What we're learning about schools because of COVID-19.

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

This message goes out to all of the parents, teachers, district officials and politicians whose schools have been closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coronavirus has done a lot of damage to countries around the world, socially and economically. It has also struck our own country's education system as schools are closing their classroom doors, many shifting to an online format or offering weekly homework pick-up at school sites. This raises the question: what happens to learning when you take school away? Is there a way to learn outside of the traditional school structure? I believe there is, but it is important we not dismiss what the school structure does provide for students. Aside from issues such as cost, availability, and the actual content instruction, there are three particularly powerful elements to consider:

- Services. Schools have come to provide a wide range of services for students including transportation, food, afterschool programs, and special education services. For specific communities where parents both work long hours, these are necessary services for the general well-being of their children. For public as well as private schools, these have become invaluable to a community whose businesses and community programs have shaped their hours and employee accommodations accordingly. Families have learned to rely on schools for food services. Parents have learned to rely on schools for boarding their children in a safe learning environment during work hours. Communities and afterschool programs are designed specifically to utilize school structures and provide safe environments for students to play and learn during afternoon and evening work hours. The entire structure of many communities have become largely reliant on the services provided by schools. - Structure and Accountability. Parents and guardians send their children to a school with the understanding that their children will be kept safe and returned to parents and guardians at the end of the day. While calls home about student behavior (both positive and negative) are part of the school experience, the observation and accountability of student behavior is also a service provided by schools. Over the past many generations, schools have become the place parents expect children to learn not only about reading and math but also about discipline, following directions, and wanting their children to be good for the teacher. These kinds of expectations have become part of a school's structure on which families rely. - Extracurricular Opportunities. Both public and private schools have various arts and athletics programs. Having a large amount of students all in one place increases the variety of shared interests and likelihood of an athletics or arts program be started and maintained. The planning and resources necessary for such programs to exist also benefits from pooled resources of all students and families who either participate or spectate in such programs. This is yet another element that schools provide on which communities have come to rely. In bringing up what happens to learning when you take school away, it's important we do not dismiss these elements that greatly impact communities and the well-being of students who benefit from the consistency provided by a school structure.

However . . .

When you shift the conversation from the impact on communities and focus more on the impact on student learning, you quickly come to recognize specific school norms and traditions that have impacted the learning process in ways that should be addressed. For example, it is common for people to talk about *what* schools are teaching, *how* they are teaching, and, most importantly, the environment in which they are teaching children. These elements have always been points of contention between a community and its schools. It's even more important now that we consider the impact of school on student learning as we think about how our children are handling the sudden shift in how they are being expected to learn. How prepared are students to learn without the structure and community of the school. This is important as we consider the dropout rates of not just high schools but also community colleges and first-year university students. As communities work to provide their children an education outside of the school structure, let us consider the following three elements of school that we may want to address as families see first-hand what their students have learned about learning. - Discipline Policies. Every teacher has a different perspective toward how discipline is to be addressed in their classroom. A child that enters one classroom learns in an environment where discipline is handled a little bit differently than their other grade level teachers. Teacher credentialing, hiring, and professional development does not explicitly address social and economic policy perspective. This means a child can have a minimum of thirteen teachers (from Kindergarten through High School) that each hold a different opinion about how discipline is to be handled. Subtle changes can make a difference to a child when you have one classroom with a democratic student-led approach and another with a more autocratic teacher-led philosophy. This can have serious effects on the de