April 14, 2021
Parents, able to stay at home, will push for home schooling alternatives as well as more flexibility with the learning environment.
Since Summer 2020 I noted in my Pandemic Journal the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on education. No doubt there are many parts of the country where the educational situation has gotten desperate, but most of the country is returning to the classroom. In Juneau, the school district has kept pretty close to “the science,” principally the CDC guidelines. As a result, total distance learning was the rule for the end of the 2019-2020 school year and commenced 2020-2021 in that fashion. The one exception was a partial opening of the high schools. Beginning in April, the school district returned to four days a week, with one day reserved for independent learning. Distance learning remains an option.
Just glancing over that summary you are seeing elements of changes that may be permanent. The four day in-person instruction schedule is one new idea. Whether that works for the parents is another matter. Optional distance learning is another, and how teachers manage that duality something to be evaluated this summer. But the main operative word is “flexibility.” The education system has been forced into a totally different paradigm, from essentially crowd control in-person instruction five days a week, to an adaptive model that can accommodate the unpredictable COVID-19 pandemic.
At the national level, what makes the news is not the success stories, but the tensions and conflicts that have emerged. Prime among these has been the role of teachers unions. I have been in a teacher’s union in the past and have worked with teachers as a parent and instructor for many years. Not all unions are the same. What is evident, however, is that some chapters have been less cooperative than others, with some simply refusing to return to the classroom. Some real zingers have been introduced into social media such as teachers “working” from Cost Rica or teachers lecturing parents or students in recorded virtual sessions.
Come to think of it – another innovation of the COVID pandemic is the ubiquitous classes recorded over a video platform. Who, amongst teachers, would have been happy about having their classes recorded in 2019? I know the feeling being that some of my university classes were broadcasted on the University of Alaska Television Network. These days it is streamed, but back then it was transmitted over cable TV and cycled several times a day. My face was subliminally omnipresent to anyone channel surfing. I would get these peculiar smiles from strangers as I was grocery shopping, as if they knew me somehow. But transparency of the classroom is a huge change in education, bringing the parent into the student’s learning environment. Parents are now actively evaluating how teachers do their jobs.
Back to unions. I am not an anti-union person. I have been a union member on different occasions and like any organization, it has its pros and cons. I have found them to be valuable resources for advice on my rights. I have appreciated that I have seen absent from union shops the type of work abuse often seen in other environments. It is nice to have benefits and to know that someone can go to management on your behalf. But as an economist I also appreciate that unions do not exist in a bubble. They have to compete for the support of their own members and the union dues you pay are a reminder of that justification. Unions that march for various causes unrelated to the workers they represent risk losing support. Their defense of a closed shop runs counter to the legal tradition of voluntary association.
Teachers who have used the union to out-muscle parents, school districts and states, will most likely find that they have won the battle in April, but come next Fall a new reality may sink in. The “flexibility” I shared above is pervasive. There is probably not a parent alive in the US who is not aware of alternatives to the old classroom model. Teachers who have not adapted, who have done poorly with the virtual learning model, and have not cooperated with parents in returning to the classroom, will be confronted with parents who are now exploring more alternatives.
What brings that to my attention is an article I read that shows a dramatic increase in home school education. According to the US Census Bureau, home schooling applied to only 3.3% of families in 2019. At the closure of the school year in 2020, that number had slipped up to 5.4%. Today, it is at 11.1%! It will be interesting to see if that number sticks.
I discussed home schooling in previous entries to my Pandemic Journal and one of my predictions was that parents would begin to see the difference between distance learning and home schooling. Distance learning are classes conducted by a teacher that all the kids follow. Home schooling is where the parent selects the curriculum and teaches the content. Home schooling curriculum has decades of experience in providing instructional guidance. Our teachers, however, have had to adapt to methods they are not familiar with using curriculum that is best applied in a classroom. It hasn’t been easy for them, the kids or the parents.
What these numbers indicate are the number of parents using home schooling curriculum has doubled! Knowing that, I have conducted an informal survey of parents and have noted that the parents who are best coping with the pandemic are those who are committed to home schooling at some level. Their kids are more engaged because the material is better designed for the home. Simple as that. The pandemic has also, in some measure, dispelled the myth that kids are “socially disadvantaged” from being at home. Despite the restrictions we all have had to deal with, kids do get out and do things. Last summer I noticed how crowded the golf course was with teenagers playing the game, something I never saw before. Our local ski resort this winter had a record year despite the restrictions, primarily because kids could ski at any time. Parents and kids found things to do, even in a town where it rains 100 inches every year.
As noted in an earlier article, teleworking will add some very interesting elements into the educational marketplace. Union leaders will need to listen to this. Parents, able to stay at home, will push for home schooling alternatives as well as more flexibility with the learning environment. The operative word is, again, “flexibility.” Alaska endorses home schooling and supports it and it is quite common for students to split time between home and the schoolhouse. Expect this to be a continuing trend throughout the US. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a real boost to the school choice movement. Unions which actively oppose school choice will most likely be increasingly marginalized because they will be losing ground on multiple fronts: academic performance, the demand for flexibility and the rising trend of teleworking.
“Census Bureau: ‘Significant Increase in Homeschooling’ to 11.1% in Fall 2020”, Breitbart News, Dr. Susan Berry, April 4, 2021
By Eric Niewoehner
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