What gets lost in the reopening debate is the growing evidence that a significant portion of students and their families are actually happier and learn better outside of traditional schooling.
The portfolio strategy post-COVID
Americans have never bought into the idea that all kids are alike. Parents with more than one child regularly say that a school that is just right for one kid is a tough stretch for another. Though many settle for the same school for all their children, most see big differences in what motivates kids and would like the opportunity to find the best possible fit for each one.
Yet American school districts often claim to provide a set of identical schools serving different neighborhoods. They never could, and they don’t now.
As they consider reopening for the coming COVID-19 autumn, school districts face questions that can be answered only by school differentiation and family choice:
- If students can’t all be in school full time, how to make a seamless link between what students learn in school and at home?
- What to do for parents who refuse to send their children to school, and for teachers who need to avoid face-to-face contact to preserve their health?
- How to deal with the wildly different levels of learning loss that different children will have suffered?
- How to deal with emotional needs while not slowing down learning and not wasting the time of those who don’t need it?
- Even in districts like Cleveland, which has broken the link between students’ age and grade levels in favor of mastery-based instruction, the proportion of students needing to work below their age-normal grade will vary from school to school, as will parents’ and teachers’ willingness to accept face-to-face instruction and children’s ability to benefit from distance learning.
The core idea behind the portfolio strategy is totally relevant now: meaningful choices for parents provided by diverse schools, all overseen by a district that supports school distinctiveness and good matches for kids. The strategy supports school diversity by calling for schools to get real-dollar funding based on enrollment, and to be able to use funds flexibly.
In the COVID period, family choice and schools’ ability to solve problems will be necessary but more complicated than ever before. Families that enroll confidently in a school in fall 2020 might find that they need something else or that the school, in trying to serve the majority of its students, evolves away from them.
Portfolio, as a flexible problem-solving strategy, is necessary today, even more than when the first localities (New York, New Orleans, Denver) first adopted it.
We sat in on nearly three dozen conversations with teams of district leaders and community-based nonprofits that are collaborating to run learning hubs.
We begin this year laser focused on ensuring our school systems catch kids up, reopen as soon as possible, and begin rebuilding in ways that address the underlying inequities that we documented last year.