Editorial: What is the future of public education?

Dan Quisenberry
Aug 19, 2020 8:38:48 PM

As the pandemic hit the United States back in March, the immediate and complete turn to remote learning meant that many if not most schools struggled to meet the needs of students and families. The inability to be flexible and innovative when it came to the effective use of educational technology and the inequity of access that faced many of our students was stark.

Over the summer, that stark reality of what happened from mid-March to mid-June shifted to questions of: What will we do for fall? What will school look like in 2020-2021? Will we be in person, remote, what will it look like?

Too many times, the lens was fixed in our minds that things might be “normal” again, relatively soon. The reality we all are coming to accept is that we have entered a transitional phase of education. What we do know is that there is no going back. Parents, students and educators will have experienced virtual or distance learning at some level since this past March; some may have loved it and others hated it. Parents have seen education up close and personal and their experiences with their scholar’s education have now been changed, forever. Whatever that experience is, we know it will impact the future behaviors of families and ultimately shape the movement of parent choice.

Along these lines, I invite you to join us on August 28 as MAPSA hosts a free webinar featuring Earl Phalen, CEO and Founder of George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academies (a network that has more than 20 schools and nearly 10,000 children throughout the country) and Dr. Caprice Young, who is responsible for leading the 20 Learn4Life charter schools, including more than 80 learning centers in California, Ohio, and Michigan, as we explore these questions that so many of our schools face this next school year.

The free one-hour webinar starts at 1 p.m., and I promise it will be worth your time as we all look to navigate these uncharted waters. You can register here

As MAPSA continues to participate in both state and federal conversations on ways education can best meet the needs of students and families, I continue to ponder and reflect on some of the following questions.

In what ways are charter schools offering unique choices to parents?

Charter schools have always been about innovation, flexibility and meeting the unique needs of students, and we’re seeing that on display now more than ever. When the pandemic hit in March, every school in the state had to pivot on a dime, moving from in-person learning to remote learning with no warning. By their very nature, charter schools were uniquely positioned to do this.

We’ve seen that creative mindset on display again this fall, as schools prepare to meet the diverse needs of students and families. With safety as a paramount concern, charter schools have created student-first programs that are prepared to respond to demand for in-person, remote and hybrid learners. Due to the current circumstances, school choice is bigger than it’s ever been. Parents are hyper-aware of their needs and preferences of schooling right now.

Parents are also in conflict, wondering: Are schools safe? What will the education look like in person or remote? What are my options as a parent? Can I work and still support my student’s educational needs? We have witnessed many schools offering multiple choices for parents on the delivery of instruction. The challenge is to make sure that every school continues to offer a quality education - in whatever form that education might take.

Has this crisis made charters innovators afraid to be different?

In Michigan, we have fought long and hard for the past 25 years in advocating for equity, for not being unfairly burdened with regulations and laws that apply only to these new schools. Underlying the acceptance of many new rules and regulations was a premise, that first we have to prove we can do what is expected of all public schools, and then we can create innovation and change. Instead of leading to change, has that premise created a “sameness” mentality? Have charter stakeholders become too concerned with comparing themselves to their traditional counterparts?

As a charter school sector in Michigan, we are no stranger to feeling attacked and often ridiculed at our very existence. As a result, are we afraid of the change we seek? People are already against us. Why not advocate to be different? For example, advocate for more flexibility in teacher certification than what is required of traditional public schools. Do we seek reduced regulatory compliance to free our educators from meaningless paperwork that has no positive impact on academic outcomes? Do we embrace and lead in meaningful student outcome accountability? We exist because we’re different. We need to embrace that concept, not run from it.

Are Michigan charter schools leading?

At MAPSA, the founding principles of charter schools has continued to remind all of us that charter schools are intended to use their flexibility and autonomy to be creative and innovative to meet the needs of their students, families and communities right now, even in times like the current crisis. We have encouraged charter schools to not wait for answers from the education bureaucracies inherent in public schools. We’ve called attention to looking past the immediate changes in our circumstances with the pandemic, racial injustices, etc. Instead, we can see that now is the time to think outside the box and to continue to put our students' needs first with the creativity of our professional educators.

How will virtual instruction impact the future of education?

We have witnessed many charter schools adapt quickly with innovative virtual software to improve instruction and engagement with students. The reality is that many schools will forever change the way instruction looks like with their students and how technology will be incorporated throughout their curriculum and delivery. We’ve all discovered that learning doesn’t need to stop when a snow day hits, when summer fall off happens or when a student is forced to be out of school for a long time due to injury or illness. When it comes to remote learning, are we looking at how best it can improve our delivery of education? Are we looking at how it can close the education gap vs. just seeing it as a temporary replacement for in class instruction?

How are charter schools addressing the social and emotional needs of students and families?

Michigan charter schools have been aware of childhood trauma and the impact it has on teaching and learning over the last decade. We know that the COVID pandemic has created a set of new traumatic experiences for children. Abruptly losing the support and safety of their school community was only the beginning for many of these at-risk students. Some have also had to deal with illness and death in their own families as a result of the virus. As we navigate the pathway back to rigorous learning, we need to recognize these new challenges, and continue to value the social and emotional health of every student.

Unprecedented challenges bring unprecedented opportunities for growth and improvement. What are your thoughts? I hope all of you are able to join me on August 28 for our free webinar and conversation.


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