In the next five years, private Christian schools will have an unprecedented opportunity to grow in enrollment.
Yes, we have to get through the immediate crisis, but COVID-19 is an educational disaster for most children in public schools – a slow-moving train wreck that will impact students for many years. This will create unprecedented demand for private schools from higher income parents who can afford your tuition.
Getting Through the Immediate Crisis
Right now, in much of the country, 1 – 2 of every 100 teachers and students you meet has an active COVID-19 infection. Around 40% will be asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic – they can and will infect others by just breathing, not to mention hundreds of other activities that make us human.
Ages 0-9 are a third to half as infectious as ages 10+. ( See here as well.) Of course we know students are less likely to get really sick from COVID – the real problem is protecting our teachers.
COVID-19 is transmitted through the air. See here , here, here and here. The science is clear on that now, but it took a while to get there. Think 60%+ airborne droplets, 20%+ aerosol, the rest surface or human waste-related. And that’s being generous to the latter.
We are wasting too much energy on surfaces, and not giving enough energy to the air we breathe.
As a country, Japan took the airborne nature of COVID-19 very seriously from the beginning. With a population slightly over a third of ours, they currently have 1,000 deaths compared to 158,000 for the United States. Not bad for a country with 10 times the population density of the US.
Consider that people over six feet tall are twice as likely to get COVID-19. That’s the impact of tiny strands of the virus (<5 microns) floating around in the air – aerosol transmission . These are RNA strands that are formed by both symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers doing all the things kids love to do – singing, running, yelling, laughing, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, snorting, you name it.
If you understand how COVID-19 is transmitted, it is clear what we need to do right now. The obvious are social distancing and facemasks for (at least) middle school and up.
Face masks work, period. These work around the world because larger airborne droplets fall to the ground quickly. Plexiglas works because it stops many of the droplets – and parents hate it.
Parents largely agree with all the various ways to keep sick people out of school. Except almost half the time, you don’t know they are sick.
Now here’s the less obvious. Outdoor education . Did you know you are nineteen times less likely to catch COVID-19 outside, due to rapid diffusion of the virus?
Of the over 1,200 known “super-spreader” events, just 36 have anything to do with the outdoors. The rest are indoors.
Think V’s: Venue, ventilation, and vocalization.
Avoid the C’s: Closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact.
Of course we are going to need to work in cohorts and pods – kids and teachers will get sick, and we will need to be able to send discrete groups of students and teachers home to quarantine. But not a whole division or the whole school.
And while you are teaching outdoors, soak up some of that old-fashioned Vitamin D, it helps, actually.
Weather and space permitting, teach outside as much as you possibly can. Buy canopies. Open the darn windows. If you have to, open the windows and run the air conditioning full blast. Make sure the air flowing in your classrooms is going from ceiling to floor (not vice versa).
Get MERV-13 filters for your HVAC system. Adjust all the settings on your HVAC system to maximum outside air. Note that portable window air conditioners do not take in outside air, and you cannot buy a MERV-13 filter for them. However, you can buy air purifiers for $100 to $200 a classroom at Wal-Mart right now, and you should.
And a note to you in the South who believe the football show must go on . In Las Vegas, they say that the harshest gambling lesson of all is learning the difference between having fun and being smart.
If you want to win, keep your kids in school. That is your one and only mission right now. Don’t compromise on the obvious. If a few get sick, that’s to be expected. Send ‘em home. If your school has the next super spreader event, you lose.
It’s the air we breathe. Think air. Everything air.
Public School will be Online Most of the 20/21 School Year
Ten of the top 15 school districts will start the year online . Many other smaller public school districts will follow suit. Will they stay online? If you look at the COVID projections, the answer is obvious. It’s just that no one has the courage to say it. Widespread rollout of a vaccine will probably not happen until the Spring, as part of a second phase of distribution.
Today, the number of active COVID-19 cases is 50% higher than the worse day of the spring lock down . Election day the projected rate of COVID-19 active infection will be only 25% less than our worse day on April 1, and likely twice as bad as our best day on May 26th. These are active infections. On our way to herd immunity we will be at about 20% on election day towards the goal of 60-70%.
Even with a December vaccine miracle, the massive public vaccine rollout will take much of the spring, after the most at risk groups first receive the vaccine. This makes it likely that most public schools will stay online in the spring as well. If you can keep your students on campus – even if blended – you will get public school refugees throughout the 20/21 school year. (If you can’t, go online with “pods”. )
Just respect the science of COVID-19 enough to keep your kids safe. You can fill your school with the maximum number you can hold and still socially distance.
The Educational Consequences of Online Education in Public Schools
Academically, the research is very clear that for most students, in-class instruction is far more effective than online learning. As a consequence of last spring’s mandatory online instruction, the average student in America retained only two-thirds of expected reading progress, and less than half of last school year’s math instruction.
A significant issue will be a much wider variability in student skills by grade level. Some public school students will not simply engage with online learning, period. An extreme example is the experience in Los Angles, where over half of students simply did not engage with online learning.
Some students actually did better in online instruction this spring. As you would expect, conscientious students did well. On the flip side, there is no studies on how to improve student’s conscientiousness online.
In fact, the opposite is more likely true – increased internet and social media usage is associated with lower conscientiousness. Try to find articles on building character generally with online education.
So online education is a long-term train wreck for students both academically and character-wise. Parental angst is at an all time high . Already, the phones are ringing off the hook for private schools who intend to offer on campus instruction.
Over the course of the school year, you will be able to fill classrooms with these parents, as much as social distancing allows. And you will get calls throughout the 20/21 school year – as long as the public schools in your area remain online. Given the likely course of COVID-19, they almost certainly will.
In-class Instruction is the New Privilege in K-12 Education.
Educational inequality will dramatically increase because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As with the Great Recession, high income parents with will continue to prioritize a private school education for their children, non-sectarian and sectarian, in that order for most of the country. (In the Southeast, higher income parents will more readily turn to Christian schools.)
Average and lower income families will hit the wall financially, looking for a return to normal that will not happen for at least two years, probably more. Most of these will be forced to go to public schools such as they are. And these public school students will flounder for many years.
Less of our public school students will go to college, and those who do will be more likely to drop out . Some will never catch up academically, not to mention the significant emotional damage that occurs from ongoing isolation and shortages of food. This is an absolute national tragedy. Speaking as a citizen of our great country, I am deeply, deeply grieved.
What’s Likely to Happen in ‘21/’22
If the Democrats take charge of the Presidency, Senate, and House, as many predict , two things are likely to happen. First, we will have a massive test of Keynesian economics. Second, this will include a massive financial bailout for public schools.
If a vaccine has made it safe by then, I would expect many public school districts to offer or continue in-class instruction throughout the summer, trying to catch students up. To be clear, in-class instruction will happen as soon as it is safe, sooner for private schools who are smart.
(Please understand, dear reader, that I am simply making a statement of what seems likely, versus what I personally think is best. A big part of leadership is taking your best shot at understanding the future, and that’s what I am doing here. I think Noriel Roubini, who correctly called the Great Recession, is probably right about the longer-term economic consequences of all this borrowing. Even now with what we have done so far, it’s not going to be good in the next 10 years. And much more deficit spending is coming.)
In this scenario, the public school refugees you are now talking to and enrolling are akin to the preschool parents many of us try to coax into our kindergartens every year. They start the school year fully expecting to go to a free public school in the next school year. But something happens, and they choose to stay.
The Opportunity for Christian Schools in ‘21/’22 and Beyond
So what is that something? An obvious answer would seem to be that the level of academics overall will be higher at your school, even if you are forced into online learning or blended learning much of this school year.
Keep in mind that if the Democrats are fully in charge, massive amounts of money will flow to public schools, with the full intent of differentiating instruction better, as well as catching students up. To some degree, this will work, but not fully. So public schools will make the case that their academics are improving dramatically.
Ultimately I think private Christian schools need to differentiate on something better than stronger academics.
That better something will be focusing on the bedrock faith in our Lord and Christian character that our students need to succeed in college and life. No matter how much money public schools receive, they will never do a good job with character. And Christian schools that believe that with all their heart are the schools I want to work with!
Strong Christian character is where your Christian school should shine. Even your public school refugees can come to see this, starting with the very first time they meet with you. We can both pick up and retain students from families who never seriously considered a private Christian education.
This is our tremendous opportunity, our moment to seize. If we can survive, we will thrive!
Conclusion: It Will be Hard to Go Wrong in the Long-Run
In the next five years, it will be hard to go wrong in private Christian education, unless you really mess up right now. If your government authorities will allow you to stay in class, and you are smart about it, you will win BIG now. You are very likely to win long-term.
Just be smart about staying in-class most of the time. Even if you are forced into virtual / blended, you will be the best game in town. All our surveys say that.
As we have done with preschool to Kindergarten retention for a decade , you can retain 60%+ of your public school refugees if you will reframe the educational issue to character, rather than “we have better academics.”
You can and should do this reframing, starting with the parents very first visit to your school, whether by Zoom or in person.
In the next five years, private school consultants like me will look just great. Just great! With a vaccine in place, it will simply be a matter of how much you grow, and which private school (Christian or not) does a better job of attracting higher income families. Just stay in the game right now.
Only the most thoughtful private schools will have worked out the philosophy and procedures to significantly reach families below the upper middle class. And those are the schools I want to work with.
If that’s you – if your school wants to go beyond reaching higher income parents to help students from lower SES families who really need it – please call me at (719) 278-9600, ext. 100.
I will enthusiastically help you –- and I have everything you need to reach them, to change lives for eternity.
Let’s work together towards repairing the cruel damage COVID-19 has wrought.
Greater Revenues for Healthy Christian Schools,
P.S. To be fair, there are three ways that I might be wrong about the above.
First, I am assuming there are enough higher income parents around to avoid the one-third drop in enrollment in private schools that happened as a consequence of the Great Recession. I am assuming the winnowing out process where we lost most of our middle class parents has already happened between 2008 and 2013. The income trends in our surveys strongly suggest this.
Second, I am assuming a gradual return to economic normalcy, not a full-scale economic depression. I am assuming higher income parents that comprise most of our parents will weather the storm economically, which has been the case so far.
Third, I am also optimistic about parents staying with Christian schools even if forced to go online. Perhaps I might be proved wrong about this. The danger is for Christian schools who have been more transactional than transformational in their overall practices, particularly with aggressive tuition discounting.
My conclusion about this third assumption comes as a direct result of our survey experience with 750+ Christian schools, and 113,000+ respondents. In short, parents love their kids’ Christian schools.
Parents shop price a lot less than many of us think. Even in online learning, they are thinking value, and yes, they are thinking long-term as well. They want you to survive. More proof of this is the relatively low number of schools that have closed over the COVID-19 crisis.