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Planning for Schools’ (Hopeful) Reopening

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

“No, This Is Not the New Normal” by Robert Pondiscio in The Education Gadfly, April 14, 2020,

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.”

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