“No, This Is Not the New Normal” by Robert Pondiscio in The Education Gadfly, April 14, 2020, https://bit.ly/3cBSzsH
In this Education Gadfly article, Robert Pondiscio predicts that when the current crisis is over, remote learning won’t continue. We aren’t transforming ourselves “into a nation of homeschoolers or ‘unschoolers’,” he says, “any more than passengers thrown from a sinking ship into lifeboats can be said to have taken up rowing.” The online learning being implemented by hard-working teachers is an emergency response. As soon as it’s possible, kids and parents and teachers will be happy to get back to their brick-and-mortar schools. Why? “The act of sending our kids every morning to a place called a school is a cultural habit formed over many generations,” says Pondiscio. “It persists because we value it, not for want of a better idea or a more-efficient delivery mechanism for education.”
There’s no question that this period of school closings will widen learning gaps, he continues, because families are much more unequal than schools: broadband access, devices and books in the home, parents available to help. In the words of Paul von Hippel (University of Texas/Austin), “We’re about to see what happens when we turn up the volume on families and turn it down on schools.” A recent NWEA report predicts that this fall, students will enter school with about 70 percent of the usual reading gains and less than 50 percent of expected achievement in math – and those are averages, masking big differences by social class.
The biggest priority for district leaders right now, says Pondiscio, is getting ready for reopening: “If we aren’t planning for the resumption of schools, and for the foreseeable conditions we will face, we will be caught flat-footed a second time.” His suggestions:
- Plan for different scenarios – fully open, staggered, virtual for a period of time.
- Assign qualified educators from the central office to teach in the opening weeks to improve the student/teacher ratio.
- Plan to accelerate the learning of students who enter the furthest behind.
- The district’s strongest teachers should be working with those students.
- Give special attention to the early grades.
- Assessment-driven achievement grouping may be necessary, especially in the lower grades.
- The primary focus for the early weeks should be on reinforcing the previous grade’s learning.
- Use teacher leaders and master teachers to design curriculum and control quality.
- Press new college graduates and non-professionals into service for several weeks or months of targeted, high-dosage tutoring in high-need schools.
- Don’t overcomplicate things for teachers.
“Keep it simple,” Pondiscio concludes. “Keep it focused, intense, achievable, and time-limited. The most attention should be on those who have fallen the furthest behind.”