Parents with children who struggle in school do a lot of waiting. Education advocates also do a lot of waiting. I am both and I have spent way too much time waiting for my story to matter and my voice to be heard. I became an online education advocate after brick and mortar schools did not work for my son. Joe Biden doesn’t want to hear about that. On the contrary, the people he and Senator Sanders selected for their Education Unity Task Force send the unmistakable message that our wait for basic respect and a seat at the table continues.
As a military family, we moved many times during my kids’ K-12 years. My daughter did well in every school and went on to graduate from Penn State University. But for my son, who has a learning disability, it was a completely different story. At the start of his kindergarten year, we moved to a new school district that was burdened with teacher strikes and what seemed like constant contract disputes. My son needed consistency and a more student-centered environment and neither existed in the district at that time. He wasn’t learning.
Online schooling became our lifeline. In my search for alternatives for my son, I came upon a school environment that turned out to be the right fit —an online school with a world-class curriculum, qualified teachers, and the support I needed as a parent to help my son one-on-one.
I’m not sure my son would have earned a high school diploma without the option of online learning. Today he is a college student.
The COVID-19 crisis has forced our nation’s schools to make a sudden transition to online and remote learning. It has shined a light on the massive inequities in our schools and pushed us to accept that online learning will inevitably be part of the solution. But Biden’s task force does not include a single online learning expert at a time when the entire nation—K12 and higher ed—is literally doing school remotely. He went with the old guard or status quo at a time that everything is different and will be for the foreseeable future.
Now is the time to tap into the experience and wisdom of parents with years of online learning already under their belts. A coalition that makes sense for these times does not look like the union heavy and anti-options task force that Biden and Sanders have selected. If ever there was a time that the usual players are out of their depth on how to educate America’s children, that time is now. Vice President Biden and Senator Sanders must broaden the voices that make up their education task force, not only as a symbolic gesture that they respect parents but also as a sign that they actually care about student outcomes.
People in positions of power and influence have long refused to acknowledge parents as partners in education and Joe Biden is no exception. Parents are their children’s first teachers and the number one stakeholder in every education conversation. If the Biden-Sanders team cared about educational outcomes and student well-being, their task force would not include two national teachers’ union bosses and zero parent advocates.
Do Better, Joe.