Sadly, this post consists mostly of questions.
What is the impact that the pandemic-induced closure of America’s public schools has had and will have on our children? How are families coping with teaching and learning at home? How are teachers coping with learning the new skills needed to reach their students?
How will public education cope with the economic loss that is sure to come from the coronavirus pandemic? Where does the education of children rank as a priority for state and federal policymakers? Whose voice will be raised in support of public schools?
What will public education look like post-pandemic? Will public education continue to exist? Will states have enough money to fully fund public schools.
Indiana funds three different school systems — public schools, privately run charter schools, and private/parochial schools. How will we have enough money to pay for even one of these three publicly funded school systems? Who will be shortchanged?
Teachers, parents, and students have had to adjust to a new model of school. For those with internet access online school has become the norm with daily lessons, group video chats, and independent study. Parents are learning what it means to be a first-year teacher. Young children are losing out on important social/emotional learning. Older students must work through the loss of contact with friends, lost social events, and the lack of extra-curricular activities. Teachers are struggling to reach all their students, including those with no access to online resources. The public is beginning to understand the importance of a public school system that provides education for everyone, food for those in need, and intense services for students with special needs.
Parents and teachers are worried about the progress that students will make. The importance of classroom experiences is now understood by parents and the general public.
Does this mean that the media will stop bashing teachers?
Should parents of young children opt-out of online learning? The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests screen time limits for children. Pasi Sahlberg and William Boyle’s recent book, Let the Children Play, shows us that play is important for young children.
How do parents balance the need for play and the worry that their child will fall behind in academics?
What about the loss of learning? How will they get promoted to the next grade? Won’t they get left behind? These are just some of the questions I hear when I advocate for parents opting out of remote schooling, and I understand that many parents are not sure this is the right decision. Honestly, there is no easy answer because a lot depends on whether your state plans to reopen schools this year and how they will proceed with reopening schools next year. But what we need to remember is that a temporary break in schooling is not the end of the world. Students who had their schooling interrupted during hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, recovered just fine. And given the multitude of inequities inherent in the push to remote instruction, schools will likely not be able to determine grade promotion based on what students are expected to do during this time. Many districts are exempting remote work from counting towards final grades or only expecting teachers to spend this time reviewing previous material. If we can cancel standardized testing across the country, we can get our students back in school in the next grade without expecting them to spend hours each day engaging in remote instruction.
Here are some questions I think you should ask when deciding if opting out of remote schooling is right for you:
• Is remote schooling causing additional stress on your child and your family?
• Is your child expected to be on a computer for two or more hours a day?
• Are you unable to stay on top of your work from home responsibilities and facilitate remote schooling?
• Does remote schooling bring your child and your family joy?
When we, as a nation, “rethink” education, whose ideas will take precedence? Will teachers have a voice? Will money continue to rule? Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is already pushing her privatization agenda…with no proof that privatization improves educational outcomes.
With COVID-19 as an ongoing threat, we’ll need to continue social distancing necessitating smaller classes. Where will the money come from to hire more teachers? or will we adjust the calendar instead? Some have suggested alternating weeks for students so a teacher can teach two small groups instead of one large group. Others have opted for alternating days. How will teachers enforce social distancing with four-, five-, and six-year-olds?
Where will we find the funds to do what’s best for our students if (when?) the nation’s (and world’s) economy slips into recession or depression?
Betsy DeVos’s disdain for public schools is well known. She has no experience with “the others” who attend public school. Instead, she’s spent her adult life advocating for privatization while buying influence in the form of campaign donations. Her goal is to privatize public education as a way to bring “God’s Kingdom” to Earth. The disaster of a pandemic is her excuse to see her dream come to life. (See The Shock Doctrine). Disaster capitalism has energized her. It’s up to us to stop her.
Charter operators rolled out new marketing campaigns to lure families to enroll in their schools. And in national and local news outlets, advocates for charters, vouchers, and other forms of “school choice” helped forge a new media narrative about how the shuttering of the nation’s schools was an opportunity for parents and their children to leave public schools…
“This is an opportunity,” said DeVos in an interview with right-wing radio talk show host Glenn Beck, “to collectively look very seriously at the fact that K-12 education for too long has been very static and very stuck in one method of delivering and making instruction available.”
Where will we get the money to lower class sizes and fund our public schools? Nancy Bailey suggests eight different things we can do to reclaim public funds for public education. The top three on my list are the same as hers — end the funding of charter schools, vouchers, and high stakes testing.
1. End Charter Schools
Why do we have two separate school systems that work against each other? This is the time to rethink charter schools. In “Federal Charter Schools Program a Fountain of Corruption and Disruption,” Thomas Ultican provides compelling reasons why charters have seen their day…
2. End Educational Scholarship Programs
It’s common knowledge that students who attend voucher schools don’t do as well as students in public school. Like charters, voucher schools are largely unaccountable to the public…
3. End High-Stakes Testing…
4. End Common Core State Standards…
Here come the predictions for “tomorrow’s schools.”
…there are still many more unknowns than guarantees. Among the biggest, says Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, is this: “Is it safe and healthy for my kids to pack them into that classroom?”…
Based on the typical size of a classroom in New York City, 12 would be the most children you could accommodate while maintaining social distancing, says the UFT’s Mulgrew. At the International School in Denmark, they are grouping kids in classes of 10…
Every expert NPR spoke with predicted that the need for remote learning would continue because of staggered schedules, schools prepared to close again for future waves of infection, and many students needing remediation. And that means training and support for teachers, and equipment for children.
Eskelsen Garcia of the NEA says the equity issue is acute: “What we’ve been telling [political leaders] for years is the digital divide is hurting children.
THE DAMAGE OF COVID-19
Everyone has been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. The damage has been physical…and emotional…and psychological. Our lives will likely never go back to what they were like before COVID-19. Like the years following the 1918 influenza pandemic, things will, hopefully, get better, but the impact will follow us until later generations have overcome the damage. Humans are adaptable. Whether we adapt to this new world is yet to be determined.
Children have had to adjust to being without their extended families, friends, and teachers. Worse, some have lost family members, friends, or teachers to COVID-19. How do children adjust to the death of their teachers? their friends? their family members?
In the meantime, curricular learning time has been lost, though a different kind of learning continues.
What’s more important, learning what is in the established curriculum, or learning how to survive a pandemic?
For all the good—and real—conversations about how invaluable school is in our national social and economic organization, there has been no solid, easily adopted plan for re-starting public education. We may end up with something that looks quite different at first, and we may morph—for much better or far worse—into a completely altered conception of how ‘school’ works.
Here’s an example: A friend posted the suggestion that students return to school in the classroom they were in when formal school ended, in March. That would, she argued, preserve teacher knowledge about students’ strengths and weaknesses and allow the most tailored, individualized instruction.
Immediately, her elementary-school colleagues started raising ‘buts’—but who will teach the new kindergartners? But what will the 7th grade receiving teachers do—will middle school also have to stay at the same level with the same teachers? But what about seniors? But I don’t want to teach the next-grade curriculum!
All of these arguments are based on the idea that all important knowledge and skills can be divided into thirteen neat slices and all students should encounter, engage with and even master these slices, in order, based on their age, before they can successfully navigate to the next grade or higher education or the world of work.
Which is ludicrous. Everyone—and especially teachers—knows this is absurd.
How do students handle the loss of a teacher or a friend? Can parents alone provide the support students need?
When teachers and school staff members die, they leave behind friends, family, colleagues. They also leave behind hundreds of children and teenagers whom they see nearly everyday. With widespread school closures, children have been left to grieve in isolation, sometimes experiencing the tragedy of death for the first time.
Schools have been offering counseling and holding online vigils. But without face-to-face interaction, it’s hard to know which students are struggling.
“We worry constantly that a student is going to be in need and we wouldn’t know it,” said Todd Minichello, the school counseling coordinator for Rockwood School District in Missouri. The district recently lost guidance counselor Sandy Kearney, who worked in its schools for over 30 years.
The current crisis has only further illuminated the role that schools play in neighborhoods: They feed hungry children, they provide medical and mental health care. Vigilant educators and staff members make sure that children are clean, clothed and safe. Schools are mini-universes, with classrooms providing the structure of artificial families.
Jeff Palladino is the principal of Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, located in the most impoverished congressional district in the United States. Sixty percent of Fannie Lou Hamer students are Latino, and 39 percent are black. Their parents are either workers declared essential or suffering from the worry of being laid off.
The Bronx community that the high school serves has been devastated by covid-19. “Since this began, our students are losing family members,” he said. “We lose two or three each week. We have lost an alumna. One of our students passed away, although we are not certain if the cause was covid-19. It is so hard because you cannot physically be there for them.”
Palladino told me about a student whom they could not contact for two weeks. Both parents had the virus, and she was caring not only for them but for the rest of the family as well. Everyone was relieved when they got the message that she was okay and catching up on her work.