Two districts, two very different plans for students while school is out indefinitely

Mar 21, 2020 by

All schools are closed in Connecticut for the foreseeable future. But not all students are getting the same learning opportunities.

Every elementary school student in Glastonbury was sent home with an iPad on the day Connecticut’s governor declared a “public health emergency” to blunt the spread of the coronavirus. On it were all the learning platforms students would need to resume learning online. Students without internet access at home were provided a connection by the district.

“Glastonbury Public Schools is well positioned to provide a successful experience for our students,” Alan B. Bookman, the district’s superintendent, wrote parents the afternoon of March 10.

Provided by Tim Jordan

A view of Tim Jordan’s first grader sharing her work on the on-line application SeeSaw during Monday’s “distance learning” class.

A few days later – as COVID-19 spread like brushfire throughout the region and school buildings shut down indefinitely – classes for this suburban town’s nearly 6,000 students went virtual.

That morning, Molly Willsey’s first graders logged onto their iPads just after 9 a.m. and started their school day. They started with writing exercises like practicing lower- and upper-case Gs, followed by math (having students count shamrocks), and then settled in to watch a video of her reading a Junie B. Jones book. She had students take pictures of their work along the way and shared it. Ms. Willsey graded it within minutes.

In one of Connecticut’s poorest cities, however, the transition hasn’t been nearly as seamless. In Bridgeport, where one out of every 26 public school students in the state attend school, some children were sent home with with worksheets and assignments, but this was an effort by individual teachers and not a coordinated approach by the district.

Many of Bridgeport’s students went home empty-handed.

“It should not be viewed as, ‘Oh, you gave them paperwork. That’s all you gave them.’ It’s like, ‘No that’s all that we had,’” said Ryan Brown, a seventh grade math teacher at the district’s Read School. “I don’t think it’s ever crossed the minds of anyone to say, ‘You know, let’s give all the kids in Bridgeport a Chromebook that they can use at home.’ We should have made sure that everybody had access to everything way before this happened, and then we wouldn’t really have too much of a problem right now.”

Brown’s students are able to use the school’s 7-year old Chromebooks during class unless they are already being used by another teacher, but even then, the computers don’t work very well. Some have broken keys, others have a slow internet connection, and a remote mouse is required on a handful.

“They’re functional, like we make them work type-of-thing. But we can’t send them home with students,” Brown said.

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Photo provided by Educators for Excellence

Bridgeport Public School Teacher Ryan Brown

This digital divide between one of the state’s wealthier towns and poorest cities – and differences in distance learning for students during the prolonged school closure – will surely deepen the yawning disparities in educational outcomes between students from low-income families and their classmates.

“The achievement gap is going to worsen – not get better,” warned Donald E. Williams Jr., the executive director of the state’s largest teachers’ union, the Connecticut Education Association.

Parents also play a role in deepening this gap, as some are more available to help home-school their children while schools are closed for weeks. For example, the father of one of Ms. Willsey’s first graders, Tim Jordan, works from home and was able to spend time getting his children set up. Brown said many of the parents of his students are in survival mode and have cobbled together child care so they can still work.

“How do we make sure that during this sort of alternate reality, this alternate schooling format, that we don’t have a case of the haves- and have-nots, in which certain parents devote themselves to almost like the overkill Olympics of Homeschooling – Gold Medal Homeschooling – and end up exacerbating opportunity gaps?” asked Sarah Woulfin, a professor at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education who studies the relationship between education policy and equitable instruction.

Source: Two districts, two very different plans for students while school is out indefinitely

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