The coronavirus has opened up opportunity to make education better

Gov. Tim Walz has ordered the state’s public K-12 schools to stay closed for the rest of the academic year in an attempt to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 disease. Schools in Minnesota were first ordered to close on March 18, and distance learning plans have been in place for several weeks now.

There is no doubt the coronavirus crisis has impacted the education landscape as we know it, but the changes the pandemic has forced upon our education system could be positive, according to Dr. Caprice Young in the Education Post. She writes that COVID-10 has provided

an opening for real innovation and experimentation as part of addressing student needs during the crisis. While many are struggling to adapt to our new realities, I hope we never go back to the way things were before.

The pandemic exposed the profound inequity in our traditional factory-style education system, a model that has allowed 10 to 15% of students to fall through the cracks and get left behind—even during the best of times.

In Minnesota, around 40 percent of students in grades 1-12 are not proficient in either reading or math. And despite decades of increased spending, the educational disparities plaguing our state are stubborn and persistent.

According to an education survey I created for interested Minnesota parents to complete, several respondents are considering changing their child’s education model when schools reopen (such as, moving their child from a traditional public school to either homeschooling or an online/virtual school). One parent stated that “COVID-19 peeled back the curtain of what is ‘really’ going on in the classrooms.”

The coronavirus pandemic has confirmed there are glaringly obvious gaps and inequities in different forms in our education system. Because one size doesn’t fit all in education, policymakers have the opportunity to address these disparities and shake up the status quo instead of simply rushing to restore it. Young continues:

Let’s look at this as a helpful interruption to inadequate policies and practices that have gone largely unchallenged. We now have a chance to change policies that have long been harmful to disadvantaged students and their families. We have needed changes in education for a long time, and leaders must address them while there is a genuine sense of urgency.

One idea to consider: Education Savings Accounts (or a similar scholarship account) to not only assist families and students with at-home learning during extended school closures but to also help parents address any unsatisfactory instruction and access multiple educational options for their child.