If you’re reading this, you probably just experienced eleven months you never would have imagined—whether it was parenting through the learning disruptions or shaping public policy as the world spun crazily.
Hindsight is 20/20, but we’d be foolish if we don’t learn from what we’ve been through, particularly in the K-12 education space. To me, the biggest takeaway for education is this: Families desperately need innovation and non-traditional learning options.
Last spring’s transition to digital learning certainly demonstrated the validity of the theory of school choice. While some students hardly skipped a beat when school buildings closed, others could barely tread the water of learning without in-person help from their teachers. For some, the situation has had more dire effects: mental health challenges, the loss of friendships or mentors, or not being able to access lessons at all due to lack of technology.
As school choice advocates have been pleading for decades, each child has his or her own unique learning styles, skills, and interests, and the “best school” for your child may look radically different than the “best school” for your neighbor. More than that, families have different situations, incomes, and backgrounds—families are not cardboard cutout stereotypes. Rather than denying it, we should embrace the individuality of each student and give every child the opportunity to find the best fit for them.
From the beginning of the pandemic, parents needed solutions and schools that spoke to their concerns, and the problems their children faced. That need isn’t going away anytime soon. More innovation and non-traditional learning options are needed in the wake of what we’ve experienced. The education community, with community support, has a lot of listening and work to do to expand school options here in Georgia, and the best policies will be informed by real parent needs.
Here are two quick ideas for starters. First, policymakers should support and ease innovations—like learning pods and micro-schools—which respond to the risk of infection in larger groups while retaining an in-person component of learning. These models soared in popularity this past year, with some families creating them from thin air in their community because there weren’t existing learning options that worked for them.
Second, Georgia should expand students’ access to quality careers and higher education opportunities by making SAT and ACT tests available to all students, and offering more opportunities for dual enrollment and professional certifications at the high school level. All children deserve to be equipped for life and learning after twelfth grade.
This week is National School Choice Week (Jan. 24-30), which highlights the value of school choice in the lives of American families. Every year, children use School Choice Week to give witness to how new schools improved their performance while deepening their enthusiasm for learning. In many cases, parents have celebrated how school choice has literally turned their family around, by helping their children love school.
Lawmakers should listen to these parents’ success stories—just as they listened to the parents frustrated by the lack of quality options during the pause of in-person learning last spring. Both cases indicate this: We need to expand school choice in Georgia, to ensure that every child and every family have the tools they need to succeed.