For over 20 years now, politicians have been talking about the need to reform our public education system. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect students and educators in a variety of schooling scenarios, our current circumstances also offer a unique opportunity to apply an innovative approach to instruction and provide students with real-world skills.
Instead of forcing a one-size solution of returning all public school students to in-person classroom instruction, putting them and their teachers at risk for exposure to a deadly virus, here is an alternative. Relax the rules. Turn over reform decisions to schools, and allow them to create alternatives that best suit the students and families they serve.
Here’s an idea.
High school students opt to take a semester to do an in-depth research or community-based project that explores a topic or issue they feel passionate about. With their parents and teachers they work out a course of study that is supervised and evaluated based on a product that demonstrates knowledge of their grade level requirements. Alternatively, students could choose the more traditional school path or the hybrid model schools are using now.
Recently, KCTV 5 ran a story about a public school teacher in Kansas who was teaching her students about voting by having them be trained as volunteer election workers. They won’t be in school on election day. They will be providing a valuable community service. Cristo Rey is a Catholic school that employs a model of funding that relies on students participating in work-study opportunities in local community businesses. Students graduate with real work experience and for some, job opportunities. Other states are also employing creative competency-based systems that are worth exploring as a model for funding.
It is time to stop driving this school bus by looking in the rearview mirror. Now is the perfect opportunity to allow schools to adjust to their families’ and communities’ needs, and employ new and innovative approaches that can be carried into the future. There is no guarantee that this pandemic will end any time soon, and in fact there is growing concern that it could become endemic and something we will be working around for years to come.
Let’s stop shifting the blame, and take this opportunity to allow for real and meaningful change. It may just be one of our bright young scholars who, through a school-led project, will find the key to restoring our quality of life, free from this virus.
State Rep. Ingrid Burnett is the House Minority Caucus Chair and serves on the Joint Committee on Education. She was first elected to the Missouri House in 2016.