By Jennifer Wagner
CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR NEW JOB! YOUR EMPLOYEE BENEFITS PACKAGE INCLUDES…
Vacation, sick and flex time. Medical, dental, vision and life insurance. Retirement savings accounts. Tuition or childcare reimbursement. Gym memberships and wellness programs. Relocation assistance.
AS WELL AS…
On-site hybrid learning space? Employer-funded education savings accounts Tutoring services?
Over the past year, work as we knew it changed. School as we knew it changed. Our lives as we knew them changed.
As states and localities lift restrictions and more Americans are able to access the vaccine, our minds naturally shift to what comes next: Which changes will fade away, and which will become permanent?
It’s clear that the future for those who previously worked full-time in office jobs looks much different. Big companies like Ford, Salesforce, Facebook and Target are leaning into remote-only or hybrid work schedules for employees who are able to do so.
A recent survey from Upwork found that the “number of remote workers in the next five years is expected to be nearly double what it was before COVID-19: By 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be remote, an increase of 16.8 million people from pre-pandemic rates.”
Respondents in that survey also were asked what about remote work was better than they expected:
These results make you wonder whether those employees who do wind up going back full-time will have the same tolerance for the inanities of Cubeville. And will their tolerance for the old Monday-through-Friday school schedule — designed to fit (though not well) into parents’ nine-to-five industrial era work day — have waned, as well?
Schools are starting to reopen, and social distancing requirements are being relaxed, yet we’ve consistently seen over the past few months that not everyone wants to ship students back to a traditional classroom five days a week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.
In fact, almost half of parents say they want a hybrid model of schooling that includes two or three days per week at home:
Shameless data tease: We have a new survey coming out in the next couple weeks that shows a similar trend line among 13–17 year-olds. It’s not just parents who want something different; middle and high school students do, too.
There’s clearly more research to be done to find out which groups are more likely to embrace a hybrid model and how that would work, but imagine the possibilities.
With growing concern, at least in the short term, about employers leaving or reducing their traditional commercial office space, perhaps some of that square footage could be converted into schooling areas where students could study while their parents work.
What role could community centers or places of worship play in bringing together kids in a neighborhood to learn in small groups?
Employers might be willing to pony up to hire a tutor or teacher to supplement online learning, or perhaps they could set up their own education savings account programs for workers — with company donations or matches the same way health and flex savings accounts operate.
It might seem like these are solutions that would only make sense for white-collar workers who don’t have to clock in or out at specific times, but there’s no reason to think that a large employer like Costco or Amazon or Honda couldn’t provide these services on-site in its warehouses or factories.
I have no doubt that many, perhaps most, families will return to schooling in the coming year as it looked before the pandemic: big yellow buses, regular schedules, sports teams and brick-and-mortar buildings. I hope they approach that experience with a renewed perspective on what’s important to them and what their students need most.
For those who discovered over the past year that their K-12 priorities aren’t what they once were, there’s no doubt we’ve reached a critical moment in American education. It’s time to speak up, work together and figure out how we can keep the things that worked well during the pandemic.
The good news: We don’t have to invent the wheel. We just have to keep improving the design. We’ve learned over the past year how to deliver educational services remotely, how to toggle between in-person and online and which platforms work best.
The conversation about what comes next goes far beyond parents and schools. We need educators, aspiring educators, employers, community leaders, faith leaders and policymakers at the table so we can come up with pragmatic, efficient, quality ways to deliver what families want now that they know so much more than what had before could be within their reach indefinitely.
Jennifer Wagner is a mom, a recovering political hack and the Vice President of Communications for EdChoice, a national nonprofit that supports and promotes universal school choice.