Reimagining Education

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Missouri should make virtual education easy for parents and districts

There are still a lot of questions about what school will look like next year, but one thing is pretty clear at this point – providing safe and effective learning will require some form of distance education.

Whether social distancing forces staggered attendance plans backed up with at-home learning days or time periods, localized outbreaks force multiple-week closures, a second spike of coronavirus leads to another state-wide lockdown order, or parents just feel safer keeping their kids at home, every school needs to have a plan for providing education that is not tied to a classroom.

A recent poll conducted by National Coalition of Public School Options found that:

  • More than two-thirds of parents are concerned about whether their child can safely return to their brick and mortar school in the fall.
  • Nearly 60% of respondents said they believe their child is at risk of contracting COVID-19, with 66% reporting they or another adult member of their household may be at risk.
  • 70% of respondents anticipate more school closures in the next school year.

Most importantly the study found that 40% of brick and mortar parents would consider continuing online learning for their students next year.

Several Missouri schools have already accepted that this will be the new normal. Both Columbia Public Schools and Crossroads Charter Schools in Kansas City have already told parents they will have the option of attending school 100 percent virtually next year.

Of course, we all learned this spring that providing effective distance education is easier said than done.

Sending home packets of worksheets might serve as a stop-gap effort to prevent learning loss, but it certainly does not promote new learning. Similarly, just converting an in-person lesson plan to a Google Classroom assignment has limited efficacy.

Providing virtual education effectively takes a special skill set and a full understanding of the unique tools provided by a virtual environment and how they can be used to keep students engaged and moving forward through the learning process.

It would be incredibly unwieldy and expensive to expect each of the over 500 school districts in Missouri to individually develop an effective virtual education program for next year.

Thankfully, Missouri already has a program, called the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program (MOCAP), that allows students to access well crafted virtual education from certified, nationally recognized, and successful virtual education providers.

If districts embraced this program this fall it could save them thousands of dollars and make it easy for parents to be certain their kids are actually learning.

Unfortunately, districts have actively tried to block parents from accessing MOCAP in its first year of operations resulting in multiple lawsuits from parents seeking their right to have their kids learn virtually.

This week DESE took the first step to make it easier for parents to use MOCAP by proposing a rule change that would require districts to approve applications to the program in a timely manner, but much more needs to be done to ensure quality learning (and cost savings for districts) this fall.

The State Board of Education has already recognized that the current situation creates “highly unusual and extenuating circumstances justifying exemptions from the current provisions” in their decision to allow schools to start the school year earlier than required by state law.

They should do the same when it comes to virtual education and waive the requirement for district approval before students can enroll in MOCAP

It is critical that the leadership of this state address the current enrollment barriers for online virtual schools in Missouri before the next school year starts.

In addition to removing district approval to enroll in a virtual program, state leaders should also:

  • Require every school to have an emergency backup plan to switch to online learning if schools are forced to close again; and
  • Provide adequate government funding for school districts to work with online education providers to develop remote learning plans should they be forced to close again in the future;

CEAM has already joined with National Coalition of School Options in asking for the State Board of Education to take some of these steps, but we encourage parents and anyone concerned about the future of education to reach out to their state leaders and let them know that we need to make it as easy as possible for students to be sure they will be learning this fall.

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