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August 20, 2020

Covid Forces Vermont to Split Childcare from Teaching

The change may improve both in the long term.

Yesterday Vermont Governor Phil Scott announced a plan to use federal covid relief funds to establish 73 new childcare hubs around the state. These hubs are places where children can go on the days when their schools are offering only “remote learning.” The hubs will have computers and excellent broadband and will be staffed by counselors but NOT teachers. “These hubs will be set up in workplaces, in school buildings, recreational buildings, municipal buildings and summer camp buildings that historically care for children,” according to Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.

The hubs and other expanded daycare facilities the Governor announced meet an immediate need for parents who must work outside the house five days/week even though their children will only be provided with traditional in-person school for two or three days,  if that.  What this plan recognizes implicitly is that the teaching and custodial roles of traditional schools can be split apart and that traditional subject matter trained teachers are only needed for the former. In fact, since the students will be getting some remote education at the daycare center, live teachers – as crucial as the best of them are - aren’t even needed for all instruction.

The remote instruction will not be limited by the expertise available in individual schools since the hubs are regional. It may well evolve that best-in-the-country online courses can be purchased by the state and made available to all students regardless of what town they live in. This solves a problem which has long hindered education in rural areas of the state – no small school on its own can afford to provide excellent instruction across a wide variety of subjects.

If the hubs work well both custodially and educationally and as the pandemic fades, the hubs and existing schools can be merged into one set of facilities which students attend full time.  Vermont – which has the highest ratio of teachers and staff to students of any state – will be able to reduce the teacher workforce through both attrition and more attention to teacher performance while improving the education our kids get. The counselors who perform well in the hubs will be able to continue their careers as counselors for the online learning and recreational and social parts of the school day.

We will then be able to have a continuum between “preschool” childcare – almost all counselors – to kindergarten – mostly counselors but some online and live teaching - to later years with more subject matter learning but counselors still playing a key supervisory role even during the online learning part of the day. Daycare workers are currently underpaid and under-trained. This new plan should change that. We will need less traditional subject matter teachers but be able to pay handsomely for those who are best at in-person and online instruction.

Needless to say, this is a rosy scenario; but crisis situations often lead to long-term improvement when the crisis makes “business as usual” impossible.

See also: Defunding Teachers for Better Education and More Equal Educational Opportunity

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