This is a submission from our Leaders 4SC Middle School Camp.

As the beginning of the school year approaches, back to school plans are forming. The 2 most common forms are remote learning (fully online) and fully in-person.  Although some claim that students must get back to school to resume their education, the risks associated with COVID19 far outweigh the benefit of a return to normal education; in order to interrupt education as little as possible, remote learning should be high quality. To do that, remote learning must be as good as school, meaning it must contain both live sessions and out-of-class assignments, or students will seek other sources of education.

Some people claim that going back to school is a necessity because students’ education is being interrupted. Even the CDC agrees with this opinion, so that should stop all argument, correct? Wrong. If remote learning systems are just as good as in-person learning, there is really no reason not to go remote. The virus is a real thing and it won’t stop just so American students can learn. In conclusion, the benefit of reopening school is small and niche, while the drawbacks are real and concrete.

While lost opportunities are tragic, they pale in comparison to the pandemic. All over the US, cases continue to rapidly rise. In the past week alone, according to Worldometer, the US gained 4 times as many cases as China did in these past 8 months. In addition, schools are simply too crowded to even come close to proper social distancing. As an example, at Jonas Clarke Middle School, between classes, the average student can get 1 foot away from everyone on a good day. Even if the student population was halved, the R-value (a measure of the spread of an epidemic) would sit around 5. That’s even worse than New York was a few months ago (about 4). Also, remote learning does not equate with reduced learning. For example, compare the 2 campuses of the Davidson academy: online and Reno. Neither school is significantly better in academics or test scores.

In order to have good remote learning, such a system must involve live sessions with classwork done on the person’s own. As a success story, take the Davidson online academy. Because of the horrible state of many district’s learning plans, they opened up a special application period, and spots were competitive. How does it work? There are about 1 or 2 live classes per day with much homework done independently. So, this serves as evidence that systems like these can succeed. But what happens when systems fail?

When back to school systems fail, tutors and private schools pick up the slack. For example, take Lexington, Massachusetts. The plan is just so horrible, that many students are seeking tutors or trying to transfer schools. It is likely for this reason that Davidson opened a special application window. Had schools tried to create a good system, maybe Davidson wouldn’t be swamped with emails. Had schools picked up the slack, equity would increase. If your #1 goal is to decrease inequality, you must want schools to have better remote learning because when schools do poorly, it is those who can’t pay for tutors who suffer.

In conclusion, there’s really no reason to wait to implement a high-quality remote learning system.

Written by Leaders 4SC 2020 Student, Samuel W.