The CDC’s Guidelines for Back-to-School Under COVID Sound Traumatizing

When schools reopen in the US amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they will be even more restrictive than they already were. Schools have long controlled students’ movements and imposed constraints on where they can go, when, and with whom. With virus concerns, those controls will increase in quantity and intensity.

NPR recently proclaimed that “disruption from the pandemic constitutes an ‘adverse childhood experience’ for every American child.” While many children are sad to be away from their friends and activities, being home with their family members for a prolonged period of time is hardly an “adverse childhood experience” for most American children. Returning to schools with extreme virus control and social distancing measures, however, could very well be traumatic for many kids.

As images emerge from countries around the world that have reopened schools, US parents are getting a glimpse of what extreme social distancing measures could look like here, including the latest from Chinese schools in which social distancing “wings” are strapped onto children’s backs to ensure that they stay far apart from each other. It’s no wonder that a new RealClear opinion poll found that 40 percent of parents intend to choose homeschooling or virtual schooling for their children when the lockdowns end. And many European parents are refusing to send their children back to school.

These strict social distancing efforts at schools arise as more evidence suggests that children are largely spared from the dangers of COVID-19 infection. Even as concerns have risen recently over a Kawasaki-like inflammatory disease related to COVID-19 that has impacted some children, the risk appears miniscule. According to The Wall Street Journal:

A study in the journal Lancet last week reported 10 children with the inflammatory syndrome in Bergamo, Italy—the city with the highest rate of fatalities and infections—about 30 times higher than the normal incidence. Most were older and suffered more severe cardiac symptoms than those typically found with Kawasaki. But the authors also estimated that probably no more than 0.1% of children who had been exposed to the virus were affected. All hospitalized patients had been discharged, and the authors recommend treating patients with steroids to calm their immune system.

The Journal article goes on to state:

During these times parents and doctors need to be especially vigilant. But as a society we also need to keep in mind that the risks to children from the coronavirus are small, especially relative to others. The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity projects that children under 15 are 6.83 to 20.07 times more likely to die of the flu or pneumonia than coronavirus—assuming 150,000 COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S. this year—and 128 times more likely to die of an accident.

We should care deeply about children’s health and safety, but like much about this pandemic, it’s important to make sure that the response isn’t more damaging than the virus itself. Many parents and educators are rightfully concerned about children’s mental health during these lockdowns, but when lockdowns end and schools reopen, children’s mental health could be worsened with extreme social distancing measures that remove any of the potentially enjoyable pieces of schooling, such as playground time, extracurriculars, and gathering with friends.

Stripped of these accessories that can often compensate for the more oppressive parts of conventional schooling, it’s not surprising that some parents and students would choose to continue with homeschooling or virtual learning until the pandemic ends.

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Four K-12 Education Models That May Gain Popularity During COVID-19

In just a few weeks, US education has dramatically changed. Schools have been closed for the academic year in most states, and some districts have already canceled their foray into virtual school-at-home this spring, ending the school year early. With more than 50 million US students at home with their families, engaged in varying degrees of quarantine schooling, questions emerge about how long this will last and what education may look like post-pandemic. Most families will be eager to resume their previous routines, returning to school and work as soon as it’s allowed, likely with strong social distancing measures in place. But some families may be curious about K-12 education models that favor personalization, small group learning environments, high-quality virtual programming and other innovative alternatives.

While most of us have been forced to work and learn from home for the past two months, separated from our colleagues and community, some employers and employees are finding that working from home has its benefits, including higher productivity gains and lower costs. A recent Brookings Institution report reveals that we “may see a more permanent shift toward telecommuting” continuing long after the pandemic ends. Similarly, some students are finding that they prefer this pandemic distance learning experiment over traditional schooling. Additionally, a recent survey by EdChoice finds that more than half of respondents have a more favorable view of homeschooling as a result of the pandemic, suggesting a rising openness to different K-12 learning models. As parents experience a growing cultural embrace of teleworking that can create more workplace freedom and flexibility, they may also look to grant this freedom and flexibility to their children, seeking educational options beyond a conventional classroom.

Here are four K-12 education models that will likely get increased attention over the coming months:

Forest Schools

Forest preschools and outdoor early childhood programs were already gaining traction prior to the pandemic. The New York Times reported last summer that “nature-based preschools have seen a tidal wave of interest in recent years,” pointing to survey data from a national organization that represents nature preschools and forest kindergartens. These programs prioritize ample outside time, natural play and exploration, typically with small class sizes and enthusiastic educators who enjoy helping children to learn in and from nature in all kinds of weather.

As conventional schools implement social distancing measures that may include staggered attendance to keep class sizes down and avoid over-crowded school buildings, some families may look to full-time programs that already focus on small groups and outside learning. Christine Heer, M.Ed. and Lisa Henderson are the co-owners of Sprouts, the first licensed farm and forest kindergarten in Massachusetts. They explain that their program is held almost entirely outdoors and already provides adequate space necessary for safe interactions between children and teachers. Heer expects that programs like Sprouts will become a model for other early childhood programs coping with reopening amidst the pandemic, as well as a magnet for parents exploring other educational options.

Heer explains: “COVID-19 is now forcing communities to look at new ways of offering safe, healthy options for education at all levels and we are convinced that programs like ours will attract the attention of parents and educators as we reconsider how to bring children back into childcare and preschool settings in a safe, stress-free way.” Henderson adds: “We will be making some slight adjustments when we return to Sprouts, like creating a hands-free hand washing station and keeping lunch boxes in individual backpacks instead of mixing them together in a crate. We believe that nature-immersive programs are the perfect fit to address the stress-free, healthy environments we will need to provide for families.”

Microschools

The push toward smaller, less institutionalized learning environments may also be a boost for the burgeoning microschool movement. Microschools usually operate out of homes or local community organizations and typically have no more than a dozen K-12 students, of varying ages. Often microschools operate as hybrid homeschool programs, where young people are registered as homeschoolers but attend a microschool either full- or part-time, taking classes and engaging with teachers and mentors. Sometimes microschools operate through state charter school programs, such as Arizona-based Prenda, a fast-growing network of in-home microschools that is tuition-free for Arizona residents. New microschool models may gain momentum as parents seek a consistent, in-person learning environment for their children that emphasizes personalization and small class sizes.

If history offers any lessons as to what might happen when schools reopen, it’s possible that many parents may continue to keep their children at home, at least in the short-term. NPR recently highlighted historical research by health care economist, Melissa Thomasson, who found that when New York City schools reopened during the 1916 polio epidemic, approximately one-quarter of the city’s schoolchildren stayed home, prompting the city to temporarily loosen its compulsory attendance laws. If this happens during our current pandemic, neighbors may decide to form their own in-home learning co-ops, taking turns caring for and educating each other’s children while balancing their own work schedules. Well-regarded homeschool programs, such as Oak Meadow and Clonlara, could see a bump in sales as parents look for curriculum guidance beyond, or in addition to, virtual learning, and new curriculum offerings could emerge to meet growing demand.

Virtual Degree Programs

By necessity, the pandemic has introduced many parents and children to the possibility of virtual learning. While we may all clamor for face-to-face interaction again, we are likely more comfortable with online connections and learning and working remotely than we were prior to this stay-at-home experience. Some students are finding that they prefer online education, and parents may be curious about virtual learning options going forward. Many states offer tuition-free virtual public school options, such as those provided through K12. Some colleges and universities are beginning to offer rigorous online programs for high school students that combine earning an accredited high school diploma with college credits, giving young people more autonomy and flexibility in their learning, while helping to defray college tuition costs.

Affiliated with Arizona State University, ASU Prep Digital is a fully online, accredited high school that incorporates college credits into its curriculum. The online school is tuition-free for Arizona residents, and the full-time accelerated program for out-of-state students costs just under $7,000 a year. Supporting the expansion of education choice mechanisms, such as education savings accounts, vouchers and tax-credit scholarship programs, can help more families to opt out of their assigned district school and select other education options that may otherwise be financially out-of-reach.

New online learning programs will also likely sprout during and after this pandemic, as parents and students become more at ease with, and supportive of, virtual education. One virtual school startup, Sora Schools, is already seeing more interest in its nascent, project-based program that serves high schoolers across the country. “We’ve actually been growing a lot in the last couple of months,” says cofounder Indra Sofian. “Recently we’ve had many conversations with parents who are not prepared to fully homeschool their children and parents who were concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their students’ schooling in the fall. We’re currently projecting to enroll at least 50 students based on our current growth rate by the fall.” As many investors shift their portfolios toward edtech startups during the pandemic, it is likely that online education options and virtual learning tools will continue to expand in the coming months.

Homeschooling

Even though pandemic homeschooling is nothing like the real thing, the finding that parents have a more favorable impression of homeschooling now than before is a strong signal that at least some of them will choose the homeschooling option even when schools reopen. A recent informal survey conducted by Corey DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation found that 15 percent of parents say they will choose homeschooling when schools reopen. If these parents have warmed up to homeschooling under these difficult social distancing circumstances, just wait until they can actually leave the house, go to the library and museums, gather with friends, take community classes and so on.

Images have started to appear of what back-to-school looks like in some countries as children return to school. Some parents might be turned off by the idea of their children wearing masks and face shields all day, as well as learning in spread out classrooms, and may choose homeschooling, at least until the pandemic ends. With more parents likely to continue teleworking post-pandemic, job flexibility may also allow for more learning flexibility, as parents discover that they don’t have to be the ones teaching their homeschooled children but rather connecting them to both in-person and online tutors, mentors, classes and other resources.

COVID-19 has disrupted much of the way we live and learn, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Forest schools, microschools, online learning programs and homeschooling will likely become increasingly popular in the coming months, as parents search for other education options beyond their local school. While some private schools are shutting down as a result of the pandemic, unable to cope with the economic shock, this can be a great time for visionary entrepreneurs to create more nimble K-12 learning models that give parents and learners the high-quality, flexible and safe academic environment they want.

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Harvard’s Latest Attack on Homeschooling Abuses Reason and Justice

Harvard University publications continue to present a skewed perspective of homeschooling, spotlighting Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s call for a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling while failing to provide an accurate picture of American homeschooling.

In addition to the recent Harvard Magazine article on “The Risks of Homeschooling,” both the Harvard Crimson and the Harvard Gazette ran stories last week reinforcing Bartholet’s one-sided view of homeschooling. While Harvard’s invitation-only summit to address homeschooling’s “problems, politics, and prospects for reform” scheduled for next month has been postponed due to COVID-19, the disinformation campaign against homeschooling goes on.

Interestingly, in the recent Gazette interview, Bartholet admits that most parents are quite able to homeschool their children. She says: “I believe that the overwhelming majority of parents are capable of providing at least a minimal education at home without presenting any danger of abuse or neglect.” Yet, in recommending a “presumptive ban” on the practice she would “require that parents demonstrate that they have a legitimate reason to homeschool—maybe their child is a super athlete, maybe the schools in their area are terrible.”

She would also require parents to “demonstrate that they’re qualified to provide an adequate education and that they would provide an education comparable in scope to what is required in public schools,” as well as “require that their kids participate in at least some school courses and extracurricular activities so they get exposure to a set of alternative values and experiences.” In other words, parents may be able to get permission from the government to homeschool their kids if they can jump through certain government-approved hoops and send their kids, at least part of the time, to the government schools from which they are fleeing.

Bartholet’s rationale for this heavy-handed approach to controlling homeschoolers is that, while most homeschooling parents won’t abuse or neglect their children, a tiny few may and so the entire homeschool population must be managed and monitored—including being subject to frequent home-visits by government officials to make sure they are not doing anything wrong. This guilty-until-proven-innocent approach is not only antithetical to American ideals, it sacrifices the freedom of an entire group out of concern that a small sliver of that group could potentially do harm.

The claim that homeschooling could lead to higher rates of child abuse is unfounded. In fact, three academics responded harshly to Bartholet’s conclusions, writing at EducationNext: “Professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s claims that homeschooling contributes significantly to the scourge of child abuse fail to survive scrutiny.” Some research shows that homeschoolers are less likely to be abused than their schooled peers. And as I’ve written previously, physical and sexual abuse by educators is rampant in public schools, which Bartholet holds up as the gold standard. Still, Bartholet argues that homeschooled children could be abused because they are not in the presence of school teachers and administrators who are “mandated reporters” of child abuse.

Although Bartholet’s recommendations against homeschooling were initiated well before COVID-19 hit, she uses the current school shutdowns as further evidence that parents, unwatched by government officials, will abuse their children. Bartholet says in the Gazette interview: “I do think, though, that the present near-universal home education situation is illuminating. The evidence is growing that reports to Child Protective Services (CPS) have plummeted nationwide, because children are removed from the mandated reporters that schools provide.”

It is possible that declining CPS reports could indicate unreported child abuse, but it could also reveal a CPS system gone awry, with overly-aggressive reporting and investigative practices. A 2018 in-depth report by The Hechinger Report and HuffPost, for instance, found that “schools often use child protective services as a weapon against parents.” According to this analysis, school employees use CPS as a way to coerce parents who resist a school’s recommendations or approach. Reporters Rebecca Klein and Caroline Preston write:

Fed up with what they see as obstinate parents who don’t agree to special education services for their child, or disruptive kids who make learning difficult, schools sometimes use the threat of a child-protection investigation to strong-arm parents into complying with the school’s wishes or transferring their children to a new school. That approach is not only improper, but it can be devastating for families, even if the allegations are ultimately determined to be unfounded.

Such a determination is how the vast majority of these investigations conclude, despite terrorizing parents and children. In her powerful book, They Took The Kids Last Night: How the Child Protection System Puts Families at Risk, family defense attorney and policy advocate, Diane Redleaf, finds that the CPS system has ballooned in recent years, with millions of calls and family investigations despite most of them being baseless. She writes in her introduction: “In 2016 alone, 7.4 million children were reported as suspected victims of child abuse or neglect. Of this number, 4.1 million had a case referred for some CPS responsive action, ranging from finding no merit to the allegations and closing the case, to referring the family for social services, to a placement of the children into foster care. At the conclusion of a CPS investigation, 676,000 children were then labeled the victims of abuse or neglect.”

The Hechinger/HuffPost report reveals that poor and minority families are the ones most likely to get caught in the CPS dragnet, and Redleaf’s research reinforces this finding. She writes: “The child protection system most disproportionately intervenes against families of color and those who lack other forms of privilege…A system that is supposed to protect children from their parents ends up too often harming children’s precious attachment to their parents.”

Child abuse is horrific and should never be tolerated, but the growing distrust of parents and the related trend toward increased intervention in family life under the guise of protecting children may hurt more children than it helps. When families are weakened and parents are disempowered, children suffer. As Redleaf concludes in her book:

Family advocates need to proudly proclaim that children’s best interests are one and the same as their families’ best interests, for there is no other way to protect children but to defend their families—and to fight for the right of families everywhere to raise their own children.

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Well Done, Billionaires

I ran into a neighbor on the street the other day and we chatted about life at home during COVID-19 and how we are all coping with social distancing. I mentioned how grateful I am that our nearby Whole Foods market seems well-stocked (except for toilet paper).

She made a comment about how billionaires like Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, which also owns Whole Foods, should really be less greedy and share their wealth. (She didn’t know that Bezos has donated $100 million to US food banks during the pandemic, but charity is beside the point.)

The dominant narrative that billionaires are greedy and big companies like Amazon are monopolistic, exploitative tyrants is not only misguided but deeply troubling for the future of prosperity and human progress. This rhetoric is nothing new. Successful businesspeople have long been smeared as robber barons who take and take, detracting from the “common good.” But this rhetoric and these smear campaigns fail to recognize just how much these billionaires give. And I don’t mean give in terms of charity.

They give by doing, by building, by creating, by inventing. They give by making products or offering services that people want to buy at a price they want to pay in pursuit of things they want to do, and employing thousands of people who choose to work for a wage they choose to accept.

They give by creating value for people, free of force and in an open marketplace of voluntary exchange. In the case of Amazon and Bezos, it got big and he got wealthy by building a superior product that millions of people freely choose to use because they can get goods they want at lower prices and faster speeds, freeing up their precious time and resources to devote to their own personal pursuits.

Amazon is a marvel of modern enterprise, and is one of the few companies keeping our emaciated economy from completely collapsing during this public health shutdown. Instead of disdain, the people who built these companies deserve our respect and appreciation. They are the builders and the creators, the thinkers and the doers. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt reinforced this point recently in a virtual presentation to the Economic Club of New York. He said:

Think about what your life would be like in America without Amazon, for example. The benefit of these corporations — which we love to malign — in terms of the ability to communicate … the ability to get information, is profound — and I hope people will remember that when this thing is finally over. So let’s be a little bit grateful that these companies got the capital, did the investment, built the tools that we’re using now and have really helped us out. Imagine having the same reality of this pandemic without these tools.

Yes, imagine. In her classic book, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand did just that, showing what life would be like if we mistake success for greed, achievement for exploitation, and progress for oppression. Billionaires, like Bezos, who have built great companies contribute daily to the “common good”—not only through charity, but through human ingenuity and the progress and prosperity that produces for all of us. During this pandemic, Audible, an Amazon company, is offering hundreds of its children’s audiobooks, and many of its adult books as well, for free. Atlas Shrugged is one of them.

We can, and should, balk at attempts to corrupt the process of voluntary exchange when business and government become entangled. That isn’t capitalism, it’s cronyism and it poisons the promise of free markets.

Economist Dan Mitchell describes the difference as being pro-market or pro-business, with the former acting as a champion of free enterprise and trade while the latter relies on government handouts and business buffers in the form of subsidies and bailouts.

Government officials trying to woo Amazon with subsidies and preferential treatment to build additional headquarters in a particular city is an obvious example of being pro-business at the expense of a dynamic free market.

Entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos assume enormous risk and invest significant time, energy, and resources into inventing products and services that people want and need. They spot an opportunity to create value for others, and build a business around that idea using their own originality and will. If they succeed in creating something that others value, they will be rewarded financially; but even Jeff Bezos isn’t as rich as you think. Most billionaire wealth is inextricably linked to the companies they built, continuing to generate value for others, continuing to give.

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Harvard Magazine Calls for a “Presumptive Ban” on Homeschooling: Here Are 5 Things It Got Wrong

Author’s Note: This is a copy of my submitted Letter to the Editor of Harvard Magazine regarding its recent article,“The Risks of Homeschooling.”

Dear Editor:

As a Harvard alum, longtime donor, education researcher, and homeschooling mother of four children in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was shocked to read the article, “The Risks of Homeschooling,” by Erin O’Donnell in Harvard Magazine’s new May-June 2020 issue. Aside from its biting, one-sided portrayal of homeschooling families that mischaracterizes the vast majority of today’s homeschoolers, it is filled with misinformation and incorrect data. Here are five key points that challenge the article’s primary claim that the alleged “risks for children—and society—in homeschooling” necessitate a “presumptive ban on the practice”:

1. Protecting Children from Abuse

I agree with the author of the article and Harvard Law School professor, Elizabeth Bartholet, who is widely quoted throughout, that it is critically important that children be protected from abuse. They argue that sending children to school prompts “mandated reporters,” such as teachers and school administrators, to identify possible child abuse. But many parents choose to homeschool their children to remove them from abuse at school, whether it’s widespread bullying by peers or, tragically, rampant abuse by teachers and school administrators themselves.

Child abuse is horrific wherever it occurs, but singling out homeschooling parents as potential abusers simply because they do not send their children to school is both unfair and troubling. Child abuse laws exist in all states and should be rigorously enforced. Banning homeschooling, or adding burdensome regulations on homeschooling families, who in many instances are fleeing a system of education that they find harmful to their children, are unnecessary attacks on law-abiding families.

2. Recognizing Homeschooling’s Diversity

One of the more incorrect assertions in the article is the statement that up to 90 percent of today’s homeschooling families are “driven by conservative Christian beliefs.”

It is true that religious conservatives were key to the growth of homeschooling in the late-20th century, as the number of US homeschoolers swelled to 850,000 in 1999. About two-thirds of today’s nearly two million US homeschoolers identify as Christian (equal to the US population as a whole), but the homeschooling population is becoming increasingly diverse, both ideologically and demographically.

According to the most recent data on homeschooling by the US Department of Education, the most significant motivator for parents choosing this education option was “concern about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, and negative peer pressure,” exceeding other factors such as a desire to provide religious or moral instruction.

Much of the current growth in homeschooling is being driven by urban, secular parents who are disillusioned with a test-driven, one-size-fits-all mass schooling model and want a more individualized educational environment for their children. Federal data also reveal that the percentage of black homeschoolers doubled between 2007 and 2012 to 8 percent, while the percentage of Hispanic homeschoolers is about 25 percent.

3. Embracing Civic Values

Bartholet also argues against homeschooling on civic grounds, saying that it’s “important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints.”

Indeed, research on homeschoolers finds that they are tightly connected with their larger community and may have more community involvement and participation in extracurricular and volunteer activities than schooled children due to their more flexible schedules and interaction with a wide assortment of community members. This reinforces similar research on private education more broadly, suggesting positive civic engagement and outcomes.

Moreover, public schools are struggling to inculcate a strong understanding of democratic values and civic knowledge. According to a 2017 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, 37 percent of Americans could not identify one right protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, and more than half of them erroneously believe that undocumented immigrants have no constitutional rights. Worrying about homeschoolers’ civic education when public schools are seemingly floundering in this regard is misguided.

4. Ensuring the Proper Role of Government

The central tension between those who advocate for homeschooling bans and heightened regulation and those who don’t relates to how each side views the proper role of government. The former sees a proactive role of government in “intervening to try to safeguard the child’s right to education and protection,” while the latter relies on the historical underpinnings of our democracy, going back to the writings of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. We are endowed with “unalienable rights” and that to “secure these rights, governments are instituted.”

If a child is being abused, whether in a homeschooling situation or a public school classroom, the government should intervene to protect that child. But to single out a particular group for increased suspicion, monitoring, and invasion of privacy under the guise of “protection” is as un-American as similar attempts of the past. I agree with Bartholet when she says in the article: “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.” She is concerned with families having this power, while I worry about giving that power to government.

5. Identifying Homeschooling Outcomes

In 2018, The Harvard Gazette spotlighted three Harvard students who were homeschooled using an informal, self-directed approach to learning. “There wasn’t much of a plan or a long-term plan going in; I just took classes I was interested in,” said one of the students, while another asked, “Why would you go to the same building every day and do the same thing every day?” The article said that the students all demonstrated a “spirit of curiosity and independence that continues to shape their education.” While there may always be outliers and more research is needed, most peer-reviewed studies on homeschooling outcomes find that homeschoolers generally outperform their schooled peers academically, and have positive life experiences.

There is room for robust discussion and debate about education and homeschooling, including what is considered effective and beneficial—and who decides. Given Harvard Magazine’s reputation for editorial excellence, I was disappointed to see this article’s emphasis on the potential risks of homeschooling without highlighting its benefits. Bartholet indicates that “tolerance of other people’s viewpoints” is a key civic value. I agree, and I hope future articles in this magazine demonstrate this tolerance.

Sincerely,

Kerry McDonald, Ed.M. ’01

Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Are Kids Learning More at Home During COVID-19?

More than one billion students around the world are currently missing school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several US states have already canceled school for the remainder of the academic year, turning to online learning when possible, and other states are likely to extend their school closures soon. Some educationists panic about learning loss while children are at home with their families, and headlines abound about how “homeschooling during the coronavirus will set back a generation of children.”

Learning Outside of a Classroom

Rather than focusing on the alarmist narrative of what is lost during this time away from school, it is worth emphasizing what is gained. There is so much learning that can happen this spring, within families and outside of a conventional classroom.

In many school districts across the country, any assigned coursework has been deemed optional, compulsory attendance laws have been relaxed, and annual testing mandates have been removed. This regulatory respite can provide an opportunity for parents to regain control of their children’s education and expand knowledge using the abundant online learning resources now at our fingertips. Free from state and federal curriculum and testing directives, parents can nurture their children’s education and development, helping them to explore new interests, dive into self-directed projects, and reveal passions and talents.

Whether it’s taking a virtual tour of one of 2,500 museums around the world, listening to a live concert, learning in-demand technology and coding skills for free, engaging in livestream story or art time with renowned authors and artists, or just enjoying special, slower moments together as a family, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to disconnect from standard schooling and discover how much learning can really happen.

Some worry about children’s learning slipping away during this time at home. Writing recently for The Washington Post, former Tennessee education commissioner Kevin Huffman notes the alleged “summer slide” phenomenon when students purportedly lose during summertime much of what they learned during the academic year. He suggests several strategies for combating the learning loss that he says will occur during the pandemic, including adding “more instructional days next year and beyond,” and “opening schools in the middle of the summer, lengthening the school day and the school year, or potentially eliminating summer vacation for the next couple of years.”

Does Learning Loss Occur?

But as I’ve written previously for NPR, we should be skeptical about the overall idea of “summer slide,” or learning loss when children are away from school. If learning is so easily lost when a child’s school routine is disrupted, did they ever really learn at all? They may have been effectively schooled—that is, trained and tested on certain material—but they likely never learned.

Now, children and their parents have an unprecedented opportunity to learn without school. While this is a stressful time for all of us, as our routines are altered and we are mostly stuck inside, distanced from our larger community, it can also be a time to use the enormous, and mostly free, digital resources that are sprouting daily to support learning and discovery. It can be a time to nurture and rekindle our children’s natural curiosity and creativity, qualities that are so often dulled within a mass compulsory schooling system focused on compliance and conformity. It can be a time to get to know our children in ways that might have been difficult during our previously packed, always-on-the-go days.

Most parents will eagerly send their children back to school when this is all over, but some parents will be surprised by what they discover during this break from ordinary life. They may see how much calmer their children are and how school-related ailments such as ADHD are less problematic at home. They may see that their children’s mental health has improved, particularly for teenagers who report the most unhappiness at school.

Parents may see their children’s love of reading and writing reappear, when they are allowed to read books and write stories that are meaningful to them and not tied to an arbitrary school assignment or grammar lesson. They may see a strong interest in science and technology emerge, as their children want to know more about how viruses work and what inventions are being created to help fight the pandemic. Parents may see real learning happen and decide not to send their children back to school.

Fortunately, there are now so many more ways to facilitate education without schooling, including hybrid homeschooling models, virtual learning, microschools, self-directed learning centers, and co-learning spaces. With more demand from parents for innovative, out-of-school learning options, more entrepreneurs will build experimental K-12 education models that will expand choices for parents and learners. Opting out of conventional schooling has never been easier or more worthwhile.

Rather than dwelling on the schoolwork that isn’t getting done this spring, let’s celebrate the immense learning that is occurring, in our homes and with our families, as we experience this historic event together. Let’s focus on what we gain, not on what we lost.

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