If there is an upside to great disturbance and upheaval — and we are certainly living through both — it is that unforeseen challenges can often lead to innovations that permanently and positively alter our society.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us indoors, but it also has challenged us to seek new ways to connect to each other, do business and go about our lives. No one should be surprised if telemedicine, for example, gains a permanent foothold in our medical community or if businesses realize there are benefits to letting many of their employees work from home.
It is extremely important that public education is a part of this conversation about innovation and modernization, because the shortcomings of today’s system are glaringly obvious and holding back our kids.
In a world that is digitally focused and internationally connected, most of today’s public schools are chained to a system of brick and mortar buildings assigned by ZIP code. For many schools, the order to adopt “remote learning” — which in the 21st century should mean “online classes” — was like an order to take their students on a field trip to Mars, an impossibility for institutions where learning has occurred basically the same way for 100 years. Oklahoma City Public Schools’ decision to end the year on May 8, the earliest day allowed by the state, seems like an admission that it has little confidence in the quality of their “remote” instruction, which largely avoids having to use digital resources.
OKCPS will defend its opposition to online learning by saying that low-income families may not have access to the internet at home and that, if they cannot serve all students, they will not serve any. Whether that makes any logical or moral sense, there are many tools at our disposal to try and get low-income families online. Partnering with Cox’s Connect2Compete program, for instance, or building on AT&T’s offerings of low rates for recipients of SNAP might offer some underserved communities and students a way forward.
Furthermore, there are schools all across Oklahoma that serve low-income students and families that find ways to use technology and digital learning in their classrooms. Epic Charter Schools and K-12 are both offering free public education to kids of all income levels. Tulsa Honor Academy, Crossover Prep and Cristo Rey OKC have all implemented successful distance learning programs while exclusively serving low-income students. These are schools that could have offered excuses and instead found solutions.
It’s important that we hold our schools to account for the ways they seek to improve and modernize during this time, or the ways they do not. Digital learning is here. We need to embrace it, not make excuses.
Ruiz is executive director of ChoiceMatters
This article was originally written by the Executive Director of Choice Matters Robert Ruiz for The Oklahoman. Reposted with permission.