New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Donald Trump, ironically, are on the same page regarding schooling in buildings. In advocating for in-person instruction, they are both wrong. In-school sessions bring every thoughtful student fear — ear that she or he is about to give a deadly virus to grandma that evening at home or later that month. That alone means that until there is a successful vaccine, in-school learning cannot be as effective as online learning.
In-school sessions are not as good as online sessions. Masked teachers can’t be heard as well as unmasked teachers teaching online. Masked teachers lose half of their face to students. And masked students fail to give teachers feedback about how their teaching is going over.
My firm helps middle schoolers and high schoolers. We have individually tutored academics and SAT prep since 2007, and we have conducted online classes for six years. When we teach online we can react to our students’ expressions. We also have the ability to segment students into groups; one group can move faster and grapple with higher level materials, while the other group can move slower and not feel intimidated.
The inequities of some students not owning laptops or having high-speed internet access can be ended in an instant. The money a district saves by closing (in custodial costs, insurance costs, heating costs, and maintenance costs) can pay for laptops and high-speed internet in every one of its low-income households.
In case there is an inequity in tutors, that gap is lessened because tutors are far more affordable online. My firm has tutors available online at half the rates than it would cost them to travel and work in person. (Kristof cannot responsibly speak about ending education inequities without first demanding vouchers for urban families; the biggest rich-poor education inequity ENDS within months of a state adopting a meaningful voucher program.)
What Kristof doesn’t raise is the deadly inequity: Black and Latino families have grandparents at home far more frequently than white families. There will be true counseling needed in abundance when any child, of any race, carries the thought that “I just put grandma on a ventilator.”
Kristof writes: “We need to try harder to get kids back in school.” The better mantra is: “We need to get school back to kids”. A school BUILDING is the least important aspect of a school. And now, these monuments are impeding learning and possibly becoming the cauldron of disease.
Online learning is good and getting better. This is a GOOD opportunity to reduce inequities. Small classes are more easily done online than in person. And neat enrichment classes that are often unavailable, especially in rural areas, can be held economically online because they are not limited by geography. The mineralogist in North Dakota can teach east coast, southern, and western kids from her home computer simultaneously. The rhetoric class that got cancelled years ago can be resurrected using an accomplished law student. The environmental science class can be taught by a collaboration of teachers who might at different times be on display from a perch beside a redwood forest, above an eroded shoreline, or even at a site damaged by a storm.
In sum, this is the time for educators to support micro schools. Whether they are done by established school districts alone, or by firms specializing in online schooling that can work with school districts, or with voucher support for online schools to teach the way they know best, kids will benefit and their families will stay safe.
We are at a beautiful crossroads of school safety and school choice. Amazingly, Trump is on the wrong side of what conservatives have asked for for decades; and the New York Times columnist is on the wrong side of what protective progressives have asked for in COVID-era safety. Both are showing their establishment cards here. NOT so amazingly, parents who don’t want to imperil their households are allied with teachers who by and large prefer to teach online. They now have a common “enemy” — intransigent government administrators.
The bureaucrats have chosen to modify their in-building procedures when they should be choosing to end them and put all their efforts into wholesome online education.
Mark Stewart Greenstein of Newington is director of Ivy Bound Test Prep, a Micro School for grades K – 12.