Measuring educational effectiveness by the time a student sits in a building makes little sense in normal circumstances and still less sense when all instruction is delivered at home, often through recorded lessons. Districts should also be able to make their own closure decisions; urban and rural parts of a state could see far different COVID-19 threat levels. And while research suggests that students are generally better off in school than out, the science is still unsettled, and degree of risk varies by student age, building conditions, a child’s overall health, and more. We need decentralization to try different arrangements tailored to specific circumstances and to see which work most effectively.
Potentially far more valuable than giving districts autonomy is fundamentally changing the education structure by having the money follow children and giving educators autonomy to run schools and teach as they think best. This would create a system that is more flexible and innovative—with smaller schools able to more quickly respond to threats—and empower educators to try new things. That empowerment is key to getting more of the sorts of platforms, such as Google Classroom and Duolingo, that have enabled online education to become increasingly enriching. It is also crucial to enabling parents to find providers that will efficiently furnish education commensurate with families’ tolerance for risk.
One option is for states to open the doors wide to virtual charter schools. More promising still would be for states to enact or expand vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and especially education savings accounts (ESA). ESAs are basically accounts into which either the state, or groups getting tax‐favored donations, put money for children and from which parents can use the funds for educational expenses. Expenses could include tuition costs but also tutoring, “pandemic pods” of a few children and a teacher, or many other educational uses. ESAs maximize the ability of parents to create a full suite of educational services tailored to their child’s unique needs and circumstances.
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