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If Learning Stops, Does It Matter?, Apt. 11D, April 3, 2020
Three weeks ago, my kids were sent home from high school and college. After some bumps getting my special needs kid, myself, and his teachers all on the same page, Ian is happily marching through his Algebra 2 worksheets, recording his band lessons, and having daily Google Hangouts sessions his teachers. My college kid’s professors were ready to go on Day One, so there were never any issues there.
Both my kids are learning, entirely independently in their own spaces. It’s untraditional, but I no longer feel like we’re living in a Code Red Meltdown Situation. Arguably, my college kid is learning more now, with a full belly of food and with a normal blood/alcohol level.
But that’s our house. The low key buzz from teachers is that the picture is definitely mixed. Some houses, like ours, are making it work; others aren’t. From what I hear, learning is happening sporadically elsewhere, but learning levels are largely dependent on zip codes, the kid’s personality, parental resources, and the abilities of particular teachers.
At this moment, there are some homes were the engineering dad is helping his daughter zoom past two years of math; in another house, nothing is happening but back-to-back Switch games. Some teachers had two weeks of professional development on running Zoom classes before turning their AP History Classes into online version of the real thing; others had a couple of hours of training and were told by administrators to simply put some worksheets on the Internet for kids. Some schools have shutdown entirely and aren’t even bothering with any form of virtual education.
As a former academic, I like to know numbers. How many kids are learning? How many aren’t? What groups of kids are learning more than others? We will probably know the answers to those questions.
We do know that nine out of ten kids are out of K-12 school right now, but beyond that, we know nothing, John Snow. We don’t know even the most basic of information about what’s happening to kids — like who’s learning and who’s not — because nobody at the national or state level is keeping track of the big picture. Now that Betsy DeVos suspended state standardized testing requirements, we won’t even get that datapoint. So, we’ll may never know which schools have closed entirely, which one are hobbling along with lower level virtual education, and which one’s have implemented higher end Zoom classes, like my college kids gets.
Ultimately, education is a hyper-local enterprise in this country with only of the flimsiest of oversight from state and national government, so school districts lack a common approach to training and closures. The lack of central oversight also means that teachers have little guidance and have shouldered all the responsibility for translating years of classroom lessons into an Internet-friendly format. With every teacher struggling alone, the process has been painful and inefficient. Thousands of the nation’s calculus teachers are muddling through on their own, when they could all be using a common lesson.
Rather than providing central support, our Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has been loosening standards. In addition to ditching the testing requirements, she’s working to relieve schools from various requirements around educating kids disabilities. School districts could be forced by the courts to provide vulnerable populations — younger students, students with disabilities, and students in high need communities — with compensatory education down the line, which is a fate that both school districts and DeVos want to avoid.
In truth, some students will fare better than others during these shutdowns. Even my son who struggles with learning differences will keep learning, because he attends a high-resource high school, has highly-educated parents filling any gaps, and is highly motivated. We live in a house full of books and food, and our jobs aren’t in immediate jeopardy.
But vast numbers of other kids without those privileges aren’t going to learn anything until school starts up again in September. Research on the Summer Slide, shows that middle class students thrive without school, but lower income kids suffer regressions. America’s schools have always been unequal; but education in the time of Corona means that the gulf between rich and poor will grow even greater.
Missing months of education is simply is not acceptable. Schools must remain open in the summer, particularly for students with disabilities, younger students, and in areas with the greatest economic strain. Schools will need a bailout from Congress to pay for this summer program. Parents, particularly those who care for highly disabled children, should be immediately compensated. In the long term, we also need to detangle schools from non-educational missions, like providing food and childcare, as well as increasing centralization of curriculum and training.
Be well! Laura
6 thoughts on “If Learning Stops, Does It Matter?, Excerpt From Newsletter, (Plague, Day 32, April 4, 2020)”
Laura wrote, “Both my kids are learning, entirely independently in their own spaces.”
We’ve finished two weeks at home, and our highschoolers have been self-sufficient from Day 1. They are losing something academically due to the loss of labs for their lab science classes, but otherwise, it’s OK. Mysteriously, the big kids almost always finish up by lunch time–but they say they are managing all their work!
Our private PK-12 school has just announced that they are going pass/fail for the rest of the term.
The 1st grader is a somewhat different situation than the big kids, as she requires so much supervision and help. I’ve had some discussions with the 1st grade teacher about work load this week. I think there’s too much and that several assignments duplicate each other and I suggested cutting down overall work load by 10-20% before adding in science and history work, as they are planning to do. Furthermore, I suggested not adding any seat work for the science and history, but sticking to video or reading assignments. This did not go over well.
The 1st grade teacher said that they have been asked to give 12 hours of week to the kids and by her calculation, the 1st grader’s work should be 2 hours (currently covering reading, writing, spelling and math). Allegedly, the other parents are happy with the work load and/or want more.
–I think that duplicating the school academic experience at home is not feasible for early elementary.
–I think some days are more than 2 hours of work.
–Some days are probably two hours, if you only count the work. However, it’s not practical to have a small child work a solid 2 hours, so the actual “school day” is much longer than 2 hours. It’s easily more like 3/3.5 hours with necessary breaks.
–We don’t have the reference material for me to help adequately with certain assignments. (For example, school wants to teach students to distinguish between “regular” and “irregular” spellings of words, and I don’t have the materials that would enable me to help the 1st grader with this.)
–Our 1st grader needs remediation in reading, handwriting and math, so she probably needs extra work in at least reading and math. (I am handling the handwriting by just being very scrupulous about her school assignments being neat, so I have her rewrite them until they are reasonably neat.) We have managed some extra work in reading and math, but there simply isn’t enough time or energy to do as much as I would like. (She has an “unsatisfactory” in reading, a “needs improvement” in handwriting and her math performance can be a bit inconsistent.)
I’d like to do at least 2 extra pages of Kumon workbooks every school day plus at least the equivalent of 2 extra picture books every school day. When we’ve been on break this year, we do the following schedule of extras:
–2 pages Kumon math
–2 pages Kumon handwriting
–2 picture books (or equivalent)
–2 picture books (or equivalent).
“the abilities of particular teachers”
We had one set of videos that was like watching paint dry. There was 20 minutes of it, plus the workbook assignment. When I asked the teacher later how the 20 min. video fit into the 2 hour count, she said it was optional, which was news to me.
“Some schools have shutdown entirely and aren’t even bothering with any form of virtual education.”
True story–locally we have at least two public school administrators who helped with distribution of educational materials to kids before becoming seriously ill or dying of COVID-19, in one case dying a week later.
“Now that Betsy DeVos suspended state standardized testing requirements, we won’t even get that datapoint.”
How were we going to do state nationalized testing with the kids out of school?
“So, we’ll may never know which schools have closed entirely, which one are hobbling along with lower level virtual education, and which one’s have implemented higher end Zoom classes, like my college kids gets.”
I believe there are a lot of complaints about the suitability of Zoom classes for little kids.
“With every teacher struggling alone”
Presumably there are online teacher discussions of all of this stuff. It’s not 1985.
“But vast numbers of other kids without those privileges aren’t going to learn anything until school starts up again in September.”
What if school doesn’t start up in September?
I’m personally pretty cool about writing off the final quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, but 2020-2021 gives me a lot of qualms. If you look at a number of East Asian areas that have initially done pretty well with COVID-19, there has been a second wave. I think my best advice on this is to limp through the spring, prep hard over the summer, and be prepared to do a better job with remote education for at least the fall. Hopefully that doesn’t happen–but we have to be prepared.
“Schools must remain open in the summer, particularly for students with disabilities, younger students, and in areas with the greatest economic strain.”
We cannot count on it being safe to do so this summer. In very high need cases, sure, but the vast majority of kids will probably need to stay out of group settings this summer. Unfortunately, any current losses will probably have to be made up later.
““With every teacher struggling alone”
Presumably there are online teacher discussions of all of this stuff. It’s not 1985.”
Yet many teachers/college faculty can’t even have discussions online. We’re still trying to teach people not to Reply All to every email.
Wendy said, “Yet many teachers/college faculty can’t even have discussions online. We’re still trying to teach people not to Reply All to every email.”
Regarding Laura’s calculus example, it also occurs to me that there have been online calculus courses for quite a few years now. There have to be a bunch of courses out there already and some of them may be pretty good. Practically any college-level (or college-adjacent) academic course exists in online form.
I don’t blame anybody for not being on top of that, though, because they didn’t have a lot of warning and they probably didn’t have the funds to go out and buy courses–and it might not have made sense to do so for 2-3 months of schoolwork. But this all ought to be figured out by fall 2020.
I wish I could contradict you about the disparate effect on different students, but can only confirm everything you wrote. Our (Title I) elementary school daughter’s teacher reports that only six of her eighteen students are engaged with the class or schoolwork on any level at all — the other two thirds are absent completely. Of course, we’re managing her through all the worksheets and projects that the teacher prepared, but know of only one other student in her class doing the same thing. Our neighbor with a daughter in the next grade has told her teacher that the daughter is reading for an hour a day and doing multiplication drills, and the teacher said that that’s fine. Meanwhile, the two kids on the same street who attend private schools are having remote lessons that they and their classmates are all attending every day.
Our daughter’s weekly zoom call happens in two hours, and I’m hoping that more kids show up this time.
Thanks, Ben, for the info. So sad.
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