And in very good news for our alternative learning communities, Vander Ark also sees the end of more than 30 years of preoccupation with testing as the main basis for measuring learners’ and schools’ progress.
Douglas Harris, an academic who studied the dramatic changes in New Orleans’s schools after Hurricane Katrina, says there are general lessons about how educators and students adapt to crises that we can learn from the New Orleans experience. One likely outcome of the pandemic is that there will be a few tools of distance learning that both students and teachers decide they like, and those tools will stick around cheap custom writing. But it’s unlikely, Harris thinks, that there will be a dramatic move toward either homeschooling or fully virtual learning because there are too many disadvantages for the majority of families. Unlike Vander Ark, Brown also doesn’t think competency-based learning will expand dramatically in the long run.
But there will be some surprising long-term indirect results of the pandemic, including putting more teachers and parents in the role of coaches, with students taking greater control of their own learning.
In our own survey of 35 Austin-area alternative schools, we found that all the educators are thinking about and planning for the future right now, with many focused on expanding just the sort of student-directed learning both Brown and Vander Ark are talking about.
Educators in the community feel it is their responsibility to support parents as far as possible in their new roles. In some cases that have meant continuing schooling online so that kids have a familiar routine and parents are able to focus on other tasks, says Eustace Isidore of 4Points Academy. And in other cases, it means guiding parents in setting up homeschooling, as is the case at Bridges Academy Austin.
One of the most consistent issues in our survey comments was a dedication to student-directed learning. Cathy Lewis of Long-View Micro School explained:
Long-View has a cultural norm of “driving your own learning.” We take this very seriously as we are cultivating intellectually curious and driven learners. This norm was taken to a new level when we had to pivot to learning at home . . . We have seen some kids step up to new levels: We have one learner helping us develop content and several others choosing to support younger kids by meeting with them virtually or giving them feedback on work they’ve turned in.
Laura Sandefer of Acton Academy added that she believes parents have been “happily surprised” about what independent learners their kids are and that they do have the skills to drive their own school projects, even at young ages.
Clearly, the success of schooling right now depends on flexibility on all sides, and schools are trying to accommodate families’ needs.
Acton Academy West Austin (the Westlake campus) shortened its spring break to help keep kids on track, and at Ascent, another Acton Academy, each family is getting one-on-one support tailored to their needs. Abrome and other Agile Learning Centers are working in collaboration to add new, optional offerings for learners.