While we still find ourselves mired in the current pandemic, the future appears exceptionally unclear. Some commentators are predicting that our lives will never be the same again. But what does this mean? Are we on the road to fundamental changes?
Many had these same questions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Life in New Orleans is now defined as “Before Katrina” and “After Katrina.” Everyone agrees that New Orleans is a different place. The city is far better protected as a result of better levees and other water management improvements. And the demographics are different as well. The population is smaller and is less racially diverse.
But suggesting that “things will never be the same” has a far more profound connotation. It refers to the lifestyle and other changes that may amount to a departure of the “way things used to be.” When it comes to education, this may mean that schooling never looks completely the same for parents, teachers, and students.
Changes Already in Place
Almost immediately, COVID-19 triggered rapid changes in essential ways that schools provide instruction. Some schools went the route of old-fashioned correspondence schools, utilizing written mail as the mode of interaction.
Others have adopted a far more radical approach by employing digital tools like Zoom to recreate the school setting in a virtual form. And then there are those schools that are somewhere in-between, combining online teaching and practice program videos.
And yet, most people are just waiting for things to return to normal. If the schools had nothing to do with causing the crisis, why change them? That was precisely the thinking after Katrina. The schools had no liability in causing the devastation, so why change them? Regarding Katrina, this was wishful thinking. The changes came regardless.
The state of Louisiana basically took control of the city’s public schools, subsequently handing their operations over to nonprofit charter organizations.
Union contracts and teacher tenure were terminated.
Assigning students to schools based upon where they lived (or Attendance Zones) ended in favor of “School Choice,” which meant families could choose any school in the city that they wanted.
Before Katrina, very few cities had ever implemented any one of these changes. New Orleans took all of them at once.
What can Katrina Teach us?
Crisis forces adaptation. Katrina was the driving force behind school choice in New Orleans. In our current crisis, COVID is forcing parents to be their children’s teachers and forcing everyone—students, parents, and teachers—to become as proficient as possible with online learning tools.
While perhaps awkward at first, people get comfortable with some of these adaptations. Just as Katrina made school choice comfortable in New Orleans, families who are struggling to educate their children are becoming comfortable with educational methods and online tools that they’d never seen before.
These adaptations can indirectly lead to other changes as well. School choice caused neighborhoods to change in unintended ways. COVID-19’s forced shift to online tools may also have indirect and unintended effects yet to come.
Expected Long-Term Shifts from COVID-19
Online tools will continue to become more critical and mainstream in education. Notwithstanding the digital divide, most students in the country will soon have laptops and some degree of internet access.
As teachers learn and become proficient in using digital tools, they will be able to enhance their students’ experience using them as well. As Dave Deming recently pointed out, online tools can be helpful complements to in-person instruction—instead of a replacement—allowing teachers to focus more on engaging students and mentoring them. This could lead to a metamorphosis in the role of the teacher.
To what degree homeschooling will become mainstream remains uncertain. Although families will become more accustomed to online learning, there is a distinct disadvantage in that families have to play the role of hall monitor and teacher. Given the parents’ work schedules and other responsibilities, this change doesn’t seem very likely.
The long-term reforms in New Orleans after Katrina were unclear, even several months after the storm made landfall. So too, in our current crisis, we still don’t know exactly where this is all leading. However, it is not too soon to begin thinking about what may be coming, what changes we should be embracing, and which we should not.
Help Your Students Cope with the Crisis
The response to the COVID-19 Pandemic is unprecedented. Because of our unique role in children’s K-12 education, including online speech therapy, we feel a responsibility to do what we can to assist schools, therapists, and students with this transition to online learning and seclusion. To ensure that our students remain engaged and supported, our therapists are providing complimentary “Support Sessions” to the country’s youth. We are also assisting schools by training their therapists for remote therapy.