Posts Tagged ‘On-line learning’

More Medical Realities on Reopening… and More Evidence that More Medical Spending AND More Staff Will Be Needed

May 6, 2020 Comments off

Earlier this morning I posted an article from my newsfeed from an ABC local TV station describing the conditions required to reopen schools. In reading today’s NYTimes, I read a more detailed description of ongoing research on the issue of the infectiousness of children that concluded with, well, no clear conclusion. New Studies Add to Evidence that Children May Transmit the Coronavirus  by Apoorva Mandavilli describes the new studies, each of which is rigorous in its design and none of which offer conclusive evidence that opening schools is a wise medical decision. After elaborating on several of the studies, the article concludes with these paragraphs:

The experts all agreed on one thing: that governments should hold active discussions on what reopening schools looks like. Students could be scheduled to come to school on different days to reduce the number of people in the building at one time, for example; desks could be placed six feet apart; and schools could avoid having students gather in large groups.

Teachers with underlying health conditions or of advanced age should be allowed to opt out and given alternative jobs outside the classroom, if possible, Dr. Nuzzo said, and children with underlying conditions should continue to learn from home.

The leaders of the two new studies, Dr. Drosten and Dr. Ajelli, were both more circumspect, saying their role is merely to provide the data that governments can use to make policies.

I’m somehow the bringer of the bad news but I can’t change the news,” Dr. Drosten said. “It’s in the data.

It is a statement of fact and not a political judgment to declare that our President and many politicians are averse to data based decision making. Here’s a series of questions for State lawmakers and the governing agencies that will decide on the opening of public schools:

  • Will decisions to re-open be based on data or political pressure?
  • To what extent will decisions on what schooling looks like be based on medical recommendations?
  • How will the costs for added medical and technological services be covered?

I have ideas on what schools could look like, the changes in the existing paradigm that are required to transform schools, and the sacrifices that will be required to make it possible. I have no idea how to get from where we are to where we need to be given the current lack of leadership from either political party… and I despair at what kinds of slapdash programs will be cobbled together in the name of efficiency. We seem to be willing to view a higher death rate as “collateral damage” to return the economy to normal. Are we willing to accept a higher transmission rate of Covid 19 AND increased inequality as “collateral damage” in order to reopen schools without spending more money?


Online Learning Underscores Importance of Well Being, Structure

May 5, 2020 Comments off

Over the past several weeks I’ve read countless articles on the impact of online learning. This Verge article “Online Schooling Has a Tech Issue No Apps Can Fix” by Nat Garun stood out because it dug deeply into some underlying issues that contribute to the inequities that online learning exacerbates: inequities in student well-being and the structure of student’s lives.

Grain opens his article with data describing the digital divide, covering issues I’ve cited in previous posts:

Only 56 percent of households with incomes under $30,000 have access to broadband internet, according to Pew Research Center. Where students are located also presents connectivity issues, with kids in rural areas unable to connect to mobile hotspots and cellular service from their homes.

Even when there is stable coverage, some families simply lack the laptops, tablets, or other devices required to log online.

But Garun turns to the more subtle issues that impact these students: the differential in their well-being and their daily lives. He notes that students raised in poor households often have parents who work in the low wage jobs that are deemed “essential” and therefore have no adult supervision. This, in turn, leads to a situation where the student’s daily schedule is non-existent or they are temporarily moved to the home of a relative or caregiver. In both instances, many of the students become depressed and unmotivated to do their classwork. When this lack of well-being is combined with the lack of digital resources the effect can be calamitous. The majority of the article describes how teachers are coping with these circumstances, how they are finding themselves working 24/7 to connect with students who fail to return phone calls or students who turn to them for moral support.

Grain concludes that the digital divide is not going to be closed any time soon:

The tech gap isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. The Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission have begun urging states to put $16 billion in educational aid built into the CARES Act toward remote learning. But even if that happens, it’s unlikely to be anywhere close to enough. States are seeing large revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic, leading some states — like New York — to look at billions of dollars in education budget cuts alone to close the gap.

He’s right: legislation that “urges” states to invest a portion of the $16 billion they are receiving in digital technology won’t go far, especially when they are facing billions in cuts in one state alone! And his upbeat description of a Brooklyn teacher’s celebrating of small victories seems to paper over a hard reality that is lurking: those billions of dollars that are lacking are likely to result in a continuing lack of resources for schools… and those resources will be human resources like teachers, mental health workers, and other community supports that contribute to the small victories teachers experience.

In overlooking the inevitable collision course that lies ahead between diminishing financial support and increased student needs the article misses an opportunity to figure out how, exactly, those needs might be met in the future. One thing is clear, if we retain the current paradigm the school district budgets will be woefully inadequate and students will suffer. NOW is the time to begin floating new idea on staffing schools and determining the roles of public schools. For example, teachers might be paid, say, 75% of their current salaries and assigned 75% fewer students. If this approach were taken it would expand the workforce by adding lower compensated new teachers thereby diminishing the unemployment roles and the cost/student ins school district. Such a move would also diminish the pupil-teacher ratio, and thereby enhance the opportunity for teachers and students to interact. This, in turn, would enable teachers to focus on student well-being instead of solely worrying about their academic achievement, achievement that often has its roots in the well-being and not in the student’s “ability”. A student who has his or her own bedroom, his or her own digital device, has nurturing parents who work reasonable hours and provide nourishing meals at predictable hours is far more likely to have “academic ability” than a student who is uncertain where they will sleep, is uncertain who will be caring for them and where their next meal is coming from. The first student might be concerned that their 3 year old computer or phone lacks bells-and-whistles that the latest iPad provides. The latter student is concerned about a lot more….

NPR’s Anya Kamenetz Forecasts 9 Changes in Public Schools… and they are Right On!

April 26, 2020 Comments off

Of all the education writers, I find Anya Kamenetz to be the most insightful and her NPR article with the click-bait title “9 Ways Schools Will Look Different When (And If) They Reopen” offers some nuanced changes as well as some obvious ones.

The obvious changes are that schools will focus on hygiene, will have smaller class sizes, operate on shifts and under a different calendar, and avoid large gatherings or any events that invite the public (including parents) into facilities.

A more subtle idea is that the schools might open first for the youngest children because they are the ones losing the most from remote learning. Ms. Kamenetz notes that schools in Europe are following this pattern and that densely populated cities could do this since most elementary schools are within walking distance of children’s homes.

One element of the “new normal” is that distance learning will continue to play some role. Ms Kamenetz writes:

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.

And that also means the digital divide will have to be addressed and, on a more meta-policy level, internet access will need to be viewed as an essential utility.

The ninth item on the list warrants a complete republication:

9. Social, emotional and practical help for kids

Developmental experts say disruption from the pandemic constitutes an “adverse childhood experience” for every American child. When schools reopen, says Virginia’s James Lane, ameliorating this trauma will be at the core of their mission.

“I also think that there is a need for us to focus on social and emotional learning for students,” Lane says, “and not only how we can provide the academic support, but how can we provide the mental health support and the wraparound supports for students when they come back, to help them recover and bring back that safety net of schools.”

Taken together, these ways schools will look different overlaps with the ideas embedded in the White Paper Reformatting New England Schools found elsewhere on this blog. MAYBE the time is ripe to consider a complete overhaul of what public education looks like.

Colleges Wrestling with Fall Openings… and So Will K-12 Schools.

April 24, 2020 Comments off

Today’s local newspaper features an article by the Washington Post’s Nick Anderson describing the issues colleges are wrestling with in determining whether or not they should open. The commentary describes how much the college students themselves hope school will open, some speculation on the political and economic conditions surrounding the decision, and some quote from college presidents on what will inform their decisions.

The college president’s analysis that got my attention from the article was that of Mark Schlissel, , an immunologist who leas the 46,000-student University of Michigan. It was not surprising to read that his decision on reopening would be “public health-informed”, but his thinking about the educational rationale could have some far reaching implications for those who advocate online learning:

Remote teaching is exceedingly difficult, he said, with laboratory classes and others that require physical activity. “There isn’t anything that can replace doing experiments with your own hands and seeing and interpreting results,” he said.

Dr. Schlissel was clearly thinking of advanced courses in science and medicine when he made that comment, but it has even more far reaching implications for K-12 schooling. How can public schools ever purport to replace their programs with online learning when so much of what they offer require physical activity? Early elementary teachers, in particular, spend much of their time providing assistance in learning how to hold pencils, how to write letters and numbers, and observing the physical movements of children as they go through the day. Moreover, much of the de facto curriculum in elementary schools involves students learning how to work collectively and collaboratively on projects. How will those skills be developed? And most importantly, one of the skills that students learn early on is how to work independently… a skill that is, as previous posts note, a necessary precondition for successful learning on a screen— or “remote learning” as it is called.

Dr. Schlissel may have been framing his analysis on college, but it illustrates that the kinds of hands-on learning in college is no different in many respects that the hands-on learning in Kindergarten and early elementary school… indeed, the kind of learning that really makes a difference in humanity. Screens alone cannot provide that kind of learning. Maybe the pandemic will teach us all that lesson.

Here’s Hoping the Pandemic Admissions Alterations Stick

April 19, 2020 Comments off

CNBC reporter Abigail Hess’ recent article describes how college admissions have been impacted by the coronavirus, and from my perspective the three major changes she describes should all be carried forward once this crisis passes. The three changes she highest are the introduction of pass/fail grading into many schools coping with the coronavirus; the inability of this year’s junior class to take SATs which, in turn, makes that information unavailable to admissions officers; and an emphasis on volunteerism in determining admissions.

As one who favors mastery learning over grading, values holistic assessments over standardized tests, and experiential learning over lockstep “delivery” of instruction these changes are all for the better. And should these changes stick once schools reopen, it is possible that public education will look very different.

  • Mastery Replaces “Grades”: Instead of quarterly report cards with “grades” based on comparisons with students in the same age cohort students will be continuously assessed on their progress against clear standards set in advance by their teachers. In courses with hierarchical standards (i.e. math, reading, and science) students will progress to the next level once they have demonstrated mastery of the baseline content. In other content areas, teachers would define the standard for “mastery” and provide frequent feedback to students on their progress.
  • Narrative Commentary from Teachers Replaces Standardized Test Scores: Instead of basing admissions to college on a single test administered over three hours, college admissions officers can review a prospective students’ mastery of skills and the narrative assessments provided by teachers of the student’s choice. In this way teachers would play a more integral role in determining the admissions to college and students would, therefore, see a clearer connection between their performance in classes to admissions to college.
  • Volunteerism Would Be Valued as much as Extra-Curriculars: Volunteerism can, in some instances, be seen as a decisive factor in admissions. But if it were flagged as an essential element students would commit themselves to working within their communities and within their schools. Such commitments would be self-reinforcing since anyone who HAS volunteered realizes.

Whether these changes come to pass depends on the willingness of school leaders, teachers, and parents to abandon the current definition of “normal” and replace it with a new paradigm that places a premium on individual mastery, connections with teachers, and commitment to their community. Seems like a good direction to take!

We are NOT Witnessing a Massive Shift to Homeschooling… It’s Something Different and Worse

April 11, 2020 Comments off

Lifehacker blogger Megan Moravcik Walbert wants her readers to be clear about one fact: what is happening now with nearly every school in America closed is NOT homeschooling. She describes three major differences:

…On one hand, some schools really aren’t giving parents much direction right now, and some of us do want the extra help; on the other, there are a whole lot of parents out there who are already buried under work stress and financial stress and home stress and, oh yeah, there’s a Zoom classroom meeting at noon and a packet of assignments due by Monday, and they don’t need me to put anything else on their plates.

Homeschooling is an intentional act. It takes true commitment from a parent (who often does not also work outside of the home). There are online and local homeschooling communities and co-ops that share resources and support one another and get together for classes, field trips or social events. Yes, homeschooled kids still leave the house.

The three differences then are:

  1. This new parental requirement is imposed, it is not voluntary
  2. Parents need to make certain their children complete a slapdash curriculum cobbled together by school districts on short notice as opposed to the (presumably) coherent and will organized curriculum homeschool parents prepare to meet their child’s unique needs
  3. This homeschool could not have been launched at a worse time: many parents who might be willing to provide home instruction are required to go to work and those who are home likely face enormous emotional and financial stress.

So… if what is happening now is not homeschooling, what exactly is it? Ms. Walberg has the answer:

Call it “Emergency Remote Teaching” if you like or, I don’t know, “Total Bullshit” if you’re feeling brutally honest. There’s got to be a term for what parents are doing right now, but it’s not “homeschooling,” the same way that what is happening right now is not equivalent to regular online education.

Depending on what happens in the next few weeks when countries who encountered the first wave of coronavirus “return to normal”, students MIGHT return to school this year… or… they might have to wait even longer to be together in class and on playgrounds. Here’s hoping that the herd immunity epidemiologists are anticipating once the Covid 19 quarantines is a reality. If so, we might use some of this experience to inform how schools might be able to provide ongoing education for children who have serious illnesses or injuries that preclude them from attending classes. If not, public schools should spend this summer figuring out how to grow some flowers out of the “Total Bullshit” programs that were offered this spring.

Quartz Article Illustrates Promise and Limitations of Educational Technology

April 10, 2020 Comments off

Last week’s Quartz article, “The Coronavirus is Reshaping Education” by Jenny Andersen describes just that. The article opens with a description of how a well-resourced private school in Italy was able to quickly convert itself into an effective on-line enterprise and follows that with an upbeat appraisal from Andeas Schleicher, head of education at the OECD.

“It’s a great moment” for learning.  “All the red tape that keeps things away is gone and people are looking for solutions that in the past they did not want to see,” he says. Students will take ownership over their learning, understanding more about how they learn, what they like, and what support they need. They will personalize their learning, even if the systems around them won’t. Schleicher believes that genie cannot be put back in the bottle.

But Ms. Andersen then pivots to a less upbeat assessment, making the point that online education is bringing some deep disparities about schooling into the spotlight, disparities that cannot be fixed by technology alone:

But as tech connects people in their homes, its limitations for learning are on display for all the world to see. The crisis has cast a bright light on deep inequalities not just in who has devices and bandwidth, which are critically important, but also who has the skills to self-direct their learning, and whose parents have the time to spend helping. It is a stark reminder of the critical importance of school not just as a place of learning, but of socialization, care and coaching, of community and shared space—not things tech has hacked too well

The article continues in that vein, offering both positive possibilities for the use of technology and flagging the inherent inequities that are exacerbated by it. In doing so, Ms. Andersen elaborates on the deep inequalities highlighted in the paragraph above:

The gap between students isn’t limited to internet access; it’s also about the power and privilege of parents. “If you are called to duty right now as a nurse or delivery person, you have no time for homeschool,” says Heather Emerson, managing director for IDEO’s design for learning group. And not every parent has the level of digital literacy necessary to help their kids shift to online learning.

Even Andreas Schleicher, who is bullish on education technology, acknowledges that it worsens the economic divide. He notes that those parents who struggle to meet the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will encounter difficulty in providing support for their children’s learning at home:

“It is clear that this will not reach everyone and it’s not just a matter of access to devices,” he says. “If you don’t know how to learn on your own, if you don’t know how to manage your time, if you don’t have any intrinsic motivation, you won’t be very successful in this environment.

This reinforces my belief that schools, especially high schools, have been given a pass on their need to engage students in learning. For too long teachers, administrators, and parents have had the attitude that schools are obligated to present a curriculum that offers each student the opportunity to learn those skills that are deemed crucial for their future success. The students are expected to possess the ability to “…learn on their own… manage their time, and have intrinsic motivation”. The fact that 47% of the high school students polled indicated they had not logged on to a course could be an interpretation that these disengaged students can’t learn or it could be an indication that they have never been given the chance to pursue studies in something that interests them.

My contention is that all children, even ones who schools brand as failures because they have not learned at the same rate or in the same way as their classmates, have an innate curiosity and, therefore, possess an innate desire to learn. If formal schooling labels them as “failures” and doesn’t provide them with the opportunity to pursue their own personal interests MAYBE technology will reduce them from the vicious circle they find themselves in.

One thing is clear to me: If education technology attempts to replicate what is in place this won’t happen. The current model of sorting and selecting could be abandoned through technology and teachers could be freed to get to know each child better and engage them in a course of study that might prepare them to gain a deeper understanding about the content that interests them most. In doing so, the students will be able to learn on their own, manage their time, and pursue content based on their own intrinsic motivation.