What can we learn about education during this pandemic?


Like many other families in school systems around the state, my three (very different) girls are currently 100% remote.

So, how are they doing? Well, one is thriving, one is struggling due to a lack of in-person engagement, and, in general, emotions are all over the place for the whole family. Despite my wife and I both working from home – which I realize makes this easier for our family than many others – being remote-only for all three very different children in elementary school is less than ideal.

That I have a child struggling with the remote-only environment does not make us unique; it makes us normal. The reasons that kids are struggling, however, vary widely. Some are struggling due to platform confusion, not being able to actually see their teacher or friends, a lack of reliable Internet access, no adult support – the list goes on. These students are itching to get back into classrooms, and would thrive there.

But this is not a column about how terrible remote-only schooling is for students.

Some students are doing better in this new setting. Many of these students were struggling mightily in the traditional school environment, also for reasons just as varied: perhaps they were being bullied, they are easily distracted, quiet and less interactive environments help them to concentrate. For these students we must ask if they will be forced to downshift and return to a system that wasn’t serving them well in the first place?

One thing the pandemic has forced on us all, at least to some extent, is innovation. Schools should be sharing best practices across the spectrum, whether they are in-person or all-remote. We should be learning from one another’s experiences, failings, and successes, and accelerate progress.

For example: if high school students are all-remote, are they able to access a wider range of courses that were offered in the district but not at their particular school? They should be able to do so. We have now broken down the barriers that previously prevented that type of instruction.

I’ve worked in and around education for many years now, and this is the first time I hear parents from across the socioeconomic spectrum saying “this isn’t fair.” For some, that’s because the pandemic has deepened persistent, systemic gaps in health and educational access. For others, it’s because their resources have traditionally solved problems, but this is a new vulnerability.

Everyone I know – across the socioeconomic spectrum – with school-aged kids has been more hands-on, more thoughtful, and simply more engaged in their children’s schooling than ever before. It keeps us up at night, it wears us down during the day. But we are all thinking about it. Bright spots do exist – like my daughter who thoroughly enjoys the remote-only environment.

Like the independent schools that are heading outdoors for classes. Like peer programs to help students, or the very organic parent-created pandemic pods. I sincerely hope some of this continues, because our students are better for it. My fear is that we will quickly return to “normal” and won’t internalize these lessons learned. “Normal” wasn’t working for thousands for kids back in March. This is the perfect time for a reset, so that in the post-pandemic world, we’re “better than normal.”