Dr. Ray’s career includes designing technology in classroom and museum settings and directing technology research through Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Center for Science Outreach and Johns Hopkins University. As a district administrator for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, she led the award-winning design, implementation, and evaluation of instructional technology programs, including instructional design for online and blended learning environments, redesigning physical learning environments, establishing the virtual high school, and redefining school libraries. Dr. Ray is published and recognized internationally for her work in online and blended learning and flexible learning environments. Dr. Ray is a member of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and is the past president of the ISTE Board of Directors.
Around the world, companies are challenged by workers returning from remote and hybrid working arrangements. Our new typical post-pandemic mindset significantly differs regarding work and family, impacting how states and districts should consider schooling.
To look forward at prospective school models, one must reflect on what schooling has looked like. In the 1970s, less than half of the US population finished high school, which increased to 90% by 2017. 1965, the landmark Elementary and Secondary Act was passed, followed closely by the Individuals with Disabilities Act and Section 504. The US Department of Education was founded on October 17, 1979, but didn’t oversee accountability as we know it today until ESEA was amended in 2001, known as No Child Left Behind. This was the first attempt to have increased national accountability measures. Initiatives nationwide were implemented in the early 2000s focused on improving academic outcomes. These included community-based schools, smaller learning communities, Common Core, online, and blended learning. Each of these initiatives, along with others not listed, started redesigning learning environments and rethinking instructional models. Technology was becoming more present in schools along the way. With all the efforts to rethink and improve education, COVID-19 was the real change agent for education worldwide.
The COVID Effect
The pandemic forced educators to consider other ways to deliver instruction and offer schooling. Some districts thrived because they had already done the work to implement strategies for online learning, while others struggled. The outcome is an academic chasm requiring students to be supported by schooling models that may not be as effective as they once were.
Social and emotional learning is a central theme. Many high school freshman in 2019 didn’t return full-time to school until their senior year, wiping out their high school experience academically and socially, stunting the emotional development they typically establish throughout their high school years. And high schoolers weren’t the only ones impacted; all grade levels lost years of emotional development usually gleaned from schooling.
The bottom line is our learnings from this experience must be applied to improve schooling models rather than return to models that weren’t working for all students. Not just the learnings from schools, districts, and universities but also what the work environment looks like today and the potential for the future.
Sir Ken Robinson urged educators for years to rethink school systems. He often spoke of the industrial model of education, and his latest book, Imagine If, explores creating a future of education that meets the needs of all learners. In the book, he points out four core purposes of education: personal, cultural, economic, and social, supported by eight competencies: curiosity, creativity, criticism, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure, and citizenship. Finally, he challenges us to define the future of how we educate our youth. Although some of the trends existed before the pandemic, the adoption rate of these strategies increased exponentially through the pandemic. Additionally, as we were forced to consider different ways of approaching learning and teaching rather than being optional, some districts and states fought to break the box.
The unplanned, quick transition to online learning certainly wasn’t optimal, but it did enable parents and teachers to recognize the potential of learning online. The World Economic Forum cited research indicating that students retain up to 60% more information when learning online than 10% in a traditional classroom. Online learning is as dependent on teacher preparation, materials, and delivery as a traditional environment is and offers the opportunity for more personalization. Thirty-eight states approved statewide virtual schools because of the outcome they recognized during the pandemic.
Hybrid Models – Microschools
An EdWeek poll of K-12 school districts across the country reported a dramatic decline in hybrid learning, yet 89% of university students surveyed in different polls indicated students preferred hybrid. Hybrid schools vary in design. The National Hybrid Schools Project 2023 out of Kennesaw State University defines hybrid schools as schools in which the school designs and delivers the curriculum. Still, students attend in person less than five days per week, leaving the remaining days to be facilitated by parents, guardians, or tutors. They are predominately in the suburbs and grow by more than 20% annually.
The Educator Gap
One of the detrimental impacts of the pandemic was the extreme toll it took on public service workers, including teachers. More than 270,000 teachers quit or retired as a result of the pandemic. In February of 2022, 86% of teachers reported plans to leave the profession. The result is relaxing requirements for teacher credentialing, including reducing the pass rate of teacher licensing tests. Many states amended reciprocity requirements as well. These modifications aren’t changing the impact on new teachers entering the field. In 2022, Pew Research reported only 4% of the conferred degrees in 2020 were in the field of education.
Value-Added Growth Accountability
In 2010, 12 states adopted value-added growth models to measure student academic outcomes. In 2022, 48 states have some form of value-added growth model incorporated into their accountability measures. The canceling of state assessments required states to lean into a model that measures growth over time, but now they need a clear baseline or an adequate way to measure it. The increased focus on growth will challenge most current models of instruction.
Implementing weighted formulas to account for poverty and other aspects of a student profile that may require additional resources has been around since the 1970s. However, the most significant increase in adoption has been in the 21st Century. The emphasis on equity makes this funding formula a more reliable proposition for budgeting.
The Road to Somewhere
The future is certainly unknown, but what is certain is we cannot, as a society, experience something as profound as a global pandemic and learn nothing from it concerning preparing our children for life beyond school. Education has been challenged for some time and has become a staple of political fodder. Still, education is ultimately the best chance any civilization has to better itself. We must do everything possible to make it the most enlightening experience for every learner. New school models like online and hybrid, along with accountability and funding modernizations, are on the way. We must critically assess the effectiveness of what we did in classrooms before the pandemic and then determine if it is worth returning to. Companies and communities look, feel, and operate differently; education should, too.