In-Person Learning during the Pandemic (Part 2 of 2)
In my last post, I explained why school districts have had such a hard time making adjustments to accommodate in-person learning in light of COVID-19—their organizational structures are simply not set up for it. There is, of course, an additional related factor that I did not mention in that post: incentives. School districts have little to gain by changing the way they operate, and they have little to fear if they stay the course.
Let’s think about this for a minute. What would encourage a business or a school to completely rethink how they are doing things? In business, it would likely be profit. If they could make more money, especially in the long-run, a business owner might be inclined to reorganize and restructure. Notice, two things here: First, this new model would have to be profitable and, second, it would have to be profitable for years to come. Neither of these is true for schools when it comes to COVID-19.
In Missouri and many other states, public school districts face very little financial pressure to make adjustments right now. They are not being penalized when students leave because the financial structures are set up to protect them from these sorts of dips in enrollment. Every student could leave a district and it would be guaranteed the same level of funding that it received last year. Moreover, few parents even have the option to leave a school. Not every child in Missouri has a viable alternative to their assigned public school.
Moreover, public school leaders are doubtful that COVID-19 will continue to shape our school lives for years to come. They are probably right about that. Vaccines are quickly rolling out and, hopefully, the fears of the coronavirus will soon be behind us. As educators often say, “This too shall pass.” Why would a school district, with no financial incentive, make radical adjustments to its schools when they will likely go back to usual next year? The short answer is, it wouldn’t.
So what is the lesson we should learn from all of this? There are plenty. We could talk about how school funding could be changed so that it follows students, or we could talk about how collective bargaining agreements need to have emergency clauses. But the main lesson, I think, is much simpler—students need educational options. Every child, in every school district, should have at least one viable alternative to their assigned public school. Just because school districts cannot adapt to meet the needs of all students, it doesn’t mean our state policy shouldn’t.