Are face-to-face large school settings still necessary?
I believe that physical school settings are necessary, at least for elementary school students (but probably for higher grades as well). I don’t mean to say that distance learning can’t be used effectively for elementary school students in certain situations (such as students living in such isolation or having such severe medical conditions that it is the only option, and for students who have access to an attentive tutor/parent, appropriate technology, and bandwidth). Rather, it isn’t feasible or advisable on a massive scale.
If students didn’t go to a physical place to learn, every student would at the very least need to have appropriate technology to access learning materials (hardware and software — and someone who knows how to set up, update, and troubleshoot them), adequate and reliable bandwidth, and a parent or someone to supervise them and keep them on task. I don’t have to be in the K-12 field to know that there are a large number of students who lack at least one, if not all three, of these requirements. Ensuring equal access to education in a system without physical schools would be virtually impossible, and certainly cost prohibitive. In Anchorage alone, you’d have to provide technology, tech support, internet access, and/or a babysitter (if not a tutor or paying a family to allow a parent to stay home) to thousands upon thousands of students. Physical schools are simply more efficient overall anywhere where there is more than several students (I use “several” loosely — I’m not sure what the tipping point is for cost effectiveness).
Beyond this, there is a very important argument for children having access to other children and adults outside their own families. Certainly some families would still seek out opportunities to socialize their children, but many would not. Children in the latter type of family tend to need it the most and being required to go to a physical school is one of the only ways they can get it. While social interaction can be built into online learning, I don’t think any version of that can replace the opportunity to play outside with other children or get a hug from a teacher.