As we prepare to send our children back to school in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis—a unique and terrible event I hope we never repeat—we cannot miss the opportunity to deconstruct and rebuild K-12 education for the 21st century.
Over the last few weeks, school districts across the country have made the hard decision about what the new school year will look like, with many opting for virtual classes to start the year. As more districts move to virtual or blended in-person and virtual learning, parents are desperately searching for ways to manage their children’s learning and their own jobs and responsibilities.
While virtual learning is the healthiest option, 65% of parents are at least somewhat concerned about their ability to juggle the responsibilities that come with balancing their work and supporting their children’s online learning. And the options are slim or nonexistent for low-income children and their parents, which means inequities, racial segregation, and the opportunity gap within schools are being further exacerbated.
Parents who are able and who have the means are turning to home schooling, private virtual school, and public or private pandemic pods made of small groups of children who learn in a shared space under the supervision of a parent or hired teacher. These parents are innovating because they have to and because they can.
But leaving it to parents to design new ways of attaining a high-quality education for their children is not only stressful and expensive for families who are already overtaxed, it’s also perpetuating a return to school segregation, furthering systematic racism and economic disparity
Not every family can afford a pod with a highly effective teacher; not every parent can stay home with their children; and not every child has the same access to online lessons as their classmates. In fact, at least 15 million of America’s schoolchildren live in a home without access to a computer or high-speed internet, and that is not acceptable.
Recently, there’s been an outcry among some leaders at the highest levels that we must open schools to provide child care. But this loses sight of the real value of education as an investment we make as a nation to develop each child to his or her full potential, ensuring our future economic viability.
Now is the time for all of us – business leaders, policymakers, teachers, district and community leaders in addition to parents – to rise up, deconstruct our educational system and transform it for good.
We need to take a hard look at educational policies, funding, and practices, and nothing should be off the table.
What if we forget the budgets built around kids butts in the seats, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday-Friday?
Can we finally leave behind the one-size-fits-all classroom structure that began hundreds of years ago?
Can we give teachers respect and access to the technology tools, resources and professional learning opportunities (like micro-credentials) that they need?
Can we come together as a community to fund pods and other learning opportunities for families who can’t otherwise afford them?
Parents are being forced into leading the charge to introduce new models and ways of thinking, and they’re working hard to find solutions for their children’s education. But parents shouldn’t be the only ones rising up. It will take all of us who understand the link between a child’s education, a trained workforce, and our economic future to focus on this opportunity to deconstruct our old ideas about schools and education and provide each child with the opportunity they deserve.
Change is never easy, but this change is necessary. And we must start now.
Bev Perdue is a former public school teacher, a former governor of North Carolina, and the founder of
digiLEARN, a national nonprofit dedicated to accelerating digital learning for all ages with a goal of increasing personal learning options for students and expanding instructional opportunities for teachers. Bev Perdue was elected North Carolina’s 73rd ...