What will K-12 schools look like after social distancing is over and people reassess what they want from school systems after the pandemic?
For this bonus episode of the EdSurge Podcast, we posed that question to Simon Rodberg, a former charter school principal and author of a forthcoming book from ACSD, “What If I’m Wrong? and Other Key Questions for Decisive School Leadership.”
Rodberg predicts that this period of forced homeschooling will lead parents to demand different things from schools once they reopen. He argues that school leaders should start planning now for how to deal with the fact that students are getting very different quantities of learning while schools are closed.
And he talks about what he’s learning as he’s spending time each day educating his 10-year-old, since school is closed.
Listen to the episode of the EdSurge Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the player below. Or read the partial transcript, which has been lightly edited for clarity.
EdSurge: How will this period of forced homeschooling and online education change K-12 education?
Simon Rodberg: So the thing I'm thinking about without school happening is what my son is missing while he's not at school. That's another way of asking the question of what is the purpose of school. Why do we send him to school every day? If we're not sending him to school every day, what's not happening?
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I mean he's learning math right now. He's getting it through Khan Academy, through some online work and through meeting with a tutor once a week. He's getting reading. In fact, I think he's probably reading more than he was reading at school. He and his grandma have a standing FaceTime date to talk about writing, and he's sending her some writing that he's doing. So the academic things are happening even more I think then when he was at school.
He's certainly missing socialization and I think that's a big purpose of school is to learn to get along with people and work with people who are not part of your family.I think we'll need to do that [over remote learning, too].
Social distancing will one day end, and we will once again have to live in a society and interact with people who are not our family. But the big thing that is missing really is not for him, it's for us. We are missing somebody else taking care of our children and we're missing the fact that we can go about our lives for six to nine hours a day without having to take care of them.
I think the custodial aspect of school is one of the purposes that schools serve best, which is that they take children and keep them safe and keep them secure and feed them, and whether a school is quote “good” or quote “bad,” whether the test scores are high or the test scores are low, pretty much at every school in the country parents can send their child and be secure that at the end of the day they will get their child back. And I think probably every parent in America, that's what they're missing.
It doesn't sound like you're predicting a big uptake in homeschooling after all this.
Parents are going to want to have a place to send their kids again and to have somebody else take care of them in a mass way, where we don't need the one-to-one parent to child ratio all day every day. But what happens there, how lockstep it is, how static it is, I think that will be really questioned, and I honestly think it will have to be. My son is very fortunate that he has two college-educated parents with good internet access at home who are giving him a lot of attention and a lot of resources. There are kids in his class whose families don't have those resources to give and they're going to come back to school in very different places.
I don't want him to have to relearn the math that he was supposed to be learning in March and April. He will have learned that math and some more. But there will be kids who haven't. That has always been true. Even when you have kids in the same class all the time, they're learning different things at different rates. But the need for personalizing the learning experience is going to be so much greater after this because kids across America are getting such different experiences during these months of homeschool.
So as I’m picturing it: The day school was like a starting line, and you have some students just continuing or even accelerating their run through academics, and then some students who are probably stalled out, because of their home environment. And so they're all going to come back together in the school building at some point but be at very different points on the run.
I've heard of the factory model of schooling and that was never accurate. We never had kids all learning the same thing at the same pace. But the factory is closed down and we're going back to the medieval home workshops right now. It is crazy to think that we should just go back to the same assembly line after however many months this ends up being.
But schools go back to the factory because it feels like it's the most economical or sustainable way to mass school. Is there some other way that we could try once things get back to normal?
We go back to the factory model partly because we know it, but also because as you said, it's economical. I mean if the custodial purpose of school is what we really miss, we will get it back by going back to the factory model. My hope is that we will have learned from this experience that other things are possible. I think a lot of them are not being done that well right now. My child and every other child that I've heard of in America is watching Mo Willems do pigeon drawings at 1:00 pm ET, and I don't necessarily think that art class should be that way for every kid across America. But there are pieces of online learning that I think would make personalization and make individual pathways much more possible.
I also think that questioning what the topics are that we learn in school should be one of the things that come out of this—that is parents across America are deciding, “I don't think a particular subject is that important for my child to be learning,” maybe that subject actually isn't that important for every child in America to be learning. And I think it’s about questioning some of the decisions that have been handed down through the generations to us and some of the paths that we've been on, now that we are off those paths.
You’ve been a principal. What would your advice be for school leaders?
Put some of your energy towards teaching kids right now—particularly making sure that they have work that they can access that's useful, and that they are getting individualized contact from adults, that there are people checking in with them who are continuing or building a relationship with them so that they know that they're cared about and to the greatest extent possible that they get some feedback on their work. But I would also be putting a lot of energy toward planning for various scenarios when school restarts and how you're going to deal with the missed learning, with the differences in what kids will have learned. Thinking about those long term things and how can you plan in advance for a very different future than the one you might've expected before coronavirus hit.
What about your own experience having your 10-year-old son at home. What has surprised you?
Well the thing that has been most amazing is we're having a daily recess of bike rides and we have been able to bike down to the national mall in Washington D.C. and climb all over statues in front of the U.S. Capitol that I'm sure the police would be shoo-ing us off if they were around. We've been able to get to the cherry blossoms because nobody is there. We could not normally go visit the cherry blossoms because it's just completely full of tourists in a normal year and there are no tourists right now. That's been what's most surprising. I think that academically just seeing how much he can read and having him actually listen to me when I give him book advice because I'm taking on the role of teacher as opposed to father. Usually he does not take my reading recommendations at all. That's been really great.
At the same time there was one moment when he got very frustrated with his math and he treated me like his father rather than the way I think he usually treats his teachers—that is, he's usually not going to yell at his teachers and storm out of the room and I thought, “Boy, this is a moment when I really wish that homeschooling were not happening.”