ON Monday, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all of Virginia’s public schools closed for the rest of the academic year.
The unanticipated closures have created real hardships for parents of the roughly 1.5 million students in Virginia. Many now unexpectedly find themselves homeschoolers in addition to trying to work from home themselves. The governor acknowledged the difficulties closing the schools will entail, especially for health care and other essential workers, calling for “an urgent public–private response” to make sure they have access to child care when they are on duty.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it will allow states to waive all federally mandated K–12 standardized testing requirements due to the closure of schools during the outbreak. Virginia’s Department of Education will request a waiver, which means that this will be the first year since 1998 that students in the commonwealth will not take the Standards of Learning tests.
Virginia Schools Superintendent James Lane noted that he and the governor are “committed to taking every step possible to minimize the impact of coronavirus on students and to ensure that our seniors are able to graduate,” including “exploring exemptions from requirements unrelated to coursework for students due to graduate this spring.”
Despite the fact that it will complicate school accreditation and teacher performance evaluations, cancelling the SOLs is unavoidable if students are out for the remainder of the year. All students will be promoted to the next grade and the State School Board is working on ironing out graduation requirements for high school seniors without SOL scores.
But these administrative changes don’t change the fact that students will be out of the classroom for nearly a third of the academic year. If they’re just sitting at home watching TV and playing video games, they’re going to get behind academically when things finally return to normal.
Instead of an extended vacation, this interlude should be viewed as a time for students to build valuable independent learning skills and tackle projects they would otherwise not have time for during a typical school day.
And it’s their parents’ job to insist that the time their kids spent quarantined at home is not wasted.
Teachers and school administrators have been scrambling to provide online exercises during this crisis, and parents should be diligent in making sure that their children finish these assignments. But they should also go a step further and introduce them to the world of distant learning.
For instance, if an older child is studying history, how about suggesting a deeper dive into the era, augmented by period fiction or a movie? Younger children can use household items to work on math skills or build dioramas. The internet is chock full of museums to virtually explore, and you can download music, art, books and documentaries about almost any subject. Most of these resources are free.
Finding the time to set up a homeschooling schedule will require real effort on the part of parents who are already stressed out by fear and anxiety about the future. But parents are their children’s first educators, and giving them these educational experiences will not only fill the hours and alleviate boredom, it will also teach them the lifelong joy of learning for learning’s sake—without a test hanging over their heads. It will also teach them resilience and resourcefulness in the face of an unanticipated emergency.
Those are gifts that will endure well past the time of coronavirus.