Coronavirus, School Closings and Remote Learning: Teaching and Learning in the New World

Schools in 44 states are closed and school districts are scrambling to put some sort of remote learning in place: challenging.

State standardized tests have been cancelled.

The school closings could last for months, and, perhaps into the next school year. No one knows.

We’re currently in the “spiking phase,” every day, as testing increases, more cases are identified. (See “Flattening the Curve” data here).

In New York City schools closed a week ago and this week teachers spent three days learning school specific online instructional models from a Department designed template.

The UFT, the teacher union, distributed a detailed memorandum describing the responsibilities of all school titles, teachers, paraprofessionals, special education teachers, related-service providers, (Read here).

 The leaders of the UFT and the CSA (Supervisors Union) sent supportive messages to members (Read here).

Models of online learning are not encouraging.

 The online charter school models are worrying, online charter schools are a disaster,

When you compare the math progress of students from traditional and online facilities, those who attend online charter schools perform much worse than those who go to public schools. In fact, when the Center for Research on Education Outcomes carried out a comparative study, the math performance of students from online schools was so poor that it looked as if they’d missed 180 days of learning

 The Christensen Institute, an advocate of online learning, supports a blended learning model, a combination of online and classroom instruction.

Online learning is clearly a stopgap measure.

The crisis is also a crisis of equity.

Many of the schools in the Affinity District, schools working with not-for-profits, (for example, New Visions for Public Schools, the Internationals Network) have sophisticated online networks, they look like Charter Management Organizations; however they are public schools.

Most schools are in traditional school districts within the vast bureaucracy, messages trickle down, the typical paramilitary structure.

Teachers, as they gain experience, develop their own tool kits, their own instructional strategies; the sudden movement to remote platforms is a huge leap.

First year teachers are mentoring grizzled veterans, teachers vary widely, extremely widely, in their knowledge of basic computer skills.

Questions, questions …

Can you set up a Zoom  classroom? A Zoom staff meeting?

How can you create online engaging lessons? Not simply expanded daily homework assignments.

This is an opportunity to personalize instruction to the individual student level: what are the barriers?

Randi Weingarten, the Presdient of the American Federation of Teachers, suggests  capstone projects, a project-based learning approach,

“There is a way teachers can help students sum up their academic progress, help kids focus, and bring closure to the year.

Our capstone plan gives teachers the option and latitude to work with their students on a specific project alongside other activities and assessments to create engagement and demonstrate learning.”

A sound idea that is inclusive of all students, students at all levels incluing students with disabilities.

Is the Department or, anyone setting up an e-bulletin board to allow teachers to collaborate and share?

The questions far outnumber the answers.

The equity issue: the Department has announced they will distribute 30,000 online devices to students with WiFi connections; a beginning.

How many students will be signing in each day: will the Department have the ability to identify log-ins, by school? by class? by student?  If the log-ins are low, how will the Department respond?

The overriding problem: Social Emotional Learning.

Teachers establish emotional relationships with students: are they sad, angry, hungry, depressed; it’s a skill that comes with experience. In addition to the teaching-learning process, teachers are surrogate parents, social workers and therapists. As the human to human relationship is pushed online how will the emotional link to students be impacted?

As unemployment skyrockets the unemployed will be the parents of our students, the fear in households will resonate among our children.

Teachers are also stressed, worrying about their students, worrying about themselves and their own families.

The UFT supports a Membership Assistance Program (MAP), confidential sessions with a certified psychologist, unions do far more than negotiate contracts and endorse candidates, unions are sum total of their members, and caring for the needs of their membership is at the core of trade unionism.

Sometimes disagreeing with management, other times agreeing and at times agreeing to disagree.

The union “respectfully” disagreed with the mayor over his initial decision not to close schools and closely collaborated when he decided to close schools and establish an online platform.

We are at the beginning of a perilous journey.

Stay Safe ….

Maybe time for Woody Guthrie, “Old Man Trump”

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