How are schools going to look in the fall? Local school district educators and parents are meeting to draft plans. Weighing heavily on the minds of many is this question, will public schools survive? Will teachers still have a role to play in the education of students?
First comes safety. Schools might require a longer period of time where teachers work remotely. But later?
Technology has failed and schools are reopening on shaky ground. Will America throw up its hands and end public schooling for good? Will we be left with private and parochial schools, most which run on their own rules with little accountability to the public? Will substandard online programs and charters we know don’t work become the name of the game?
Parents are frantic there will be no childcare. Teachers worry they will lose their jobs.
There’s reason to fear. The nation’s leaders have permitted the firing of hundreds of thousands of teachers and staff who work in brick-and-mortar schools, yet they find money to bail out the cruise industry, a business that pays virtually no federal taxes. There’s concern for the post office (which I share), but public schools seem an afterthought.
There’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who abruptly announced that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will design a blueprint for New York’s schools.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seeks to end public schooling. The Covid-19 crisis has given her the means to do it. Erica L. Green of The New York Times describes how DeVos diverted $180 million meant for low-income students to “microgrants” for public school parents to use for educational services, including wealthy private school tuition.
She spent about $350 million to support small private and religious schools. She raised the eyebrows of those who value separation of church and state, speaking at a luncheon with the Alfred E. Smith Foundation, a group who work with the poor in New York, supported by the Archdiocese. DeVos criticized public education in her speech and promised support for Catholic schools.
Remote learning might be justified for safety reasons in the fall. That instruction should be with the child’s teachers, not substandard online programs like K12, Connections, or Summit. But DeVos and other education reformers see technology as a new permanent version of anytime, anyplace learning.
No matter how many negative reports are written about how technology has failed students during this pandemic (Tawnell D. Hobbs and Lee Hawkins sobering report in The Wall Street Journal “The Results Are In for Remote Learning: It Didn’t Work,” and Dana Goldstein’s New York Times “Research Shows Students Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions”) tech companies intent on dismantling brick-and-mortar schools are still in business.
What are the problems with technology at home?
- Students are bored. They like to text their friends and play games, but they don’t fine online learning an enjoyable experience.
- Students and teachers don’t always have access. Some sat in buses and parking lots to get WiFi. This speaks to underlying problems that won’t be totally be solved with Internet service.
- Children aren’t fed. It’s hard to believe that in a country such as ours, many children rely on school for their meals.
- Teachers miss face-to-face teaching. Teachers speak about the nuances of teaching, being able to notice more about students in person than they learn seeing them on a screen.
- Parents aren’t always available to help. Parents have jobs. They’re not teachers. They don’t always like going online. Some have several children which makes instruction especially difficult.
- Students don’t learn as well. What is known so far, is that students learn better at school.
- Students with disabilities are lost. Where’s Universal Design for Learning when you need it? There’s little online that helps students with the socialization students need to feel included.
- It’s difficult to check attendance. If students fail to show up at school, how can you check on them?
- Students aren’t motivated. Facing a screen is a poor substitute for socializing. Most college students can’t wait to get back on campus.
- It’s difficult to evaluate students. Many teachers dropped assessment and grades. It is difficult to justify measuring student progress.
- Students must teach themselves. The idea that children should self-regulate their own learning is questionable. But it is expected with online instruction.
I’ve read comments by DeVos fans, who, for whatever reason, hate public schools and teachers. They make comments about the “education industry,” or accuse schools of being a “monopoly.” Some call public schools factories. I wonder how many of these people have attended a school board meeting to voice their concerns. How many attended a school band concert, football game, or supported their local school theater (if they have one)?
What’s in store for public education and teachers? Will Americans have to lose their schools before they save them? Will they have to pay for their children’s education before they realize how a free democratic school system, they owned through their local school boards, mattered? When will they learn that investing tax dollars for educating all children, not simply a selfish voucher for their own child, matters? When that day comes when they finally understand the importance of public education, will it be too late?
Green E.L. (2020, May 15) DeVos Funnels Coronavirus Relief Funds to Favored Private and Religious Schools. The New York Times.
Hobbs, T.D. & Hawkins, L. (2020, June 5). The Results Are In for Remote Learning: It Didn’t Work. The Wall Street Journal.
Goldstein, D. (2020, June 5). Research Shows Students Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions. The New York Times.