Since the coronavirus has landed in the United States difficult decisions have had to be made. One such decision whether or not to have schools remain open has caused more than half of states to close schools for at least fourteen days. Some states have even closed for the remainder of the school year.
Reasons for Keeping Schools Open
Many school districts remained open until their state required them to close. You might wonder why some districts would choose to remain open. The simple answer is that schools for many students are so much more than places to learn math and reading.As someone who spent 30 years teaching in Philadelphia I am well acquainted with the multitude of services schools offer especially in large cities and rural communities provide.
Yes, schools are institutions of learning, but they are also safe spaces for children with abusive parents as school staff who are mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. Nurses and other medical professionals are available at least part-time. This helps students whose families may not have medical insurance but have chronic conditions. The most important thing that most schools provide is the most nutritious meal of the day for many students.
Schools also provide financial stability for many families. Parents often work jobs that provide hours when children are in school. When schools close for any length of time childcare becomes necessary. This causes income in the household to decrease.
When Schools Must Close
The spread of the coronavirus has now caused the complete shutdown of most schools for a minimum of two weeks. In my state of Pennsylvania, the decision was made during the school day on March 12. The closure was originally for two weeks with schools re-opening on March 30. As the state is now closing many businesses that are not absolutely essential I am fairly sure schools won’t re-open on the 30th of April.
Will Online Learning Fill the Gap?
Many districts across the country are requiring their teachers to transfer their plans to online platforms so that students can continue their education at home.
How will this work for students without internet access or computers do?
If the work posted is new instruction how do students ask questions?
Will tests be given online?
What about grades?
Are There Positive Outcomes of School Closings?
As strange as it may sound I believe that there may be some positive outcomes for education in the U.S.
Many governors have eliminated standardized testing for this school year. Even the U.S. Department of Education has excused those who must submit testing results. This means that if schools can reopen before the end of the school year lost time can be made up without eliminating summer vacation.
The gap in using remote learning is now being brought to the attention of the general public. Hopefully, this will bring about some help for our poorest and most rural students.
The biggest challenge that I see is how decision-makers will handle the situation if schools can’t reopen this year. I have heard a few educators suggest that all students must repeat this year because they won’t have the proper skills to move on. Logistically I don’t see how this would work.
This is an extraordinary situation that I believe needs out of the box thinking. My suggestion is that the next school year should also eliminate standardized testing. This would allow the teachers to teach the curriculum without using time for test practice or test-taking. Maybe we would find out that we really don’t need all of that testing after all.
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