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A recent Washington Post column penned by David Von Drehle, proclaimed that “The future belongs to the pandemic pragmatists.”
Von Drehle focuses on a Missouri college, Park University, that has found itself in a much better position than many other colleges across the country because it spent years developing an effective and useful distance education curriculum for its students.
Von Drehle argues that the entire education world needs to follow suit and look at how developing distance and virtual education platforms cannot only help students weather the pandemic storm but excel in a post-pandemic world.
It is an argument echoed by many education visionaries who have been fighting for a reimagining of the education system for decades.
They argue that the current crisis has revealed a lot about our existing system, exposing vast inequities and laying bare the hard truth that education does not have to be tied to a building.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jeb Bush, who led the charge to transform Florida’s education system into the highly successful, economically efficient, and popular system it is today, issued a similar call for virtualizing education in his own Washington Post op-ed.
“It’s time to learn the lessons from these heroic efforts and plan for a future in which public education can continue without access to classrooms — not just because of a pandemic but because that’s the future of learning,” he writes.
He points out that districts need to prioritize distance learning by making sure that every child has access to a device and WiFi, have concrete plans for distance learning every year, provide strong professional development for teaching remotely, and have concrete plans for serving students with special needs.
Jeanne Allen, Founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, takes the argument one step further, highlighting the reality we have all learned over the past several months that education can happen anywhere with the right tools and careful plan.
“Education needn’t be ‘place-based,’ or dependent on a specific classroom, with a set number of students in order to be learning,” she writes. “Let’s also accept the obvious from this crisis – that helping a student master a grade-appropriate level of competency in a subject is more important than whether they’re in a classroom for a certain period of time.”
As Allen points out, this is not a revolutionary idea. Many progressive, innovative, and forward-thinking schools have been using digital, blended, and personalized learning methods for decades.
But making the future these education leaders suggest a reality will not be easy.
In his op-ed, Gov. Bush highlights how several states, pushed by district leaders afraid of losing students, moved to block access to virtual education as the pandemic hit at exactly the time that students needed increased access to high-quality distance education.
Similarly, Allen highlights how districts and teachers’ unions have circled the wagons during this crisis in an attempt to preserve the status quo.
She points out that education should never have been about districts or unions but instead should have a singular laser focus on the students and what is best for them.
“We must make the student our only unit of learning and give every student a virtual backpack that contains all they need to be educated,” writes Allen. “That backpack must include a device, a hotspot, basic supplies, a meal, and a ticket that gains them access anywhere to any school that has room – public, private, or charter.”
Don’t miss our next blog on the importance of training teachers to provide effective distance education.