Why we’re going back to school in the fall

July 22, 2020 | Hugh Norwood

There are a number of recent news articles about the uncertainty we all face concerning the next school year.  A few of the different models that have been proposed are: 

  • Smaller class sizes with more social distancing
  • Keeping 9-12 grades virtual and spacing out the younger children more
  • 3-day weeks of in-person learning supplemented by 2 days of virtual classwork 

All of these proposals are considerate and try to account for increased risks and social challenges of face-to-face education in a post-COVID society.  But few of these proposals are likely to be implemented widely due to the inevitable logistical challenges.

My experiences with school districts and their leadership is that their decision-making has a lot of heart and a fair bit of wisdom, but too little data and no speed.  World-renowned management expert, Peter Drucker has said, “The relevant question is not simply what shall we do tomorrow, but rather what shall we do today in order to get ready for tomorrow?”  

Enacting some of the proposals such as alternate live and online classes would require a great amount of prior planning, which would mean the decision to go in a particular direction has already been made.  

Unfortunately, decision-making in Education (both higher ed and K12) is genetically structured for consensus, and consensus takes time.  Making small (though crucial!) decisions like “how often should we clean schools?” will require meetings and input from a wide range of stakeholders. To make big decisions about the fundamental fabric of the educational process?  

That seems a bridge too far.

When big decisions are hard in K12, too often they don’t get made at all.  And decisions about changing the very foundation of educational delivery is bound to be extremely hard. Which means we will almost certainly be sending kids back to school in the fall: we won’t have had the time, will, or political air-cover to do anything else.

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