Commentary: Move to trash

Editor’s note: This piece from Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, appeared recently on Education Next.

A crisis 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 underway 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 (see “How Big Charter Networks Made the Switch to Remote Learning,” feature, Spring 2021).

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 (perhaps evil cousins?) of more promising ideas.

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