It’s not too late to make this online school year better – Detroit Free Press

Posted: September 19, 2020 at 3:58 am

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Shayla R. Griffin Published 8:00 a.m. ET Sept. 16, 2020 | Updated 12:27 p.m. ET Sept. 16, 2020

Detroit Public Schools Community District is equipping students with a tablet-style laptop from Detroit Connected Futures for online learning.(Photo: Rodney Coleman-Robinson, Detroit Free Press)

Here in Detroit, school has been in session for less than a week. If I had a dollar for every educator, parentand student who has reached out to me in the last week lamenting the hot mess of online learning this year, well ... Id have a lot of dollars.

Maybe its too late to write this. Maybe were too far down the path of scotch-taping together this broken school year to consider throwing it out and starting again, but Ive never been good at shutting up when it is clear we can do better.

So Im telling you all (again): "This school year is going to be mostly remote. We have to do online education better (or families will opt out)."

Shayla R. Griffin(Photo: Shayla R. Griffin)

I think the fundamental issue with many virtual education plans is one of perspective. Heres a test: Which of these statements best describes how your school district is thinking about online learning?

A. Virtual education is a temporary inconvenience for a short time while we focus on transitioning back to traditional face-to-face schooling as rapidly as possible.


B. Virtual education is the primary method through which most students will learn this year. It is not something the majority of us were trained to do well, but getting it right is essential to the success and health of our students, educators, and families.

If you are operating from perspective A, theres little incentive to do virtual learning in a way that is innovative or takes you outside of your own comfort zone. Youre probably not giving much thought to whats best practice, whats developmentally appropriateor what makes sense for families. From this perspective, virtual learning is simply a stop-gap measure until we can get back to "real teaching and learning."

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Leaders of districts like this are prioritizing things like "keeping the schedule the same"so we dont have to redo it once "real"school starts back up.

Even though there is no research-based correlation between the number of "live"online learning hours and learning outcomes, these virtual learning plans simply took the regular school day schedule sevenhours a day, fivedays a week, with six to eighttransitions and pasted "virtual"across the top,rather than doing what those who have long taught online know is best practice: mixing in asynchronous modules and reserving limited "live"teaching time for active learning, small groups, one-on-oneteaching, opportunities for questionsand student engagement.

Models based on this perspective present impossible challenges for parents juggling work and multiple children and turn students into "Zoom zombies"without opportunities for the human interactions that make face-to-face settings valuable, such as being able to privately ask a teacher or classmate a question.

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In contrast, if youre operating from perspective B (andIm suggesting you should be), you recognize that COVID-19 isnt going anywhere any time soon, and that huge numbers of families and educators are choosing online education even when given the face-to-face option.

In other words, you approach getting virtual learning right as difficult, but essential. You acknowledge that success is going to require more than devices and internet for all students (as important as that is), andadvocate for virtual learning plans that build on the knowledge of educators who have done it for decades you know, experts. You pay attention to the Michigan Department of Educations "Learning At a Distance Guidance"which warns leaders that: "Learning at a distance will not look anything like learning in a classroom ... Remember that the goal is not to replicate a normal six to seven hour day; that is not feasible or advisable during this extraordinary time."

School districts operating from this perspective would accept that online is this year's norm, and build district-wide schedules with reasonable start times (that arent connected to irrelevant bus schedules), block scheduling to reduce transitions and "resets,"and common lunch breaks to accommodate families with children in multiple buildings. Michigan's recently passed student count policies allow districts to prioritize this crucial flexibility for educators and families.

Interacting with district leaders across Michigan over the past few weeks, Ive asked what research, dataand best practices support their online learning plans. Mostly what Ive heard back is some version of: This is all so new, we dont have any data. We dont know what will work yet. Lets give it nine weeks and reassess ... and hopefully well be back to face-to-face by then, anyway.

These responses are misguided.

We actually do know a lot about virtual learning weve been doing it for decades and we have a lot of data about how it went this spring. Waiting until the disaster is apparent to everyone amounts to educational malpractice, and gives the most vulnerable students and families more reasons to opt out or drop out. Until we have a widely distributed and effective vaccine for COVID-19, even schools primarily doing face-to-face instruction will have to deal with closures and quarantines when cases emerge in their buildings that will necessitate some level of online education. There is no way around this.

Perhaps ironically, I personally have the kind of responsive program I am advocating for. My school-aged child, the oldest of my three, is in a special education program in which teachers are working with parents to figure out individual approaches for each student.

But there are 100,000 other students in Detroit, and 1.5 million across Michigan, who all deserve plans that are rooted in best practice, that are developmentally appropriate, and that acknowledge that no miracles are coming in the next few months that would make these efforts unnecessary.

Students and families need school leaders to get it together before its too late.

Shayla R. Griffin, Ph.D., M.S.W., is co-founder of Justice Leaders Collaborative.

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It's not too late to make this online school year better - Detroit Free Press

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September 19th, 2020 at 3:58 am

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