Last March, when the world seemed to come to a standstill and schools began to shut down due to the novel coronavirus, my phone began to ring off the hook, and parents flooded my email inbox looking for guidance as schools pivoted to remote learning. As an online education and school choice advocate, this was not new – families often seek me out to discuss their education options. But with the impact of COVID-19 affecting every school system in the country, there was an increased sense of urgency as families tried to navigate the rapid shift to remote and online learning. While online learning had been an afterthought to most families, educators, and policymakers, it was suddenly a popular topic of discussion and debate.
Online students and their families have benefited from the personalization and flexibility of online learning opportunities for over two decades. Many families seek online learning in times of crisis – whether it is due to bullying, illness, or when the traditional brick and mortar setting just is not meeting the needs of their students. Online education has always served students well during challenging times. As we continue to live in a COVID19-world with cycles of social distancing, we must improve online and remote learning experiences for teachers, students, and their families.
As the parent of an online public-school graduate, I can attest to the meaningful instruction, challenging curriculum, and powerful technology offered by experienced online learning providers. It was disheartening to watch teachers, students, and families struggle with remote learning during the recent crisis – because I know how effective online education can be when designed and deployed by trusted providers.
The patchwork of technology and limited instruction experienced in the spring left teachers and families frustrated and cannot continue into the 2020-2021 school year. Now is not the time for our traditional school systems to re-invent the wheel while juggling plans to safely reopen in a quickly changing landscape due to the virus’s resurgence. Even as school districts delay the start of the school year, the clock runs down, and time is short for improving distance learning plans. Traditional school districts and schools should partner with established online programs and providers. They can provide user-friendly educational platforms and learning management systems, provide teachers with the professional development they need, and onboard students and their families for a successful educational experience.
COVID-19 may be the biggest challenge our education system has faced, and that is why we must seize this opportunity to embrace online learning and seek ways to make it viable for every student going forward. Online learning has always been an essential piece of our educational framework. It is a vital resource during this pandemic. If we are wise, we will make online learning a priority, leaning into the expertise of those who have approached innovative learning models not as an afterthought but as a mission.
Tillie Elvrum, Guest Contributor | Tillie Elvrum is a school choice advocate and education consultant specializing in parent engagement and online learning. She served as president of the National Coalition for Public School Options, currently serves as board president of the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families and leads the Parent Support for Online Learning initiative. She resides in Colorado Springs, Colorado.