Education: In The Age of COVID-19

The landscape of public education, until about a month ago, remained generally unchanged for what seems like decades. School aged children were arriving each morning to big buildings with long hallways. Classrooms were filled with rows of student desks, and teachers were talking to students who were listening to lectures and taking notes. Some rooms had smaller creative learning centers and furniture that was less institutional and formal. A majority of traditional schools are funded by the state based on whether students attend classes daily.  Public funds paid to those schools often have no connection to whether the student spends their day learning or not. When a child is marked ‘present’ during attendance, the state pays the school for educating the student. For charter public schools offering independent study schools, funding is based on work completed and mastered.

In the last month, as we all awaited information on the spread of COVID-19 and how it would affect schools, the California Governor’s Executive Order on school closures required school boards, superintendents, and individual school leaders to close campuses to students and team members. This order also mandates that schools provide high quality education opportunities to all students through the use of virtual, distance learning, and independent study.

In an age of technology, cell phones in most students’ hands, computers and Wi-Fi in most homes, it was surprising to see how many schools had trouble imagining how they could achieve this for students.  School district leaders have been clamoring, teachers have been anxious, parents have been asking, and students have been waiting.  What is happening with high-quality academic delivery in the age of COVID-19?

As a school leader in North San Diego County, I have led The Classical Academies through some challenging times over the last 21 years. We are a group of charter public schools that offer TK-12th grade programming under the banner of independent study. We personalize learning for our 4,600+ students while offering connections to campuses, core and elective classes, labs, and workshops as they align to a student’s academic plan and program. Special Education students have found great success within our schools as we strive to align student needs with their individual education plan (IEP). With our flexible programming options already in place, we were in a position to embrace and execute the Governor’s order, and we are moving forward with supporting each of our students remotely.

The irony of this current school closure is that for the past 10 years, the State of California has directed relentless efforts to curtail, hinder, and close schools offering independent study. Sure, we all can agree that not all independent study schools, programs, or people leading these efforts, have been without fault. Some school programs have needed to close, some leadership proved questionable, and some students were not successfully learning. The public school landscape without those particular schools is healthier as a result of permanent closure.

What is unique to this national crisis is the number of families who have called us for support as well as the number of school leaders calling to ask what we do and how?  Independent study, once the misunderstood target of attack, is suddenly a needed and desired model in public education.

With Governor Newsom and President Trump estimating August or beyond as a possible timeline for this national crisis to end, one thing is for sure, this unprecedented disruption might be a catalyst for major changes in public education. With all educators, public and private, being forced to think outside of the customary box, expectations are high and we need to stay focused on providing the best, highest quality learning for our students. It is possible that the initial delivery of content to students during this time might be messy, and educators will be tested, and learning will continue. It must continue.

What we can all presume is that as we emerge from this national crisis, education will change for the better. Families and students will experience education as more flexible, personalized, and more tailored for the students and the times. School campuses will become community centers where education, social services, and providing nutritional needs for students happen. Teachers and school administrators will ponder how we will innovate and elevate a more modernized approach to education. It is a natural transition as we all seek to better align with the needs of students in our care.

2020 will be remembered as a time of great change for individuals, organizations, and industries.  This catalyst for change has started with national, state, and local executive orders in response to COVID-19. Due to this global pandemic, communities are currently sheltering in place, and essential services like public education needs to carry on. Schools offering independent study are uniquely positioned to meet the needs of students, and to support other schools needing guidance navigating the next steps.  So, let’s all get busy and make it happen for our students.

Cameron Curry is the Chief Executive Officer for The Classical Academies, an organization of award-winning, tuition-free, public charter schools serving 4600+ students in grades TK-12 in North San Diego County. Curry also serves on the board of the California Charter Schools Association and serves as commissioner for the California Department of Education Advisory Commission for Charter Schools (ACCS). For more information about The Classical Academies, visit www.classicalacademy.com