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COVID-19 Drives School Choice

Fourth in a series on the reopening of West Texas A&M University in the midst of COVID-19.

It’s a shotgun wedding of sorts—families driven to home schooling by a virus. On the planet, 1.5 billion kids are being home-schooled, according to UNESCO. Given the erratic, seemingly disorganized approach to the shifting environment of schooling from structured classrooms to dining room tables like my five brothers and sisters used, a new form of home schooling has emerged. Necessity is the mother of invention. We weren't home schooling. We were doing homework. Our mother watched to ensure we abided. Many parents are frustrated and are looking at the concept of home schooling, given the unpredictable future, but published reports of varying degrees of scientific dependability are clear: Home schooling is not for everybody.

Dedicated, well-prepared teachers in public schools have had their patience stretched thin. The George Lucas Educational Foundation affirms the frustration of this scenario. It's nearly impossible for even the most committed school administrators and teachers to keep pace in the ceaselessly changing world of pandemic guidance—rules and recommendations with no clarity for the future. This is not a criticism of public schools. Our university wrestles with the same swarm of challenging circumstances.

Home schooling has been rising in the nation for many years. In almost all cases, the worldview of parents and perceived school effectiveness influence decisions. No matter political persuasion, religious beliefs, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, a more fundamental exercise of parental responsibility in a free society doesn't exist.

School choices in its diverse manifestations makes sense when parents are concerned about the vitality of the educational experience and intellectual, emotional and vocational progress towards a healthy and self-reliant form of citizenship. The cause/effect relationships and realities presented to families by the coronavirus pandemic will lead to many people experimenting and assessing the value of homeschooling. The results will vary widely. But educational outcomes in every school setting in the nation, under every modality and disparate circumstances vary markedly from school to school, class to class, teacher to teacher, family to family and student to student.

For universities, adapting has been difficult — a pounding headache, to be sure. The after-effects of COVID-19 will soon show on college campuses. Flexibility by everyone in every direction is essential. Pandemic-driven home schooling offered no choice at all when the public schools closed five months ago and many parents shifted to "crisis schooling." Families did their best to home-school and accommodated following good advice, but they were forced. They may now intentionally shift to home schooling in one of its sundry forms

Fifty years ago, a university could accurately predict the student body composition. No more. While the national canvas is painted differently from region to region, state to state and school district to school district, collegegoers were monolithic. Ethnicities, national origins, high school achievement, and even standardized test scores were fairly easily predicted by ZIP Code. There was consistency and essentially two choices—a public school or a private school setting. The pandemic created complex choices, and a new movement of parents taking educational matters into their own hands is likely to grow. While West Texas A&M University has various programs to support a diverse student population, they are not enough. A new vitality will be directed towards home-schooled graduates in the WT way: head-on.

To remain relevant to the changing preparation and experience of new students, unknown levels of flexibility, attention to detail, and a willingness to treat students' interests and abilities one by one will drive a personalized approach to college readiness

Possibly the most compelling aspect that COVID-19 has brought to the forefront for the general public is the nature of hybridized educational experiences. A student could have courses from home schooling, a public or private school on campus, online originating at public or private schools, or massively open online, work experience credit, military service credit, and a host of other educational experiences. These all contribute to the full development of human potential when taken as a whole, but even then, it’s complex to understand from a college admissions standpoint. 

Our goal at West Texas A&M University will be to treat each student’s educational experience as unique. Personalized service will define a responsive public university in the coming years, thanks, in part, to COVID-19.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at http://walterwendler.com/.