A quarter of CT students went MIA when COVID closed schools.

Sep 20, 2020 by

Could holding live, online classes lure them back? The solution to CT school closings might be live, online learning

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At least 137,000 students didn’t show up for remote schooling last spring. Educators don’t want a repeat in the fall.

The opportunity to see his crush is what drove one of Hilary McDevitt’s sixth grade students to log into the live online classes she began hosting after COVID-19 shuttered the elementary school she teaches at in Bridgeport.

“This is so silly, right? But this is the stuff the kids get up and go to school for in the morning.,” said McDevitt.

“He would make sure he was up and his hair brushed before that class meeting,” McDevitt was told by the child’s mother. “These meet-ups really mattered for the kids who were on. It’s very isolating to do everything just on your own. The synchronous instruction was the place where it felt like we were together, where you build community, and you can still find places to laugh.”

Children find motivation to show up for school from all different places; some come for gym or art class, others for science, and countless others to see their friends or teachers.

The pandemic has complicated that model.

With many expecting schools to close again this upcoming school year as the virus rages around the country, educators must figure out how to lure online the 137,000 children throughout Connecticut who either didn’t participate in remote learning at all or did so minimally after school buildings closed last March.

In Bridgeport, a full half of the student body didn’t show up regularly for remote schooling during the pandemic compared to 19% who were chronically absent before school buildings closed. It’s not just the urban districts facing this challenge. In nearby Newtown, where McDeVitt’s son was in eighth grade when schools closed, 14% of the students didn’t show up regularly for online school compared to 4% who regularly missed school prior to the pandemic.

There seems to be widespread agreement that even if students did participate fully in the remote learning offered, students fell behind where they would have been if classrooms stayed open – and students will fall even further behind if schools close this fall.

So what is the solution if schools must close?

Many agree that holding live classes online and hosting small group sessions is the next best option.

Yehyun Kim :: CT Mirror

Alex Kendall, 16, left, and Sylis Williams, 17, walk down the stairs after sharing thoughts about reopening the school in the fall with Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona on July 24 at West Haven High School.

“It is critically important, in my personal opinion, for the social emotional connection to see the faces of your friends and your teacher. To hear the voice of your teacher, there’s a calming effect when you’re able to, in your mind, replicate the experience of the past,” Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said of live, synchronous classes. “I would argue that the majority of those benefits are social emotional, in addition to the instruction that the teacher is providing on a concept that a student might not be familiar with. It’s harder to understand a concept that you don’t have a teacher teaching.”

Hartford Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez agrees.

“We know that in learning there’s a social dynamic at play with learning. Learning happens best when there’s an interaction between the content, the students, the adult, the peers, and some of those clearly are missed in an asynchronous delivery,” she said. “It’s the power of that entire synergy that’s important in the learning process.”

Other education experts agree.

“All kids get so much more than just academic content from school. That emotional learning and connection is much richer through face to face contact. But if that’s not possible, being online in a virtual synchronous setting can provide some of that connection and really keep cultivating the relationship between the teacher and the students and among the students. It is really important,” said Morgean Donaldson, a professor at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education who studies teacher quality.

School is not just about giving kids work to do and having them complete it. You need a teacher on the other end that teaches them.”— Mara Rabinowitz

But live classes played a limited role in many districts last spring. A survey of superintendents conducted by the CT Mirror five weeks after schools closed showed that 15% of the districts that responded – 8 of the 54 – were not offering live classes at all. And in places where it was provided, the frequency varied widely from schools that offered only weekly 30 minute classes to daily lessons.

Mara Rabinowitz, whose oldest son attends elementary school in Fairfield and whose youngest son attends a special education school in Trumbull, has seen the difference live instruction plays.

“The expectations are high for my oldest. He has time slots, like 9:30 to 10:15, he has English class, then 10:15 to 11, he has math. He knows that he’ll be supported by those teachers at that time. For my younger son, he’s just sort of told, ‘you know, kind of just go on whenever you want,’” she said. “It’s night and day – and it’s really, really unfair. It’s really disappointing. School is not just about giving kids work to do and having them complete it. You need a teacher on the other end that teaches them.”

Cloe Poisson :: CTMirror.org

Mara Rabinowitz lives in Fairfield with her two boys, Jack, 8, (left) and Jordan, 10 (right.) Rabinowitz is a bilingual coach for the West Haven school system and is juggling the demands of teaching remotely from home and managing her boy’s distance learning while schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But she’s managing to do her job and keep her children focused. “There are a lot of families in West Haven who have it worse because it’s even more challenging to have four kids on one cell phone,” she said. “It’s more difficult than my job here.”

Numerous roadblocks stand in the way of every student in Connecticut getting live online learning, ranging from the difficulty of getting all 527,829 public school students their own computers and connected to the internet to getting the state’s 35,414 teachers and their unions to agree to provide regular live online instruction.

Federal funding is expected to make it a bit easier for districts to provide live instruction online. The governor plans to announce later today that he will spend $43 million of the federal COVID-19 funding it received to help close the so-called “digital divide” by purchasing 50,000 laptops and connecting 60,000 students to the internet.

While the State Department of Education does recommend that schools dedicate half of each school week to live online teaching, it leaves it entirely up to local officials to determine what will be offered if schools do close again.

On Monday, the State Department of Education and Columbia University’s Center for Public Research and Leadership released a 35-page report highlighting best practices for districts to follow when providing distance learning. Among the so-called “essential actions” is that districts “make clear the expectation that educators deliver and students attend synchronous 1:1, small group, and large group (whole class or school) instruction each day in all subject areas.”

The state associations representing teachers’ unions, school boards and superintendents all helped create the guidance.

“So you have some communities that are going to rise to the occasion and have a lot of live learning, and you have some that are going to be beholden to their collective bargaining agreements locally and they will do the bare minimum unless the state provides some requirements,” said Amy Dowell, the leader of the state chapter of Education Reform Now, an advocacy organization affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. “For the long haul students might be home, and I think it will really come down to town-by-town what type of remote school they get.”

Source: A quarter of CT students went MIA when COVID closed schools. Could holding live, online classes lure them back? The solution to CT school closings might be live, online learning

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