By John M. McLaughlin, Ph.D.
From fiscal restructurings to fresh configurations, from a renewed focus on vouchers to millions of new homeschoolers, there is no going back to a pre-COVID world for public education. Here are seven areas of coming change.
Remote Learning Is Here to Stay. Despite the forced adoption of remote learning and the absolute bumbling by most school districts during the school closures this spring, remote learning can be an effective, entertaining, mass-delivered, and mass-customized method of transmitting knowledge and enabling students to learn and explore at their own pace and schedule. In the final analysis, remote learning will become foundational in American schooling, not because it is effective, which it is, but because it is less expensive. The effectiveness and cost savings are simply too compelling to ignore.
School Choice and Vouchers Will Blossom. Choice in special education can be found in over a dozen states. Parents with a child with special needs can use a voucher to pay for private schooling. The rationale is growing among families that the same choice should belong to the children who do not have special needs. Why should my child with special needs have a “free pass” to a private school, yet my other children must attend public school unless I pay tuition? The special education law developed in the 1970’s that stresses meeting the individual needs of each student with exceptional needs will be applied to all students and will seed a revolution in school choice.
Home Schooling Will Mushroom. Millions of families will keep their children home this fall. Most will do it just to keep their kids out of harm’s way, but some will embrace designing school for their children. The explosion of online learning options and paper and pencil curriculums have created a marketplace environment for home schooling, one that has been discovered by the mainstream during COVID, and there’s no going back for millions of families
Sport Will Uncouple from Schools: As schools restructure in the post-COVID era, sport will become more community organized – like it is in many other countries. There will still be organizational rules, eligibility requirements, conferences, and schedules with sport remaining a community focus and rallying point. They just won’t be organized through the schools. Opportunities for children and teens to participate in sports won’t be reduced, but as learning morphs from traditional school buildings to homes, pods, and jobs, sport governance organizations will separate from the organizational framework of public education.
Teacher Unions Will Shrink. Worker unions are vital in a capitalistic economy, but the economic, technological, and demographic forces that will shape education in the post-COVID era will overwhelm the significant political might of teachers’ organizations. As vital as the unions have been to the professionalization of teachers, the dispersion of learning and learners will erode the fundamental school-based organizational structure of unions.
Public-Private Partnerships Will Flourish. School districts are not self-sufficient empires. They need the private sector for everything from floor wax to number two pencils. So calling on companies that can do something better or most cost-effectively for students – foreign language, special education, field trips, athletic training, coaching, remote learning and so forth is not an embarrassment because a district can’t do it all itself, but an intelligent use of the marketplace for the benefit of the students. In the name of quality and fiscal management, school districts will evolve from being the provider of everything to making sure that everything is provided.
Mass Customization of Schooling Will Be the Norm. In coming years, the eight to three model of school will fade. Half-day shifts and every other day schooling – schedules that get the school job done and meet families’ needs – will become the norm. For public schools to hold market share they will have to customize the product. Without it, parents will shop elsewhere.
John M. McLaughlin, Ph.D. is a Director at ChanceLight Education. He writes about the future of education, autism, applied behavior analysis, and the special education industry. He is the co-author with Mark Claypool of We’re In This Together: Public-Private Partnerships in Special and At-Risk Education (2015). Their latest book is How Autism Is Reshaping Special Education: The Unbundling of IDEA (Rowman & Littlefield).