Will Pandemic Changes in Schooling Be Temporary or Permanent?

“As Customers Move on Line, Shopping Is Forever Changed,” a New York Times article announced. For the holiday season, Macy’s department stores in a few states have closed their doors to in-person shopping and become fulfillment centers for online shoppers.

Jeff Gennette, Macy’s chief executive, said the dark stores are part of an experiment as the company responds to customers buying more online and demanding ever-faster shipping for free. But the conversion of a department store into a fulfillment center, even temporarily, reflects how retailers are succumbing to the dominance of e-commerce and scrambling to salvage increasingly irrelevant physical shopping space.

The U.S. continues in the throes of a three-decade school reform movement in which business and civic leaders have pressed schools to be more efficient in operations and more effective in raising test scores, high school graduation rates, and college admissions–the “bottom line” for tax-supported public schooling in the U.S. Will brick-and-mortar schools succumb to online instruction as the major form of schooling as Macy’s and other department stores shift to online shopping?

I don’t think so.

Let’s count the changes that have occurred in organization, curriculum, instruction, and calendar since Covid-19 struck public schools in March 2020.

Apart from changing calendar dates for starting and ending public schools and daily schedules of school hours, the nearly 100,000 age-graded elementary and secondary school across the country in 13,000-plus districts have not altered their graduation requirements, district or departmental organizations, or assigning one teacher to each class. The age-graded school remains intact.

Nor have I noted any changes in curriculum other than minor adaptations to remote instruction. A jiggle here or there, perhaps, but not much else.

But surely instruction has changed as a consequence of the pandemic. About two-thirds of school districts in the U.S. use hybrid models of combining in-person and online instruction. The remaining districts, especially in big cities, rely on remote instruction. In August, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 93 percent of students are on some form of distance learning.

Moreover, recent surge in infections have closed down districts which have re-opened schools for face-to-face instruction, including New York City the largest in the nation. While the situation remains fluid, there is no question that online instruction has moved front-and-center in interactions between the nation’s 56 million students and their 3.5 million teachers. The shutdown of schools threw educators for a loop in shifting from in-person to distance instruction. No one I know–even the most ardent cheerleader for online instruction–wanted nearly all U.S. students to work at home staring at screens during spring time through the Xmas holidays.

So until a vaccine becomes available sometime in 2021 and schools fully reopen, is online instruction a temporary or permanent change in instruction?

My record in predicting future events or patterns is so-so. But for the near-term future, i.e., next five years, better than average. So I venture a guess: online instruction will become another option for schools and individual teachers to use now that it has been the prime deliverer of content and skills during the pandemic. “Option” is the key word because tax-supported public schools are expected to do a whole lot more that transmit information and develop skills in the next generation.

Public schools permit parents to work. Public schools socialize the young to accept prevailing community norms and values. Public schools provide food and child-care before, during, and after regular hours. Public schools issue credentials for further education and careers. In short, public schools are a vital institution within a capitalist democratic system.

Apart from that, I have yet to detect any groundswell of reform talk about altering the familiar school organization, Common Core Curriculum, and existing accountability measures already in place. While the U.S. Secretary of Education postponed the federally-required state standardized tests for spring of 2020 and has called on Congress to delay these tests until 2022, I have to hear of or read about any coalition of reformers offering concrete policies that can reduce the stark differences in funding and staffing schools in urban and suburban districts that have become, in a word, re-segregated.

So my guess is that remote instruction in sharply reduced fashion will remain in public schools as the default option for administrators and teachers to use when students cannot attend school.



Filed under how teachers teach, Reforming schools, school reform policies

4 responses to “Will Pandemic Changes in Schooling Be Temporary or Permanent?

  1. I am at a private school. Except for a week before Thanksgiving we have been full-time face-to-face (OK, mask-to-mask) since the start of school. The local public schools have been an interesting hybrid model consisting of 2 days a week in-school and 2 days remote and the in-school is only 2 2-hour periods a day. As a result we are getting a lot of parents transferring their kids into my school and a lot more applications than normal for next school year. Kids and parents want face-to-face school.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks, Garth, for your comment on mask-to-mask schooling–I like that–especially what you have noted about applications to your school.

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