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Virtual Schooling: No Time for Excuses

Published at The Bottom Line

The coronavirus should not hold back any school from providing education to their children.

Yet across the nation there has been reluctance to embrace alternatives to traditional in-person education.

According to Jonathan Butcher, a senior policy analyst in the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, Washington state has a massive list of excuses for why districts are not accepting virtual classrooms, including, “software licensing, curriculum, assessments, and collective bargaining agreements.”

Meanwhile, Oklahoma took the drastic measure of closing schools for the rest of the year, and without any plans for alternative instruction until April 6.

In Philadelphia, the state has been prohibiting charter cyber schools to assist any brick and mortar school in starting virtual classrooms. According to David Hardy, Executive Director at Excellent Schools PA, Pennsylvania is doing so to “protect low performing schools.”

The list goes on and on.

While not every district or school will be able to conduct virtual schooling, shouldn’t most or all be making the attempt? For those who can’t, the possibility for paper lessons/packets being sent to the children’s home is still available. The desire for equity should not stand in the way of providing education to every child.

The Heritage Foundation conducted a recent Webinar titled, “Moving to Virtual Instruction for K-12 Students During the Pandemic.”  Butcher was the host and three are public charter school leaders participated:  David Hardy, Executive Director at Excellent Schools PA, Pennsylvania, Vamshi Rudrapti, Director of Charter Institute at Erskine in South Carolina, and Peter Boyle, Founder and Principal of Western School of Science and Technology in Arizona.

Their message was clear.  This is not the time to hold back.  We must provide children with education during these difficult times—all schools must stay on top of this issue.

Traditional public schools have a unique opportunity to look at the innovative solutions coming from public charter schools. For instance, Boys Latin, Hardy’s charter school, has a three pronged approach which include online classes, online materials, and recorded classes. They also provide packets for families who are unable to access online activities. They even approved a purchase of 50,000 Chromebooks.

Western School of Science and Technology’s innovation is a playlist based instruction model. This includes a personalized learning plan, online learning activity assigned by teachers, and a minute value assigned to each activity. Each teacher populates a playlist that has about 200 minutes of material a week, and students are required to complete 80 minutes weekly of their choice in any order.  Students who go above and beyond are given additional credit.  Weekly support meetings for teachers and staff, as well as reaching out to every family, ensures everyone gets needed resources and connectivity issues are addressed.

Rudrapti noted that his state department of education is turning towards his charter authorizer, the entity that brings charter schools to existence through applications, for assistance. Designated staff helps with online classes for all public schools in the state.  As just one example of the scope of their online activities, they conducted a Zoom conference in which 500 families participated in a conference  with the principal and teacher. They too have been providing packets to those who cannot access online and they too focus on connectivity between leaders.  Other activities include the creation of an online Covid-19 handbook, text groups, weekly Zoom meetings, an FAQ for common online education questions, and a web series on how to interact with multiple kids within a family.

As Butcher summarizes, “Students don’t need excuses. They need educators to innovate just as they did before the virus suddenly made new learning ideas unpopular.”  Choosing to do otherwise will be setting back millions of children. We can’t allow that to happen.

Bailey Takacs

Development Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs served as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.