Commentary, COVID-19, Education

Phil Berger does a 180 on virtual learning

It sure would be nice if folks on Right-Wing Avenue could get their stories straight on where it is they stand on virtual (i.e. online only) public schools.

The most logical assessment, of course, is that virtual schools can, when properly run by accountable public officials, provide a useful supplement in some circumstances to traditional public schools — especially for kids with health challenges and or other special needs.

Except, however, for extreme circumstances like the present in which the pandemic has left us with no other viable option, virtual schools are clearly not an adequate alternative to traditional public schools and should not be seen or touted as such.

This goes doubly for private, for-proft virtual charter schools, which have been a disaster all over the country.

Unfortunately, for many conservatives in the “school choice” movement, the common sense assessment runs counter to their political and ideological needs.

For years, these forces have promoted virtual education as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Here In North Carolina, they’ve passed multiple bills to introduce and expand private virtual charters.

Just last summer, for instance, Republican leaders at the General Assembly pushed through a bill that would have allowed two existing virtual charters — neither of which has performed well — to further expand their footprints. And when Gov. Cooper vetoed the bill, you’d have thought he’d launched an assault on motherhood and apple pie. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported at the time:

“‘Expanding these education opportunities for students enjoyed broad bipartisan support in the state House to help kids learn in a setting that works best for them,’ House Speaker Tim Moore tweeted Monday. ‘The Governor is now blocking innovative learning as well as school construction and pay raises.’

Bill D’Elia, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, noted how 1 in 5 North Carolina students don’t attend traditional public schools.

‘It’s disappointing that Governor Cooper continues to fight against empowering parents to put their children in an educational setting that best fits their needs,’ D’Elia said in a statement. ‘As recent enrollment numbers show, more parents than ever are taking control of their child’s education, as parents, not politicians, should be the ones making these decisions.'”

Now flash forward a year and see how — apparently in deference to President Trump’s desperate efforts to reopen schools in order to help jump-start the economy at all costs — the Right is now singing a wildly different tune.

Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos

First, there’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a supposed passionate defender of local control in education and virtual schooling, threatening to withhold federal money from schools that don’t reopen right away.

And now comes Senator Phil Berger (or his staff, anyway) in a new post on the website Medium warning readers about the terrible threat that virtual education poses to — we’re not making this up — poor kids. In the post, Berger cites a recent story on Yahoo! News that highlighted research by pointy-headed liberals at Harvard in which they documented the challenges that virtual education poses to low-income kids.

To which, all a body can says in reply, is “welcome to the fight, Phil!”

After having slashed public education funding for years and years and championed cockamamie schemes like vouchers and private charters as the magical, on-the-cheap remedies for what ails our schools, Berger seems to have finally figured out that good old basic in-school public education is what works best.

Of course, the only problem is that a) he still doesn’t want to fund it adequately and b) thanks to the nonexistent leadership of his president in combating the virus and his destructive acts of his other pals in the “reopen” movement, it’s now impossible to reopen most schools safely because the virus is again raging out of control.

Still, despite all that, it’s nice to have Berger’s concession about the shortcomings of virtual schooling and expressions of concern about poor kids.

Let’s hope he remembers it 2021 or whenever the pandemic is finally brought to heel.

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