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Results of National On-Line Learning Experiment are Trickling In… and they are BAD

April 7, 2020

Today’s NYTimes article by a team of reporters headlines one problem with universal on-line learning: the national “attendance rates” are plummeting. But a closer look at the data indicate that something even more devastating is occurring: the on-line “attendance rates” in affluent districts are sky high while those in economically challenged districts are extraordinarily low. This is so for several reasons:

  • Affluent parents can work from home and are, therefore, able to closely monitor their child’s school work. Working class parents, those “...in fields like sanitation, health and food service” are not at home and given the lack of supervision their children are not spending as much time— if any— on school work. This quote from a Los Angeles HS English teacher explains the reality faced by the children of parents who go to work outside the home: “A lot of our students have siblings they have to take care of, and their parents are still going out and working. It makes it very difficult to log on at the same time as feeding breakfast to their siblings or helping with chores.
  • High school students in competitive high schools, i.e. self-motivated students, are spending time online while those who are indifferent to schooling and attending only out of compulsion are avoiding school altogether.
  • Students with NO access to high speed internet are completely incapable of learning and, consequently, are missing school altogether

But here’s what the article neglects to point out. ALL of these circumstances existed BEFORE the pandemic and ALL of these circumstances seemed to be acceptable.BEFORE the pandemic attendance was a problem. BEFORE the pandemic schools struggled to engage low income parents. BEFORE the pandemic schools struggled to engage students, particularly at the middle and high school levels. BEFORE the pandemic some children were expected to take care of younger siblings and do chores wile others burnished their resumes by participating in after school activities. BEFORE the pandemic tens of thousands of students could not access the internet, denying them of the same learning opportunities a their cohorts. All of these problems existed BEFORE the pandemic and we accepted them as a “given”. Maybe a gift of the pandemic will be the revelation that our system as it exists now is inherently inequitable and THAT problem needs to be addressed.

And how could that problem be addressed? Maybe some of the billions we are spending to subsidize banks, Big Oil, health insurance companies, and arms manufacturers could be directed to under resourced schools.

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