Last week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his “Texans Back to Work Taskforce” announced their plans to reopen the state of Texas’ economy, despite the existing risk that the Coronavirus pandemic still poses to Texans. In his plan, Patrick states that he wants schools to open even before their scheduled start dates to assess the new learning situation, “if practical and possible.” The Lt. Gov. also recommends increasing the number of teacher scholarships.
Almost the entire education section of the report centers around Patrick’s plan for expanding digital learning—chiefly expanding the existing Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN). This would entail lifting the current moratorium on funding for new full-time online ISD schools within the TxVSN, directing a portion of available federal emergency education grant funds to modernize the TxVSN online systems, and opening virtual schooling to all grade levels, as only high school students currently have access to the course catalog.
Online high school instruction has a place when other options for retaining at-risk students are unavailable, for instance. But studies have shown that online learning is an ineffective method of instruction. Students who are already struggling with in-person learning will likely struggle even more with classes online. Furthermore online education would likely worsen existing educational inequalities for low income families, both due to a lack of internet access as well as a lack of a suitable place for students to study at home. Also of concern is that proponents of private-school vouchers, like Patrick, have used virtual schooling as a back door to try and implement voucher programs in Texas.
Our educators have been working tirelessly to continue to teach online even in the current extreme conditions, but nothing can match the effectiveness of teaching in a traditional, face-to-face environment. While the safety of our state’s teachers and students is always our number one priority at Texas AFT, we cannot allow Patrick to leverage our current situation in order to move away from the traditional classroom setting and toward a less effective and less equitable online learning system.