By George Farmer
COVID-19 has altered the way the world operates. It has essentially rewritten the rules for interaction. With increasing pressure from politicians, some states have set guidelines for reopening schools while other states have declared that the first few months of school will begin with remote learning. There is much debate about flattening of the curve for COVID-19 and whether or not schools should reopen in the fall. The debates are loud, and opinions vary. Threats of withholding funds from schools that do not open for in-person instruction disregard the health and safety of students and staff.
Education should not be a political talking point and while the politicians debate, K-12 schools should prepare for remote learning at a moment’s notice.
The concern for health and safety forced K-12 schools to close virtually overnight. As COVID-19 cases continue to increase across the country, are schools prepared to resume remote learning?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert for infectious disease control, warns that the sudden increase in confirmed COVID-19 illnesses should be taken seriously. If in fact, K-12 schools open this fall, one thing is certain, the school’s preparedness should exceed the standards of the initial closing caused by COVID-19. There are many inadequacies the pandemic has taught the country.
Two major issues are present: inequalities still exist, and, in a technology-driven world, K-12 schools were not ready for remote learning. There are five areas districts need to address in preparation for a fall wave of COVID-19 outbreaks.
Lessons Learned from COVID-19
- Digital Divide. Digital inequality was put on public display when schools moved to remote learning. Parents with multiple children were forced to divide computer usage amongst family members. Families faced the obstacle of insufficient internet speed or the lack of internet in the home. Schools scrambled to provide paper copies of grade-level content for students who did not have internet access. America ignored the reality that everyone does not have access to computers or the internet. The exposure of this inequality uncovers the gaps in equity. Schools need to partner with organizations to provide an equal opportunity for virtual learning for all students regardless of zip codes. This can be achieved by using a portion of the funds from the CARES ACT to purchase computers to ensure a one to one ratio of technology to students in addition to purchasing wireless hotspots for in-home internet access to students
- Curriculum Ready Remote Learning. The summer months typically bring an evaluation of curriculum and pacing guides based upon student data to make the necessary adjustments for the upcoming school year. Preparing to teach for direct in-person learning drastically differs from preparing for remote learning. Administrators must prepare their teachers for remote learning.Differentiated instruction evaluates a student’s readiness and ensures the content matches the student’s readiness. Such adjustments are commonly made through face to face interactions. The removal of in-person interaction creates a gap for teachers to make the appropriate classroom adjustments. To compound matters, individual education plans (IEP) ensure special education students receive the appropriate support services. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools are obligated to provide services to students through distance learning. Building a curriculum that can withstand distance, rival in-person learning, and execute all student services is paramount.
Traditionally, teachers are not trained to teach remotely
Having been through a marking period of remote learning, administrators should prepare professional development designed for best practices for remote learning. K-12 cyber schools have used a model to operate their schools. It is in the benefit of administrators to assess K-12 cyber school formats to glean any information that may help their schools operate at optimal levels virtually.
- Clear Expectations. The unexpected school closures sent teachers, parents, and students into a state of unrest. Teachers prepared student assignments with a few days’ notice, student instructions detailed weeks of remote learning without preparation or understanding of circumstances, and parents were forced out of work and placed in the role of provider and primary educator. What is evident is the need for more interaction between teachers and students to help relieve the stress of parents. Students yearn for educators to provide educational support through academic content. The unknown daily schedules for teachers leave little meaning and direction for an instructional day. Parents, teachers, and students deserve to know the educational expectations for remote learning. Clear expectations are required to ensure all stakeholders perform to their highest capability.
- COVID-19 closure was initially thought to only last for weeks. What began as weeks turned into a closure for the remainder of the school year for most states. The structure and grading policy used by districts to hold teachers and students accountable was an afterthought. In addition to grading questions, academic integrity remains unsettled. The absence of policy surrounding grading for remote learning creates a lack of accountability “busy work” for teachers and students. The New Jersey Education Association has provided the state with guidelines for grading practices. Districts should create plans for grading practices that can be implemented at a moment’s notice.
- Online Platform. Video conferencing saw a spike in activity due to COVID-19. Most notably, Zoom was the platform of choice for most districts. As schools increased their Zoom usage, so did hackers, so much to the point that districts demanded teachers to stop using Zoom. The immediate removal of Zoom video conferencing platforms left teachers and students feeling isolated. Learning management systems or more secure video conferencing platforms like Cisco Webex, and Google Meet could provide districts with learning and instructional needs to sustain secure and long periods of synchronous instruction.
Covid-19 Round II
As the country works through the reopening process, COVID-19 has reshaped how the world approaches life. It has taught us that we are all vulnerable at any given moment, and that the best offense is sometimes defense. Education was thrown into a tailspin and caught off guard in March. If another outbreak ensues this fall, will K-12 schools have made the necessary adjustments that improve the transition caused by COVID-19?
Districts can now approach the 2020-2021 school year with comprehensive preparation by addressing deficient areas of remote learning exposed by COVID-19.
George Farmer, Ed.D., is a dedicated educator with over ten years of experience. His passion for educating students, teachers, and parents is without borders. In 2020 Dr. Farmer earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Management. His research on alternatives to out-of-school suspensions contributes to education by helping to eliminate exclusionary practices.
Beginning his educational experience, Dr. Farmer served as an in-school suspension coordinator and alternative school teacher. He later spent years as a teacher before moving to an administrative role. Dr. Farmer developed a healthy school culture through supportive attendance policy, implementing a social-emotional curriculum, providing instructional coaching, and reflective practices in an administrative capacity. He is now an administrator in New Jersey. Learn more about him at farmerandthebell.com.