of hours really — to figure out how to put together an education plan for thousands of children.
Some schools are having their teachers do online classes using programs like Zoom during the old classroom hours. Other schools are just putting up some worksheets on Google classrooms. None of them have a proper plan for how to deal with special education. And guess which school districts have the worst plans? Yes, the poor ones of course. So, by the end of this crisis, the kids in the richer schools will be just fine, and the kids in the poorer districts will be further behind. Surprised? Yeah, of course not.
Some school districts are trying to pretend that parents are partners in all of this. Ha. Partners are usually consulted and paid for their time. Parents are pissed. I would be surprised if any school district is still maintaining this illusion of online education by the end of March.
And the states seem to agree. Some, like Michigan, have said that none of this online stuff will count towards graduation or their 180-day requirements. Schools will have to educate kids during the summer to make up for lost time. In other states, the teachers’ unions will presumably have a meltdown about plans to teach in the summer, but we haven’t heard from the unions yet, so who knows?
My guess is that summer school will happen for sure, because there’s no way that these inconsistent, half-baked online classes can be considered a proper education. The programs that rely on parents are especially problematic, because parents aren’t certified teachers, and the unions have made all sorts of laws about certification that can’t be undone easily. Between state constitutions and federal special education laws, schools will be in a bind. They will have to figure out how to make up these hours at a later date.
The one hope with all this mess is that we are getting a better understanding of all the problems in society and government. The pandemic will shine like a black light on a crime scene and show us what we need to do better. Maybe we should have a Universal Basic Income. Maybe workers in a gig economy need more protections. In terms of education, we are definitely going to need a much higher level of centralization and leadership than we have now. We are also going to have to separate schools from other social services; schools can’t wear too many hats.
Here at Apt. 11D, my family is doing fine. We’re a little stir crazy. All this togetherness isn’t easy, especially with a semi-independent college kid in the mix. But we’re healthy, most importantly.
This newsletter was always supposed to be a bi-monthly enterprise, but with the crisis, I’ll be here more often. I’ve got an op-ed coming out in the am tomorrow in USA Today. Look for it!
Be well! Laura