As we mark one year of our lives being upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, we should examine what this year has revealed and use that knowledge to shape how we move forward. In the education community, our lessons should focus on the many ways students and families adapted, what changes they want to make permanent and how we can push their needs to the forefront of our decision-making.

In Indianapolis, public charter schools and Indianapolis Public Schools’ contractually autonomous Innovation Network Schools used their autonomy to move quickly to make decisions that met student and family needs. These schools were able to quickly build systems for students and families to find resources, continue to receive virtual instruction and support, and access technology.

Enrollment trends show that families responded to autonomous schools’ ability to listen to and meet their communities’ needs. Districts across the country lost enrollment this year, sometimes significantly. However, total K-12 public school enrollment within the boundaries of Indianapolis Public Schools held relatively flat at public schools within the IPS boundaries. This was driven by a 2.79 percent increase in independent charter school enrollment and a massive 36.2 percent enrollment increase in IPS’ Innovation Network Schools.

This enrollment trend is not new in our city, so having it persist through this challenging year should prove even more that families value having high-quality school options that meet their children’s needs. In 2019, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) showed that students in Indianapolis’ charter schools gained the equivalent of 77 days’ additional growth in reading and 100 more days’ in math than their peers in district-run schools. Because of this success, today more than 56 percent of students who attend public school within the IPS boundaries now attend either a charter or Innovation Network School.

Paying attention to families’ preferences now will show us how we can serve them well in the years ahead. For example, a significant percentage of families want remote learning to continue to be an option. According to a poll conducted by NPR/Ipsos, nearly one-third of families said they would like to continue to keep their child in remote learning indefinitely. It is essential that any virtual school option be held accountable for delivering high-quality instruction, transparent operations and strong support for students.

Read the full article about education amid the pandemic by Brandon Brown at The 74.