Three Cheers for the Old Normal: Armed with a year's worth of improvised failures during the pandemic, schools should quit while they're behind.

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Date: Fall 2021
From: Hoover Digest(Issue 4)
Publisher: Hoover Digest
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,747 words
Lexile Measure: 1290L

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Acrisis like a pandemic can spark unpredictable changes in trends and behavior, like widespread mask wearing in the United States. But it also can accelerate changes that were already under way but otherwise would have taken root much more slowly. For example, working remotely was a relative rarity in early 2020; now many organizations may never again expect all employees in the office five days a week. And outdoor eating spaces, an occasional curiosity in some cities, have popped up nearly everywhere. Lots of cities and small towns have made it clear that they would like to keep this innovation even after the crisis recedes.

So too in the world of K-12 education, where some new pandemic-era practices are likely to persist for the long term. Some of these are simple and straightforward. Using Zoom for parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings makes life easier for working parents. Online curriculum materials rather than printed textbooks may also have staying power, since so many students have Chromebooks or other Internet-connected devices. Others are more complicated, such as recording a school's or district's best teacher giving key lessons and using those videos in multiple classrooms. That frees up other teachers to provide support and individualized instruction--a nimble, but politically sensitive, way to rework teachers' roles and use technology to improve instruction.

But as both common sense and classic conservatism would submit, not all of the changes that have occurred in education during the pandemic are positive. And just as there are some innovations that we should strive to maintain in the post-COVID era, there are others we should leave behind.

Here are my top five--including several that are close cousins of more promising ideas.


First, and perhaps most obvious, we should never again ask teachers to instruct half of their students in person and the other half remotely at the same time. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called it "not humanly possible"--and she's right.

This hugely unpopular "concurrent" model is surely the worst of both worlds, just as a videoconference with half the participants in person and half logging in from afar is particularly unworkable. We know that, done right, remote instruction can work well for some teachers and students. But not when teachers are also trying to engage students in person at the same time. There's little doubt that this approach has created an enormous amount of stress for teachers and a subpar learning experience for kids.

Careful readers might wonder how I can square this with my previous advocacy for keeping teachers' cameras turned on once everybody returns to the...

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