K-12 schools in North Carolina are closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak. This has many children switching from in-person schooling to online education. This transition can be difficult, not just for students, but for teachers as well. As JLF’s Dr. Terry Stoops writes in his most recent research brief on the subject:

[M]ost teachers design lessons for classroom settings.  This includes the presumption that students will be in class to receive face-to-face instruction from their teacher and will engage in meaningful interactions with both the teacher and classmates.  Even the most skilled classroom teacher with meticulously planned lessons may find that activities that succeed in conventional classrooms may require extensive revision to work well in an online setting.  It takes experience and talent to excel as an online educator.

The reorientation of lessons can be disorienting for teachers and students alike, potentially leading to educational losses for K-12 children. For this reason, parents should have the ability to minimize their children’s educational losses by opting for the instruction of a teacher trained and experienced in providing online education. Dr. Stoops explains the concept:

Suppose licensed master teachers developed exceptional online English language arts courses for middle school students or Advanced Placement Statistics course for high school students. If the state granted them the status of “master online educator,” students currently enrolled in any North Carolina public school could opt to take their courses via an online or distance learning program…

In this arrangement, assigned classroom teachers would be relieved of the burden of posting daily lessons, formulating assignments, and creating and administering tests.  Master online educators would be responsible for delivering all aspects of online instruction.  But teachers previously assigned to the child could aid the coordinating master online educator for the duration of COVID-19 school closures… It is an arrangement that acknowledges comparative advantage.

Allowing parents to move their child’s instruction to that of a teacher whose specialty is online education could minimize the instructional losses that often come along with dramatic educational changes – like the one we are seeing during the current COVID-19 outbreak. Dr. Stops writes:

Aside from reasonable questions about cost, regulation, and governance, some may object that it would be difficult to determine which teachers offer high-quality online courses and thus would qualify for master online educator status.  I contend that we let parents decide.  A simple online portal would allow parents to select from courses based on readily available information, including pass rates on state assessments, growth (or value-added) scores, experience, credentials, aggregate evaluation scores, course subscribers, comments and ratings from current and former students and their families, and sample lessons and assignments from online courses.

I am the first to acknowledge that marshaling the political will and resources to expand opportunities for educators and public school students during a crisis is daunting. But it is necessary.  Unless lawmakers and state education leaders take bold, decisive action now, an extended school closure may produce a series of educational, economic, and social challenges that would take years to resolve.

Read the full brief here. Learn more about how North Carolina can address the educational questions prompted by the Coronavirus here.