Warnings of a possible teacher strike in Los Angeles have been around for months and intensified late last year. Forget for the moment about who is right or wrong, who suffers and all that. The discussion today is about a huge lost opportunity and a lesson for the N-MUSD.

Over the past few months, I’ve written intermittently about how education must adapt to the way kids will be learning. The use of textbooks is on the decline. What was once a $4 billion industry only six years ago is now struggling to find the digital answer to conveying information.

Digital learning is not necessarily a bad thing. Digital content can be updated as needed and corrections can be made without having to wait for the new school year.

The downside is that despite our race to adapt to screen learning, reading from a book is still the best way to understand and recall information. Not for everyone, but for most. That’s not just my opinion, it has been backed up by science. At this point, however, the textbook train has left the station and digital learning is here to stay – until it is replaced by the next big thing.

If we all agree that the traditional learning model has been on the operating table for quite some time and that the patient may not survive, it makes sense to figure out the next best steps in teaching. Unfortunately, there is no way to do that without using students as guinea pigs. Until the L.A,. strike.

As you may have guessed, chaos reigns in Los Angeles schools. Kids are being taught on the fly, if they are taught at all. You think 35 is a large class? Try teaching a few hundred in a school auditorium. That’s part of what is happening in Los Angeles. Kids are not getting an education, they are running in place, waiting for this other government shutdown to end.

What a waste. Months ago, the LAUSD should have read the tea leaves and started to develop a remote digital learning program that would keep kids afloat in the event of a strike, or in the event of a massive earthquake that destroys a school or schools. But no contingency plans were developed and kids lose.

As a high schooler in Los Angeles, I lost, and so did my fellow students at Fairfax High School. On February 9, 1971, a massive earthquake struck Los Angeles. You may know it as the San Fernando or Sylmar earthquake. The magnitude 6.6 shaker rendered almost all of Los Angeles High School unfit for learning

While the new Los Angeles High was being built, students were bused to Fairfax for their education. During that time, I started school around 8 and got out at noon. At 12:30, the L.A. High kids took over.

It was a mess.

What we are seeing in Los Angeles is one of the century’s greatest lost opportunities. Imagine: We could have witnessed a remote digital learning experiment, or even multiple versions of the experiment based on certain criteria, assessed its effectiveness, and made adjustments for the next strike or the coming catastrophic earthquake.

Instead, the education establishment did what it always does: It went into overtime to protect the status quo.

My guess is that the N-MUSD has no remote digital learning plan in place in the event of an emergency. That guess is based on the district’s reaction to a few mini-catastrophes we have witnessed over the years, such as the rain that damaged three schools a few years ago and forced kids out of their classrooms. The deer in headlights analogy applies.

Why don’t we have a plan in place? Because we do not have a superintendent who has that leadership skill. There is no expression of any vision of the future except to trot out the worn out catchphrases such as “No child left behind,” “Creating a community of learners,” or some version of preparing every kid for college.

There are many ways that the traditional learning structure in the N-MUSD could be disrupted, and eventually, it will. It is important today – right now – to develop a contingency learning plan to help maintain the education of our students so that the disruption I experienced as a teenager will not happen again.

We have the knowledge and we have the digital tools. What we lack – what we have lacked in so many instances in this district over the past six years – is the leadership to make it happen.

Steve Smith