RE@L thanks frequent blogger and nationally-known educational historian, Diane Ravitch, for alerting us to a recent, thought-provoking headline and a key follow-up story from the Boston Globe™ newspaper.
RE@L is pleased that this Globe story does NOT address statewide competency exams that students need to pass in order to graduate. Nor does it deal with any impossible promises to make all students above average. Their report deals with promises that need to be kept! “More Learning for More Learners.”
“Reopening of public schools this fall would come with daunting issues,” reports the Globe. Their next headline says further: “Schools need a plan for everything from bus rides to hand-washing to assessing the damage from a spring of online learning.“
Below are some key excerpts from the Globe article. Click the Globe graphic at the left for their entire story.
Here’s our RE@LBlog condensed report:
“State and city school officials haven’t made a firm commitment yet as to when Massachusetts public schools might reopen for a number of good reasons. Before they can welcome a million students back to their classrooms, administrators must resolve a seemingly endless series of hard questions:
- How do you load elementary school children onto a bus while keeping them 6 feet apart?
- How do you protect the estimated 20 percent of teachers who are 55 or older from getting seriously ill?
- How do you serve lunch? And more….
Boston school Superintendent Brenda Cassellius struck a similarly cautious tone on providing a timeline for reopening the city’s 125 schools. There are just too many unknowns — including the possibility of a fall surge in COVID-19 cases — to provide even a tentative reopening date….
….The problems start the moment a student climbs aboard the bus: Cassellius estimated that, under current physical distancing guidelines, a school bus that typically holds around 65 students might be reduced to around 13 passengers. For Boston, which already has the second highest per-pupil transportation costs in the country, expanding bus service would be astonishingly expensive.
It gets no easier once students arrive at school….Under current social distancing requirements, some classes may have to shrink to a third of their former size. So will students attend school in morning and afternoon shifts? Will they alternate days? Weeks? Even so, how do you keep first-graders from touching one another? And what will cleaning costs look like?
School leaders say remote learning is likely to continue to play some role when schools resume in-person classes. For instance, students could alternate days at home with days in school. But if teachers are expected to hold physical classes each day, who will staff online learning? Will classes have both in-person and online learners? Will districts have to hire more teachers? Will they enlist more subs? Will it fall to existing faculty?
One of the first tasks when students return to school will be to figure out their academic levels after the most disrupted school year in decades. Some students will have lost more ground than others, requiring educators to come up with individualized plans to catch students up. What’s more, the virus threatens to exacerbate longstanding social inequalities in a school system already marked by vast gaps in student opportunity and achievement. For example, more than 20 percent of Boston public school students have likely not logged on to one of the district’s main online platforms this month; many of those students were the most disadvantaged, including many English language learners….
Similarly, Jal Mehta, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, said the crisis offers an opportunity to fundamentally rethink how we educate students going forward. For example, since teachers’ in-person time with students will likely be limited, perhaps schools should concentrate on a few subjects in greater depth, while pruning away breadth in others, sort of like a college major. “You’ve got to treat the contact time as gold,” said Mehta. “You want to think about what can we do in person that we couldn’t do at home, and vice versa.”
RE@L adds our own concerns: Collaborative efforts between higher-education, like Dr. Mehta, and K12 school leaders, like Dr. Casasellius, are essential.
Yes, we all think this spring’s session of school was hard for all students, especially our graduates. It will be even more difficult if we don’t plan ahead….now…for next year! We must find ways to meet the needs of our many learners with their many differing needs.
Can we learn from one another? Now’s the time to start! Summer break gives us only 10 weeks to prepare.
RE@L suggests that local and national governments should consider funding a summer series of online, paid sessions for teachers and school administrators. We need more new ideas that are working elsewhere, that can be modified for our own local needs.
Preparatory online workshops between and among students, parents, and community mentors could better assure that each learner is ready to learn, wherever and however it’s presented.
Consider Federal/State/District/School-supported stipends to help communities plan this summer and be ready to go this fall! Don’t forget to include students and parents.