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Like it or not, we're in the middle of forced education reform

Like it or not, we're in the middle of forced education reform
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Parents, educators and politicians long have fought for different brands of education reform on countless fronts: Modernization. Curriculum. College costs. College admission requirements. Public schooling vs. private education. Funding. Vouchers. Teacher training. 

But with all sides failing to agree on what needs to be done, many factors have remained fairly static for decades. Until the coronavirus. Now, in a relatively short period of time, we’re experiencing momentous change on some of those important fronts.

Here are six societal ramifications in play as many school systems remain partly or fully closed. The list is neutral. People obviously will have different views about whether a particular change is positive or negative.

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Nixing college: Young adults who were heading off to college or are midway through their higher education are reevaluating whether to pay all that money to be taught at a distance. Some are choosing to divert, at least temporarily, to other options such as work, apprenticeships or the military. Those who go to jobs or the military may be exposed to a different set of peers, social mores and views than they would have experienced on a college campus.

Vaccination: Some parents are dubious or neutral about some vaccinations, but have abided by the requirements to get their kids admitted to public schools. Where schools remain not fully open, fewer children will get vaccinated on that schedule. Although state and local governments likely will be pressured to find ways to impose vaccine requirements on children not attending public schools in person, it’s hard to predict the success of those efforts.

Homeschooling: Homeschool organizations report sharp rises in the number of families choosing to homeschool their children. Because of the coronavirus, one or both parents may be jobless or working from home. That’s given many of them reason to evaluate, for the first time, whether they are capable of educating their own children. Many have concluded they can, and that’s preferable to whatever choices are being offered by their public school systems. There are differences of opinion about whether homeschooled children are more or less social, better- or worse-educated, and more or less likely to have certain social and ideological views. But there is little doubt that some views and experiences of a large, homeschooled population will be significantly different than they would have been had they attended public school full time.

Private school boom: Some parents who want their children to have a full-time, in-school education experience when none is offered by public schools are choosing to enroll their kids in private schools. Private schools tend to have significant differences in curriculum and social teachings than do public schools. Shifting a significant number of public school students to private schools stands to result in a population of students emerging with different views and experiences than they would have had they attended public school. 

College admission requirements: The basis under which colleges determine admissibility of students and scholarship awards is changing overnight. In many high schools, there are no emerging football stars to be recruited to lucrative college programs. And it’s not only athletics that are impacted. Academically, the traditional science fairs and debate team competitions don’t exist as notches on the winners’ belts to put on college or scholarship applications. Further, grade-point averages will have little meaning in school districts that are experimenting with entirely new paradigms. As a result, some students who would have been accepted and/or received college scholarships will not, and vice versa, resulting in a shift in the particular students who attend college.

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Poor vs. rich gaps: Education opportunity gaps between poor and rich children are widening. Wealthier families have the means to educate their children one way or another — whether at home, with the help of private tutors, or in private schools. The education of poor children is more likely to get short shrift, with their parents less able to homeschool or pay for other options. This will result in putting a significant group of students at a disadvantage when compared to their same-age peers.

It can be difficult to recognize a generational sea change when you're in the midst of it. But it’s not hard to imagine that we are in one now. For better or for worse, we are on the precipice of education reform in America and unintended social ramifications — not as a result of planning, agreement or legislation, but through something that is proving far more powerful: forced necessity because of the coronavirus response.

Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program, “Full Measure.”