Archives for category: Online Learning

Frankly, it’s hard to understand why Miami public schools chose for-profit K12 Inc. as it’s provider of remote instruction. Ten minutes or less on google would have turned up multiple articles about its terrible track record: high attrition, poor curriculum, low test scores, low graduation rates. NCAA strips accreditation for 24 schools using K12.

Wired tells the story in Miami, which recently severed its contract with K12.

ON THE MORNING of August 31, the first day of school, the 345,000 students in Miami-Dade County’s public schools fired up their computers expecting to see the faces of their teachers and classmates. Instead a scruffy little dog in banana-print pajamas appeared on their screens, alongside an error message. “Oh bananas!” read one message from the district’s online learning platform. “Too many people are online right now.”

A rudimentary cyberattack had crippled the servers of the nation’s fourth-largest school district, preventing its 392 schools from starting the year online. But even once the district had quelled the distributed denial-of-service attack and a local teen had been arrested for the crime, “Banana Dog” didn’t go away. If anything, the security breach merely obscured for a few days the crippling weaknesses in the district’s plan to move every aspect of its schooling—including a revamped curriculum—onto a platform that had only ever supported half as many students (and never all at once).

The platform was built by virtual charter school company K12, backed by one-time junk bond king Michael Milken and US secretary of education Betsy DeVos. Doug Levin, an education tech consultant, calls the decision to use K12 “atypical.” Another ed tech analyst, Phil Hill, calls it “weird.”

The rapid pivot to, and even faster pivot away from, K12 amounts to a case study in how not to deploy a massive new software project. It also illustrates how, in a few intense weeks of summer decisionmaking, a charter-school curriculum written by a for-profit company was chosen and installed, with little scrutiny, across one of the largest districts in the country.

Alberto Carvalho made the decision on his own, without consulting the board. They trusted him.

It was a disaster from the start.

K12’s software promised to replace all the other apps that schools had been using. “It was billed to teachers as the Rolls-Royce of software,” says Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade. The district and the company rushed to implement it. At the end of August, all of Miami-Dade’s educators sat through six days of K12 training—and that’s when they started to panic.

The teachers received demo logins to try out the platform, but they didn’t work, and even the trainers struggled to access it, West says. From 8 am until 3:30 pm each day, teachers took notes without once trying the software themselves. “The training was make-believe, it was so, so complex,” says one teacher. “Even our techie teachers were lost.” On Facebook, teachers shared GIFs of dumpster fires and steaming poop emojis in response to the experience.

“That’s a very complex, aggressive undertaking. And to do it with 345,000 students and in less than a month? There’s a lot of hubris involved.”

Once the school year began in earnest, technical challenges persisted. Some students struggled to log in. Uploads could be excruciatingly slow. A particular sore point was the platform’s unreliable built-in video conferencing tool, called NewRow. It had issues with sound and screen-sharing. After about 15 minutes, the video quality started to degrade. It didn’t work on iPads or iPhones.

And then there was the built-in curriculum. K12 provided content, though teachers could change or supplement it. The lessons had been devised for K12’s virtual charter schools: for-profit schools that are entirely online and receive taxpayer money for every student enrolled. When some Miami-Dade teachers examined K12’s materials, they were horrified by what they found. One teacher came across a quiz for second graders with one question: “Did you enjoy this course?” Clicking “yes” allowed the student to ace the test. Several classes relied on K12’s paper workbooks, which the students didn’t receive. “One thing our educators complained about was, the rigor was not there. It was a very watered-down curriculum,” Hernandez-Mats says.

Please read the articles in Capital & Main’s series on teaching in the age of COVID-19, which is titled “The Year of Teaching Dangerously.” They spell out the frustrations and the learning curve that teachers and students have coped with in these uncertain times. Routines went out the window. Teachers had to improvise, to be creative and innovative, and to learn to live with unprecedented challenges.

They are linked here:

Elementary School Students’ Uneasy Year Zero” by Sasha Abramsky.

Are High Schoolers Zoning Out on Zoom?” by Sasha Abramsky.

Middle School Teachers Face a Fall Term of Uncertainty,” by Sasha Abramsky.

Teachers Discover that Distance Learning is a Dance,” by Larry Buhl.

From the last article:

Imagine you’ve been cast in your school’s spring musical – in this case, High School Musical — and you’ve been rehearsing for months, but the COVID crisis closes everything a day before the show opens. Andrea Calvo, a teacher at Orange County’s Ladera Vista Junior High School of the Arts in Fullerton, was directing the show and said the performers, as well as students and in her guitar and choir classes, have been emotionally “all over the place” since March.

“Some days [they are] depressed, some days happy. They went through all the emotions and the ups and downs that teachers did,” Calvo said. There was so much confusion on how online instruction would go, and how long it would last. “We were grieving but didn’t know what we were grieving.”

In July the Orange County School Board stepped into the national spotlight by declaring its schools, unlike Los Angeles County to the north and San Diego County to the south, would open for fall classes – and without masks or social distancing. It would prove to be a moot point, because later that week Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated that all schools on the state COVID-19 monitoring list – including Orange County’s – be closed until they are off California’s monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.

A week before the fall term started, Calvo said that teachers’ stress levels have lowered somewhat since the March scramble to take learning online. Now there’s a plan to reopen schools – when the school meets the state criteria and not before – if not an exact date.

“Not knowing is stressful,” Calvo says. “Nobody thinks distance learning went well in the spring. We were in crisis mode.”

After a few months of trial and error, and a summer to connect with other music teachers nationwide on distance learning best practices, Calvo says she’s better equipped to teach online. She adds that the students at her school all had iPads, so they were already better poised for distance learning than students in other schools. Not that it made the switch easy. Nothing in her 20 years of teaching could prepare Calvo for Zoom meetings with choir students who appeared, singing, on 60 little video boxes on a computer monitor.

“We did warmups, they recorded themselves, and I hosted,” she said. “For musical theater, I demonstrate movement [in real time] and they follow.” There were too many students to fit on one computer screen, but fortunately Calvo had help from a student teacher, who monitored a second screen.

But Calvo says Orange County adopted what it calls a “Do no harm” grading policy during the crisis. The idea is that you can’t hold students to the same standards while schools are closed. “Some students were at home with family and quarantining there. Some may be at home all alone caring for siblings, some had sick parents. We don’t know what students are going through.”

But Calvo and fellow teachers and staff do want some idea of what students are going through, and they try to make sure everything is all right. “We make spreadsheets to see, ‘Oh this student didn’t log in for three days. So in that case we call and ask if everything is okay.’”

Not giving up on its plan to force everyone back into classrooms during the pandemic, the O.C. Board of Education last month vowed to sue Gov. Newsom over school closures, claiming that online instruction had been a “failure.”

Distance learning for the long haul
Calvo said that attitudes of parents and county residents have shifted over the past five months as more have accepted that the pandemic will change learning for the foreseeable future. “In May, Orange County posted photos of what classes would look like, with PPE and distancing, and people said, ‘Oh, that looks awful.’ Now, more people want schools to look like that when they open.”

“As a teacher and a parent I think distance learning is safest,” says Calvo. “But that is from a place of privilege, because I know I am able to stay home. A lot of parent friends feel the same way but I recognize we may be in a bubble.”

Calvo assumes distance learning will be the norm well into the new school year. That’s a challenge for any school, but for hers, which has 30 arts electives, it’s an even bigger challenge to maintain its culture. “There is a lot of creativity here. [Distance learning] is a dance.”

Capital & Main published a five-part series on teaching during the pandemic. The series is called “The Year of Teaching Dangerously.”

Sasha Abramsky launched the series with an article about how schools in California were adapting to the pandemic.

Abramsky writes about the uncertainty, confusion, and conflict that accompanied the shutdown, as teachers were required to address new realities and to confront stark inequities.

In March, when Northern California counties issued stay-at-home orders, followed shortly afterwards by a statewide shutdown, schools scrambled to improvise a pivot to online “distance learning.” Some were able to make the change within days; others took many weeks. Grading and assessment systems were largely put to one side, at least in the public school system. And school districts rushed – and in some cases struggled – to purchase and distribute Chromebooks or iPads to students who didn’t have them; to set up Wi-Fi hotspots for families lacking home Internet access; to work out how to keep distributing food to children from low-income families who relied on school breakfasts and lunches; and to set up methods of teaching online that wouldn’t leave out students who had special education plans, or who were English language learners.

Bureaucratic systems fabled for their inflexibility were, suddenly, tasked with finding kluge-like solutions, at speed, to meet these extraordinary challenges. Inevitably, the result was hit or miss.

The articles in this week’s new series, “The Year of Teaching Dangerously,” reflect the extraordinary challenges facing elementary, middle and high schools as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on daily life.

What began as a temporary shutdown evolved into a new way of life, for teachers, students, and parents.

The arrival of COVID-19 has made children and educators across the nation dependent on distance learning for since March. Many parents recognize the defects of distance learning and eagerly await the opportunity to send their child back to real school when it is safe. They understand that an iPad or computer can’t take the place of a real teacher.

Meanwhile the for-profit edtrch industry sees the pandemic as a golden opportunity to cash in on a crisis.

For sound guidance at this perilous time, please read the statement released by the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood:

See the statement here.

Bob Shepherd. Is a former teacher, editor, curriculum designer, and assessment developer. He believes that a return to in-person instruction would be “an unprecedented catastrophe.” But he defines remote learning as a guarantee that any real learning will be remote.

How to find a path forward give the dangers of reopening and the tedium of remote learning?

He writes:

Clearly, if we are to depend on remote learning, we must address some serious issues:

–How do we ensure that kids have home access to high-speed internet connections and computers and software?

–How do we ensure that poor kids who no longer have access to free breakfast and lunch programs have regular meals?

–What do we do about kids whose parent or parents have to work? Who is going to watch the kids?

–What do we do to compensate for the loss of the safety checks that schools provide with regard to dangerous home environments, ones in which kids are inadequately cared for or subject to abuse?

–What kinds of learning can be conducted remotely and how? What would ideal remote/distance learning look like? Yes, we ALL understand that remote learning stinks. It’s child’s play to make the long, long list of its deficiencies, but, if we haven’t a sane alternative, what can we do given the circumstances? What does the best better-than-nothing remote learning pedagogy look like?

These are all big questions. We should be thinking very seriously about them, now. Instead, we are thinking about how to “reopen safely,” which is like thinking about how to jump safely out of airplanes without parachutes.

One way to begin thinking about the last question–the one about remote learning pedagogy–is to ask, what can we do well at a distance? In what ways can computers actually be used effectively, at a distance, as learning tools? What are they good at? Well, they can be used

to provide easy, ready access to enormous numbers of texts. What if every poor kid in the US had a gift card for purchasing online books from a curated list, for example?

for direct instruction videos. (How many teachers have simple video-editing software and know how to use it?)

to provide directions for projects to be carried out by students on their own.

to provide demonstrations–walkthroughs of procedures, for example (think of how-to recipe videos, for example).

to provide curated links to instructive materials online. The Internet is the freaking Library of Alexandria writ large.

to collect assignments and return them with feedback. (How many teachers have been instructed in how to use Word editing features or Adobe Acrobat mark-up tools for marking manuscripts? Precious few, I imagine.)

to do online check tests or quizzes with immediate feedback. (How many teachers know how to use Zoom’s built-in quiz feature? How many know how to use online quiz-making programs like Kahoot?)

to provide instructive graphics–picture galleries, maps, timelines, and so on.

to conduct online discussions and some modicum of community via Zoom.

to provide sharepoint folders for collections of class documents. (How many teachers are skilled at organizing such sharepoints?)

to present beautifully typeset equations. (How many teachers know how to use the Mathtype add-in for Word to do that?)

NONE OF THIS IS IDEAL. OF COURSE IT ISN’T. But it’s better than risking the lives of students, teachers, administrators, staff, and relatives and acquaintances of all these. But here we are, wasting time discussing safely jumping out of airplanes without a parachute when we could be spending this time instructing teachers on using these tools and setting up mechanisms for teachers to share with one another what has been working for them in their online classes.

One thing that should be avoided like the plague, I think: online computer instruction programs with diagnostic tests and instructional modules. These are failed behaviorist programmed instruction modernized with graphics. They are extremely demotivating. Kids hate them, and what they learn from them, mostly, is to hate what they are supposed to be learning.

Marion Brady is a veteran educator who has been trying to reform the school curriculum for many years. He persists.

He writes:

When face-to-face schooling isn’t possible

There’s no getting around it. Firsthand experience is the best teacher. If what’s attempting to be taught is worth knowing, it’s going to be complicated. And if it’s complicated, firsthand experience isn’t just the best teacher, it’s the only teacher.

That’s the main reason most adults remember so little of what they were once “taught.” Information delivered by teacher talk, textbooks and computer screens is dumped on kids’ mental “front porch”—short-term memory—but gets no farther. To be useful, information has to be interesting enough to be picked up, taken inside, and a place in memory found for it that allows logic to access it weeks, months, or years later.

That rarely happens. Most classrooms are purpose-built for delivering information, making it hard to create firsthand experience. It’s even harder to do it via laptops, which goes far toward explaining the usual failure of virtual, remote, and distance instruction.

Alfred North Whitehead, in his 1916 Presidential Address to the Mathematical Association of England, identified a fundamental problem with traditional schooling:

“The second-handedness of the learned world is the secret of its mediocrity.”

Schooling’s bottom-line aim is societal survival in an unknowable future. Survival requires new knowledge—continuous evolution of citizens’ mental models of reality. An honest look at the world today says time is growing short for creating schooling that teaches kids the most important of all survival skills—how to turn information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom.

That’s doable, but it requires changing the primary aim of middle school-level instruction from covering the content of the core curriculum to improving the ability to think—to hypothesize, generalize, synthesize, imagine, relate, integrate, predict, extrapolate, and so on.

There are dozens of thought processes and countless combinations of thought processes that make humanness possible, but they’re not being taught because they’re too complex to be evaluated by machine-scored standardized tests.

Make maximizing adolescents’ ability to think the aim, and the resulting efficiency from the sharpened focus will be revolutionary. Reducing the hours each day devoted to the soon-forgotten conceptual chaos of the core curriculum will make available a big chunk of time for programs keyed to individual learner interests and abilities.

Dealing with Covid-19

Nothing really substitutes for face-to-face schooling, but when that’s unwise or impossible, learning’s fundamentals still need to be respected.

–          Real-world experiences

–         Teachers or mentors who ask thought-stimulating questions

–         Keeping a journal

–         Instruction paced by learner understanding rather than the calendar

–         Learning teams small and intimate enough for dialogue—”thinking out loud” about matters of significance.

Textbooks, teacher talk and laptop screens give kids a steady stream of information, but it’s been “processed.” The interesting, creative, intellectually challenging work has already been done, leaving nothing to do but try to remember it.

Would newspapers publish completed crossword puzzles? What the young need that they’re not getting is “raw” reality to chew on—reality in a form that lends itself to description, analysis and interpretation.

Primary data—the “residue” of reality—provides it. However, for kids to engage, data has to come in the form of puzzles, problems and projects, with lesson aims they consider important enough for attention to be paid, and content interesting enough to be self-propelling.

But guidance is necessary. Teams of teachers with varied expertise need to monitor the teams and sometimes comment or pose questions.

Below is an illustrative activity consistent with the above that meshes with existing middle-level curricula and bureaucratic requirements.

Use the present crisis to give education back to educators, and make middle-level schooling’s aim maximizing the quality of thought, and adolescents will demonstrate abilities only long-experienced teachers knew they had.

 A Project: Town Planning, 1583

Big idea: Humans shape habitats that then shape humans.

Age group: Middle school and older learners.

Instructional organization: Small, three-to-five-member work teams.

Technology requirements: Broadband internet access, laptop computer.

App: Zoom or another screen-sharing program

Primary data:

Page 2@





As we have seen in recent weeks, Trump and Betsy DeVos want public schools to reopen for full-time, in-person instruction. Yesterday, in an interview with Chris Wallace of FOX News, Trump reiterated that he will stop federal funding of any schools that don’t comply. He said that children don’t get the virus and they don’t die from the virus. He said nothing about the vulnerability of educators. Wallace pointed out that most federal funding Is earmarked for poor children and students with disabilities but Trump was adamant that schools must reopen fully or face his wrath. He has offered no funding for making schools safe for Reopening, and he has abdicated any responsibility for federal leadership. He said in the same interview, when asked whether people should wear masks as public health experts advise, that mask-wearing was a decision for governors and individuals.

It seems like only yesterday that Trump and DeVos were cheerleaders for online learning, as Politico points out.

President Donald Trump’s newfound disdain for online education is a sharp departure from what his administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have long championed in terms of policy on virtual learning.

As he presses schools and colleges to physically reopen their doors this fall, Trump has dismissed online learning as an acceptable strategy that local education leaders can employ as they face surging coronavirus cases in many parts of the country.

“Now that we have witnessed it on a large scale basis, and firsthand, Virtual Learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning,” Trump said in a tweet last week. “Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall.”

In events and media appearances over the past several weeks, the White House and administration officials have repeatedly insisted that the nation’s schools and colleges must physically reopen classes — and that online instruction, fully or partially, isn’t an appropriate alternative. They’ve threatened to use federal funding as a lever to prod schools into physically reopening.

The Trump administration has been clear that it’s concerned that schools remaining closed would be a drag on the economic recovery that the president is banking on ahead of the November election. “If we don’t reopen the schools that would be a setback to a true economic recovery,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser said this week.

Trump blasted Los Angeles school officials earlier this week for a “terrible decision” to keep the nation’s second-largest school district online-only when classes start in several weeks. Many other large school districts across the country are also defying Trump’s demands to physically reopen.

“It’s not a matter of if schools should reopen, it’s simply a matter of how,” DeVos has repeated several times in recent weeks as she’s become a main spokesperson for the Trump administration’s push to reopen schools. Schools, she has said, “must fully open and they must be fully operational.”

But the Trump administration’s focus on in-person instruction in traditional school buildings is a stark change for DeVos, who has long been an ardent proponent of virtual schools and individualized digital learning options for students.

As secretary of Education, she has also taken action to promote online instruction in both K-12 schools and higher education, steering money and grants toward digital learning options and scaling back federal regulations in order to promote distance education.

DeVos last year traveled the country on a “Rethink Education” tour in which she repeatedly called for education leaders to question longtime assumptions about what K-12 and higher education looks like — which she noted hasn’t changed much in several centuries.

“It’s past time to ask some of the questions that often get labeled as ‘non-negotiable’ or just don’t get asked at all,” DeVos said during a 2018 speech. Among them: “Why do students have to go to a school building in the first place?”

DeVos also touted “high-quality virtual charter schools” as “valuable” option during her confirmation process. She and her husband previously were investors in K12 Inc., one of the nation’s largest virtual school companies.

This speedy reversal has left boosters of online learning confused and dismayed.

To add to the confusion, DeVos continues to promote online higher education.

Larry Ferlazzo, teacher blogger, concludes that students will be okay this year—they had already finished most of the academic year when schools closed. But another year of distance learning would be toxic.

The harm will be most significant for the most vulnerable students.

Ferlazzo wisely understands that remote learning is a poor substitute for real face-to-face interactions in a classroom with teachers.

A group of scholars recently published a peer-reviewed study of online schooling and virtual charter schools. The authors are Brian Fitzpatrick, Mark Berends, Joseph J.Ferrare, and R. Joseph Waddington.

The University of Kentucky College of Education, where Waddington is a professor, summed up the findings:

Online Schooling’s Impact on Student Achievement

Online schooling quickly became the new normal for U.S. students when school buildings shuttered to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Although the full impact this will have on student performance will not be understood for quite some time, a study published in the April issue of the journal Educational Researcher may offer a glimpse.

Dr. Joseph Waddington, an assistant professor in the University of Kentucky College of Education Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation, is part of a research team that analyzes student performance in charter schools. Virtual charter schools are offered in 21 states across the U.S., including in Indiana, where the majority of Waddington’s research data is collected.

The results of the study published in April do not bode well for virtual learning. The research team found that students who switched from traditional public schools to virtual charter schools saw test scores in mathematics and English/language arts drop substantially, and the lower scores persisted over time.

When students across the U.S. abruptly shifted to online learning, Waddington and his colleagues considered whether their performance would mirror that of students in virtual charters.

“Researchers, policymakers, teachers, school administrators, and parents alike have all been concerned about the negative consequences for student learning resulting from the dramatic shift to online instruction during COVID-19, amongst other health, safety, and socioemotional outcomes,” Waddington said. “We knew we could not directly compare virtual charter schools and the online learning taking place during COVID-19. However, we thought it would be beneficial to provide the community with a research-informed discussion of the two online learning environments, since many individuals have been eager to catch a glimpse of the potential impacts on student achievement.”

The discussion was published by Brookings, a non-profit public policy institute based in Washington D.C. It, along with the study published in Educational Researcher, was authored by Brian R. Fitzpatrick and Mark Berends at the University of Notre Dame, Joseph J. Ferrare at the University of Washington-Bothell, and Waddington at UK.

A bill allowing charter schools in Kentucky, HB 520, was signed into law in 2017. Kentucky’s charter school legislation does not allow for virtual charter schools.

In the authors’ Brookings blog Post, they explain their peer-reviewed work. The major conclusion is:

We find the impact of attending a virtual charter on student achievement is uniformly and profoundly negative, equating to a third of a standard deviation in English/language arts (ELA) and a half of a standard deviation in math. This equates to a loss of roughly 11 percentile points in ELA and 16 percentile points in math for an average virtual charter student at baseline as compared to their public school peers (see Figure 1 above). There is no evidence that virtual charter students improve in subsequent years. We could not “explain away” these findings by looking at various teacher or classroom characteristics. We also use the same methodology to analyze the impact of attending brick-and-mortar charter schools. In contrast, we find that students who attended brick-and-mortar charters have achievement no different from their traditional public school peers (see Figure 2 below). Our confidence in these results is further buoyed by other studies of virtual charter schools in Ohio and nationwide having similar findings.

If we want to dumb down a generation of students, we will make distance learning a permanent part of the landscape.

Catherine Pearson writes at Huffington Post that children are depressed and miserable because of distance learning. The fun of remote learning is gone.

They miss their friends and activities.

In the past month, my 5-year-old has gone from being excited about video calls for school and virtual “play dates” to basically hating it all. Sometimes he’s into it — like yesterday, when he was totally engrossed in a 30-minute math class with his teacher and six friends. More often, he whines and mopes beforehand, then immediately after slips into a funk. That goes for official school meetings and for more casual digital hangouts with family and friends.

Zoom fatigue (or whatever your preferred video call platform) is a real issue for both adults and kids, which is, of course, a problem. Millions of children across America are doing the bulk of their schooling online right now, a scenario that could well continue into the next academic year. But lots of them are feeling, just, meh about the whole thing.

Are your kids completely over Zoom? Here’s what that is all about — and what you can do to help them through it.

Pearson has advice for parents about talking to their children and helping them get through this trying experience.