Editorial: voluntary or required

The Editorial Board votes 19-2 that the ICCSD should begin developing a long-term, required online education program.


Xiaoyi Zhu

The Editorial Board takes a stance on whether curriculum should be voluntary or mandatory long-term.

In a pandemic era where social distancing and confusion remain a constant, there is one thing that has abruptly halted for over 54 million students in the nation according to Education Week: in-school education. 

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered that all schools remain closed until April 30. In response, the Iowa Department of Education has let individual districts decide whether to pursue voluntary or mandatory education. On April 10, the ICCSD committed to the Voluntary Education Enrichment Opportunities option, where students will not receive class credits or have attendance taken. 

The decision has been made in part due to the limitation of making online learning available to those living in poverty, with disabilities or without English as a first language. 

As a result, the ICCSD has continued to encourage teachers to support students with check-ins and optional learning opportunities, whether through email, Canvas or Zoom meetings. In addition, the ICCSD has compiled a comprehensive Student Enrichment document suggesting resources for continual intellectual development.

The Editorial Board recognizes the efforts of both the Iowa DOE and the ICCSD to keep students as equitably educated as possible while navigating many hurdles in the midst. However, in the face of an unknown future, should the ICCSD begin implementing a long-term mandatory online education program?

The Editorial Board votes 19-2 that the ICCSD should begin developing a long-term, required online education program. 

While many teachers are making every effort to communicate with students, there’s no feasible way that all students can be accounted for. Because there are no grade or attendance incentives, many students won’t be motivated to pursue learning opportunities. 

Parents can encourage students, but not every parent has the time to monitor their child’s progress while worrying about potential unemployment or other issues. 

While the ICCSD is concerned about socioeconomic inequality, priorities should be focused on reducing the educational inequality and achievement gap that is inevitably going to grow between districts and states in the long-run.

Without any guarantee that school will resume for the foreseeable future, action should begin as soon as possible to ensure that students will graduate, be prepared for AP tests, keep on track with curriculum and not fall behind. Summer school cannot be relied upon, and we should be prepared in case the coronavirus becomes a seasonal occurrence. 

Even as most students currently relax at home, the ICCSD should be working to actively make a plan by examining the actions of other districts across the nation and emulating them. 

A public database compiled by the Center on Reinventing Public Education displays in-depth efforts made by 82 districts to transition to online education, and can be used as a reference for the ICCSD to explore options. 

Most districts, like the ICCSD, provide only links to general resources. 38% of districts surveyed provide formal curriculum, but no instruction. However, national progress is being made daily, and an increasing number of districts are providing formal curriculum, online instruction and progress monitoring. 

In Iowa alone, Waukee High School students in grades 10 through 12 are beginning to require mandatory online coursework along with Des Moines Public Schools and Linn-Mar high school students. 

If the ICCSD is unable to do the same for its high school students at the present, the ICCSD should be engaging with the school districts to see what works and does not work to develop a long-term plan.

There are many ideas that can work as potential solutions for the barriers the district may be facing. For technological access, many districts are able to partner with businesses, just as Atlanta Public Schools has done so with T-Mobile to distribute over 9,000 hotspots. Districts can also look to pair up with a local or remote online school. Florida Virtual School has taken more than 200,000 students from across the world and is training more than 10,000 Florida teachers to teach online.

Without question, equity is always an important issue that needs to be addressed. The Johnson County Public Schools in Kentucky is providing resources in five languages and is building a parent toolkit that includes instructional support training and a hotline. Nationwide, 43% of districts surveyed are already providing online resources for parents with special needs students along with follow-up calls. The NYC Department of Education, Houston Independent School District and Anchorage Public Schools all plan to provide special education direct instruction and IEP-related services through technology. 

Conclusively, the ICCSD has many opportunities to learn and adapt. It isn’t an easy task and is a new learning curve in this unprecedented time. While the ICCSD and the DOE are working hard to do what they can though, more has to be done. 

It’s the only way to ensure that students do not fall behind and that our school education is resilient and ready for anything that the future holds.