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Well, that was fast!

Only minutes after news broke that Governor Cuomo had asked Bill Gates and his foundation to help “reimagine” education in New York, parent groups responded with a loud NO!

Don’t mess with New York parents! Remember, they started the biggest opt-out from state testing in history.

Here is their public letter:

May 5, 2020

To Governor Cuomo:

As educators, parents and school board members, we were appalled to hear that you will be working with the Gates Foundation on “reimagining” our schools following the Covid crisis. Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have promoted one failed educational initiative after another, causing huge disaffection in districts throughout the state.

Whether that be the high-handed push by the Gates Foundation for the invalid Common Core standards, unreliable teacher evaluation linked to test scores, or privacy-violating data-collection via the corporation known as inBloom Inc., the education of our children has been repeatedly put at risk by their non-evidence based “solutions”, which were implemented without parent input and despite significant public opposition. As you recall, these policies also sparked a huge opt-out movement across the state, with more than twenty percent of eligible students refusing to take the state exams.

We urge you instead to listen to parents and teachers rather than allow the Gates Foundation to implement their damaging education agenda once again. Since the schools were shut down in mid-March, our understanding of the profound deficiencies of screen-based instruction has only grown. The use of education tech may have its place, but only as an ancillary to in-person learning, not as its replacement. Along with many other parents and educators, we strongly oppose the Gates Foundation to influence the direction of education in the state by expanding the use of ed tech.

Instead, we ask that you fund our schools sufficiently and equitably, to allow for the smaller classes, school counselors, and other critical services that our children will need more than ever before, given the myriad losses they have experienced this year.

Yours sincerely,

New York State Allies for Public Education

Class Size Matters

Parent Coalition for Student Privacy

Cc: Board of Regents and Acting NYSED Commissioner Shannon Tahoe

John Merrow has some good suggestions in this essay about the month of May and how to use it wisely and well:

May has been an educational ‘dead zone’ for years. Because of our national obsession with standardized test scores, teachers–particularly in low income areas–spend class time showing students how to guess at answers, giving practice tests, and even teaching children how to fill in bubbles for the standardized, multiple choice ‘bubble’ tests that await them. These activities come with a huge opportunity cost for students, because they are of no educational benefit whatsoever and probably set their learning back; for teachers, they are an insult to their profession. And school districts spend billions of dollars buying, administering, and grading the bubble tests required by their states and the federal government.

When I was reporting I occasionally heard people complaining–in song–about “the morbid, miserable month of May,” riffing off an old Stephen Foster tune, “The Merry, Merry Month of May.” As I recall, the expression surfaced in 2003 or 2004, which is when the unintended consequences of the 2001 federal “No Child Left Behind” law became apparent. Because NCLB penalized schools that didn’t achieve what it called ‘adequate yearly progress’ on standardized tests, many districts eliminated art, music, drama, journalism, and even recess in order to concentrate on ‘the basics.’

That’s when the month of May became a ‘morbid’ dead zone, educationally speaking.

I don’t remember where I first heard the expression. It might have been in the suburban North Carolina elementary school that held ‘pep rallies’ in advance of the upcoming state exams, or in Richmond, Virginia, where a veteran middle school teacher told me “Teaching and learning are done; now it’s all test prep.” Or perhaps it was the Chicago high school teacher who confessed that he vomited in his wastebasket when he saw his students’ scores, or the custodian in a Success Academy charter school in New York City who said he rinsed out classroom trash cans every night because students regularly threw up in them during testing. Another possibility is the Washington, DC, parent whose young son couldn’t sleep because his teacher said she’d get fired if they didn’t do well on the tests.

The good news is that May 2020 does not have to be ‘morbid,’ ‘miserable,’ or ‘malignant.’ Because schools are closed and state standardized testing has been cancelled, May is a blank slate–and an opportunity for us to make it ‘magical’ and ‘memorable.’

News reports indicate that many parents are unhappy in the role of ‘teacher at home.’ (They are also coming to realize just how hard it is to be an effective teacher!) Teachers are frustrated because nothing in their training prepared them for teaching remotely. And so, because the March-April experiment in ‘remote learning’ hasn’t been a rousing success and because May is a tabula rasa, let’s embrace ‘out of the box’ thinking. Stop thinking like educators whose jobs depend on high test scores. Think differently!

(An earlier blog post about librarians, swimming instructors, highway engineers, and gardeners is here.)

Imagine for a moment that you don’t have a captive audience (because right now you don’t). IE, think like a librarian. Public libraries are different from schools in one important way: they do not have required attendance. But even though no one is forced to attend the library, library usage continues to climb. To survive and prosper, librarians have had to identify their audiences and find ways to draw them into their buildings and electronic networks. For the most part, they’ve succeeded without pandering. That’s what’s called for in education at this moment.

Carol Burris conducted a survey of teachers, parents, and principals on behalf of the Network for Public Education to learn about how this extended period of emergency remote learning is affecting them. The summary is reported in this article posted on Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog.

This period of emergency remote learning is taking an emotional toll on many.

Burris writes:

When I asked Bronx high school Principal Jeff Palladino to describe his day recently, he replied: “That is hard to do. I don’t know when it begins and when it ends.”


He starts his day, he said, by checking into Google Classroom to see if students turned in their work. “Many of our students live in crowded apartments with family members that are ill, so the only time it’s quiet enough for them to do their work is at night,” he said.


Jeff Palladino is the principal of Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, located in the most impoverished congressional district in the United States. Sixty percent of Fannie Lou Hamer students are Latino, and 39 percent are black. Their parents are either workers declared essential or suffering from the worry of being laid off.
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The Bronx community that the high school serves has been devastated by covid-19. “Since this began, our students are losing family members,” he said. “We lose two or three each week. We have lost an alumna. One of our students passed away, although we are not certain if the cause was covid-19. It is so hard because you cannot physically be there for them.” Palladino told me about a student whom they could not contact for two weeks. Both parents had the virus, and she was caring not only for them but for the rest of the family as well. Everyone was relieved when they got the message that she was okay and catching up on her work.


In a New York suburb in hard-hit Nassau County, South Side High School Principal John Murphy begins his workday at 7 a.m.


“The first thing we do is check-in with our at-risk kids — kids with emotional issues, health issues, kids who were at-risk before covid-19,” he said. “We call and make sure they are okay.”

His school has lost four parents to the disease to date. One teacher, who since has recovered, was hospitalized and on a ventilator.
School counselors follow up with students who are struggling, speaking with parents as well as kids.

Then Murphy moves on to supervising instruction by dropping in on online classes, with parent and teacher concerns, trouble-shooting software issues, and attending district meetings. Work moves into night and weekends, as crises pop up.
Murphy has high-praise for his teachers, who themselves are struggling to do the best they can. “Teachers and students miss each other desperately,” he said.


Meanwhile, Arthur Goldstein teaches his Francis Lewis High School students from his home on Long Island. His students are all beginning English Language learners. Some hide behind avatars in his virtual classroom. He worries about what is happening in their homes, which are often tiny apartments in Queens, New York, where covid-19 has taken a staggering toll.




In the Midwest, Fort Wayne elementary school teacher Eileen Doherty struggles to teach her inner-city students. She is dismayed by the differences between what her own children who attend a suburban school have when compared with those she teaches.

One mom explained to her why schoolwork was not her first priority: “I am just trying to feed my children.”

Between April 8 to April 13, 2020, the Network for Public Education surveyed teachers and educators across the United States to find out how they were responding to and coping with the emergency closing of school buildings due to covid-19. The survey was distributed to our mailing list of 350,000, shared online via social media, and then subsequently shared by teacher, administrator, and family groups.


Here’s who responded: 7,249 public school teachers, 5,536 public school parents, and 354 public school administrators responded.


About half of the educator respondents reported that their own children are remotely learning, therefore it is possible that approximately half of the parent respondents are educators themselves.

Responses came from every state.
In the educator surveys, urban, suburban, small city and rural districts were represented in proportions similar to the United States at large.

Suburban parents were over-represented in the parent survey; however, 33 percent of respondents lived in urban centers or small cities. A majority of teachers (56 percent) taught in schools in which over half of the students received free or reduced-price lunch. Thirty percent taught in schools where the proportion of low socio-economic status students exceeded 80 percent.


In addition to the surveys, we conducted nine in-depth interviews with educators and parents from around the country to gain insights into emergency remote learning during the covid-19 pandemic.

What follows is an account of what we found. You can find all three surveys and their results here.


A tough adjustment 


Only 19 percent of teachers reported having completely adjusted; over 50 percent said their adjustment was difficult, and nearly 31 percent were, at the time of their response to the survey, still struggling to adjust. While 41 percent of parents reported that their child had adjusted and was able to complete assignments, 22 percent reported that their child was still struggling to adjust.


Emily Sawyer is the mother of five in Austin, Texas. Each of her children has reacted differently; each has his or her own adjustment challenges. Ironically, the child she worries about the most is her son who has transitioned the best. “He is the one who needs the most socialization that physical school attendance provides.” She worries about his transition back to his brick and mortar school.


The difficulty of managing multiple children in a remote learning environment was echoed by Khanh-Lien Banko, who has four children in public schools in Alachua County, Florida. Both she and her husband are juggling to keep their children on task, while working remotely from home.
“We all have our devices in our home; however, it is still very, very difficult. Distance learning for middle-schoolers is probably the worst possible choice,” she said with a laugh.


The emotional toll 


Over 80 percent of parents reported that their child misses his/her classmates, and over 60 percent reported they miss their teacher. Fifty-eight percent of parents told us their child misses sports and extracurricular activities, and 39 percent said he or she regularly expresses feelings of loneliness. Almost 10 percent — 9.5 percent — said their child prefers remote learning to classroom learning. Reactions were generally consistent across grade levels.




Teachers and administrators were asked to select adjectives that described how they were feeling regarding distance instruction. Both administrators (43 percent) and teachers (57 percent) most frequently chose “overwhelmed.” Large shares of both groups also chose “anxious” and “struggling.”
While 37.5 percent of administrators felt supported, only 29 percent of teachers chose that adjective as a descriptor. Eight percent of teachers and 11 percent of administrators were “enthusiastic” about distance learning.
For some children, attending school at home, coupled with the uncertainty about when they will return, has been traumatic.

Khanh-Lien Banko’s youngest son “somehow got it in his head that he was going back in two weeks.”
”When he found out he was not, he was heartbroken., she said. “All of our children are grieving and miss going to school.”


New York City teacher Gary Rubinstein told me his son “has wonderful teachers who create a social, highly interactive classroom in which he thrives.” Absent the support provided by teachers and friends, his young son is struggling both academically and emotionally.


Superintendent Joe Roy of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, said he is proud of his teachers who are providing instruction; still, remote learning cannot begin to replace all of the socio-emotional benefits that learning with others offers.


He is acutely aware of the stress his families are going through as well. One father, a truck driver whose wife is a nurse, called to talk about how overwhelming it is as his family tries to balance work, health, and his children’s schoolwork. Roy’s message to his community is simple and straightforward: “Compassion before curriculum; grace before grades.” Roy uses self-produced videos to reassure his community, provide emotional support, and keep them informed.


Face-to-face contact, virtually


Sixty-four percent of teachers told us that they video-conference with their students at least once a week — 38 percent conference with students several times a week.

Conferencing rates were relatively stable across school type with one exception—rural teachers were less likely to video conference (60 percent) than colleagues in city and suburban centers.




Although everyone we interviewed highly valued visual contact via technology, there were concerns regarding privacy issues, especially in the context of streamed classroom instruction.


“Kids are used to saying whatever they want, whenever they want on social media, and there is a fear, especially among students who have been bullied, that harassment will take place in online classrooms — including harassment that can be recorded and then shared,” said Principal Murphy.
Incidences of classrooms being “crashed” by non-students, other family members being seen on camera, and even an instance when a parent recorded and critiqued a lesson, have been posted on administrator email lists, giving schools pause when it comes to the use of live, online lessons.


Online live classroom management can also be more difficult. Goldstein, the teacher on Long Island, lamented that he could not control student behavior online the way he can in his classroom, in which he can cajole reluctant learners to participate.
“When they hide behind avatars it is difficult to see if they are engaged or lying in bed during class,” he said. “But I have to respect their privacy, so I feel I have no right to tell them to come out from behind the avatar.”


Dual roles for teachers


Rubinstein teaches mathematics at New York City’s elite Stuyvesant High School. At the same time, he is taking care of two school-age children, one of whom has a learning disability.
Being isolated has taken a toll on his son, and hours of effort are required to help him do his work. He walked me through his exhausting daily schedule, explaining how he divides his time supporting his children and teaching his students. Rubinstein said he carefully crafts videos that students can watch on demand, posts assignments, and teaches a live class every day.




According to our survey, 76 percent of teachers work a minimum of five hours a day, with 20 percent logging in more than nine hours a day. Eighty-eight percent of administrators were working five or more hours a day, with more than 32 percent exceeding a nine-hour work day.

Half of all teacher and administrator respondents have school-age children at home.


The tools and online platforms that teachers and schools are using vary. Seventy-two percent of all teachers email students. Sixty-four percent use Google Classroom, and 32 percent use Google Meet to create classroom groups. Zoom, which has been hit with privacy and intrusion concerns, is also a frequently used platform for conferencing and instruction (40 percent).


Whatever the platform, the delivery of instruction is challenging, educators say.


Murphy of South Side High School quickly learned that trying to keep up the pace of the in-school curriculum is an impossibility. “Learning a topic takes twice as long online.”
Teachers and students were burning out. “I finally had to tell them to slow down,” he said.
Not only were his teachers and students overloading, so were the online platforms they were using. “Once schools on the West Coast came online, everything would slow to a crawl. Students became frustrated as they futilely attempted to submit their work,” he said.


Because Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School is a performance-based assessment school, free from the regulations that demand adherence to the New York State Regents curriculum, the transition to remote instruction has been easier.




“Project-based learning is the centerpiece of our instruction,” Palladino said. “A test is not our endpoint, so our work in many ways has not changed. Teachers do not have to redo the curriculum.”
The school will have its cumulative portfolio conferences virtually.

“Our teachers have been able to do office hours, small group conferencing, and one-on-one conferencing to support student work. It is a good match for what we do.”
Still, Palladino said, online learning is not optimal or a long-term strategy for the school. “What keeps remote learning going for us are the relationships we built before the building closed,” he said.


Fannie Lou Hamer is a full-service community school, with an 11-year relationship with The Children’s Aid Society.

Relationships with community organizations that continue to support students, as well as strong advisory groups, have helped keep afloat instruction in a community devastated by covid-19.
Palladino said he also worries that his staff is overly concerned about students falling behind. “My teachers are entirely too hard on themselves. I have to tell them not to worry,” he said. ” We will figure all of this out.”


Connectivity and instruction


One of the greatest challenges for schools in implementing distance learning is providing access to both devices and connectivity.

According to our survey, only 35 percent of administrators believe that all of their students have their own laptop or a tablet. Sixty-four percent of administrators reported some device distribution to fill the technology gap. Sixteen percent indicated that they had distributed laptops or tablets to all students before the covid-19 crisis began.




Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School modified and distributed 300 Chromebooks from their school supply. When 30 students were unable to pick them up, Palladino drove into the Bronx and distributed the laptops from his car window, he said. The school also distributed hot spots.
“Without connectivity, the laptop is just a paperweight,” he said.


Students in Grades 8-12 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, had Chromebooks, but students in Grades K-7 did not. Roy loaned school-based laptops to families, with priority going to those who have no laptops at all.


In the Duarte Unified School District in California, where 78 percent of all students receive free or reduced-price lunch, middle and high school students already had a school-issued laptop, but elementary students did not.
Heather Messner, teacher and union president, said school-based laptops are being given out, and “hot-spots” are distributed to families without internet services. In addition, Duarte teachers create paper learning packets, which school principals copy and distribute at both food-distribution centers and schools, trying to leave no child without instruction.


In some places, devices and connectivity shortages are particularly severe.


Fort Wayne, Indiana teacher Eileen Doherty told us, “Some of my students wait for their mother to come home so that they can access her phone to do the work. About 20 percent of my students come to my class on Zoom each day, and it is not even the same 20 percent.”

Getting laptops to seniors who need them for credit recovery for graduation has been the first priority in Fort Wayne, she said.


Schools as centers of community


Nearly 95 percent of all school administrators reported that their school(s) were engaging in the distribution of food.


Roy runs eight support sites in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — seven from his schools, and one in a low-income housing center. The sites distribute food at the rate of 3,000 meals a day to the families of public, charter, and parochial school students.




According to Florida parent and PTA advocate, Khanh-Lien Banko, the district’s food service is providing 20,000 meals a day at 76 locations.

Fannie Lou Hamer distributes “grab and go” breakfasts and lunches to any community member who walks through the door.


But schools are doing far more than just distributing food to the public. They are providing emotional support services as well as making connections between families and social services.
There is a worry about families who have slipped through the cracks.

Banko, who is a leader of the PTA in Florida and running for the school board in Alachua County, told us that despite outreach emails and phone calls, it has not been possible to contact every family. “School faculty and staff are now going door to door to check on kids and families in accordance with safety guidelines,” she said.


The first priority


Fifty-five percent of teachers and 59 percent of administrators believed that students are likely to fall academically behind. Parents are more optimistic — only 27 percent thought their child would lag academically, likely a reflection of the large share of teacher-parents who took the survey. Large proportions of all three surveyed groups believed that they could not come to a judgment regarding student progress at this time (34 percent of teachers, 30 of administrators of administrators, 29 percent of parents.)


In every interview, student academic performance came second to worry about the physical and emotional health of children.


Rubinstein said he worried about the health and safety of his predominantly Asian-American students, many of whom live in small, multi-generational apartments in Queens County of New York City. Not only are they living in one of the hardest-hit places in America, he told me, but they are also dealing with bias stemming from the origins of the disease.




Texas parent Emily Sawyer said she worried the most for the black and brown children of Austin, who had fewer resources and support than her five children. And the inability to physically see and support every child through the pandemic weighed deeply on everyone’s mind.


In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative non-profit think-tank, suggested that one solution to academic loss was to have large shares of students, especially those in Title I Schools, repeat their present grade. I asked interviewees what they thought of that idea.
All strongly disagreed, saying it was an ineffective and punitive measure.

Goldstein, on Long Island, said, “That is heartless and cruel to punish kids for something they can’t control. We are through 70 percent of the school year … That is saying to kids. ‘You came for nothing.’”
Goldstein and a team of teachers from his school proposed a grading policy for students that would “do no harm,” with teachers not assigning grades lower than the grade the student had achieved when the school building closed.


In states further south and west of the New York metropolitan area, schools were even closer to the end of the year. Fort Wayne teacher Doherty noted that most of April would have been devoted to prepping for and taking state-wide tests, with schools then closing in May.


Banko told us there was one upside to remote learning. Since state tests were canceled, the assignments students were being given were far more interesting than the usual spring test prep. “I am seeing more creativity and collaboration than I have seen in years,” she said.

Andy Hargreaves recently retired from his position at Boston College, where he won international acclaim for his work supporting teachers and promoting excellence and equity in schooling. He has been a leader in researching and disseminating strategies for educational effectiveness.
In this article that was published on Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog in the Washington Post, Hargreaves offers sound advice to parents who are helping their children at home during the pandemic crisis.

He writes:

Educators are doing extraordinary things in the face of the coronavirus crisis. They are our invisible heroes, supporting health services and reinventing the way they provide education. They are achieving miracles in the most challenging circumstances.

I work with education ministers, secretaries of education and teacher-leaders around the globe (as president of the ARC Education Project), and in the continuous white-water world we are all navigating at the moment, it’s just not possible to see everything ourselves all at once, especially what’s ahead.

So here are 19 things for covid-19 that may have been overlooked by school districts and politicians in the rush to do the right thing by students and teachers.

Some will surely need to be revised as the crisis develops, and the list by no means covers everything. I’m in the white water, too, so please bear with me.

1. Don’t send parents heaps of worksheets.

Instead, encourage and support them to learn with what they have available — kitchens, gardens, paper, etc. Give them ideas on how to do this. The most important thing in the next two months is not keeping up, step-by-step, with a prescribed curriculum, but keeping kids engaged with learning and the idea of learning.

2. Treasure the fact that some kids are escaping from hours of test preparation each day.

This could be a chance to engage in wider learning, make up stories, memorize epic poems, sing karaoke with YouTube, make things, play outside, write letters (on paper) to grandparents, or friends they can’t have playdates or get-togethers with, etc. In other words, for these kids, this could now be a time for more learning, rather than less. They can try to learn a new skill — juggle, play a musical instrument, pick up a modern or classical language, knit, skip, bake, garden (including indoor plants), help parents hang pictures and fix things in the house. I’m at the end of two weeks of self-isolation, and I’ve just bought a set of clubs for juggling. Getting on to another level on a video game isn’t the best way for teenagers to occupy themselves. Starting another interest while they have time will not only occupy them now, it will impress their friends later.

3. Make covid-19 an opportunity for learning and not just an interruption of it.

Help parents to do science experiments with soap so kids can understand how it kills covid-19. Teach them all about germs. When you can make coronavirus an opportunity for learning and not just an obstruction to it, loads of work can be done in math with graphs, probabilities and equations of how it spreads under different conditions. Kids can study the history of polio, smallpox and the Spanish flu (including the fact that it started in Kansas).

Geography can examine the patterns of covid-19 spread and create hypotheses explaining those patterns. Social studies can look at the relationship between government anti-covid-19 measures and protecting the principles of democracy. Ethics and religion electives can consider the principles that should guide decisions about who should live or die, or get treatment first, when resources are scarce.

4. Distinguish between online learning and on-screen learning.

Online may sometimes be continuous on-screen interaction — a math game, or Minecraft, for example. But it could also be setting up an activity involving making collages from pasta, or models from mud, or doing origami, or constructing a robot from Lego. In fact, this is better viewed as distance learning. I started my university career at the Open University in England when it was the first distance learning institution in the world. We wrote materials by building in tasks and activities (think workbooks delivered to kids), and we also made TV programs on the BBC. (The BBC has now launched a whole new schedule specifically for kids in this crisis). Not all online learning is screen learning, and not all distance learning needs to be online.

5. Get materials to parents who don’t have them.

For some, this means digital tablets. But for many other families with few resources and no Internet connections, this could also mean pencils, coloring pens, Play-Doh, glue, paper, Scotch tape, books, magazines, etc. Some school districts are doing things like having teachers deliver materials in plastic boxes on families’ doorsteps, or having school bus drivers drop off stashes of materials instead.

6. Develop strategies for children who are just “above the line.”

These are children who are not vulnerable enough to have a formal special education identification, but are in the group just above. They are often most at risk as they are not explicitly targeted and don’t usually qualify for a lot of extra support. Such children may have parents who can’t or don’t read, parents whose first language is not English, separated parents in conflict, or families that live in cramped spaces with no room for outdoor play.

7. Concentrate teacher resources and time on children who need it most.

Many middle-class parents will be able to self-organize learning at home with some online help. As a middle-class grandparent for example, I can support my grandchildren and their parents with knowledge of where resources and platforms are, which ones are most relevant, and how to navigate them and make specific selections once they find the website. But many people don’t have this knowledge. So instead of always trying to do whole classes online, concentrate disproportionate amounts of teacher instructional time and support on smaller numbers of high-risk children who are struggling learners.

8. Target support for students with learning and emotional difficulties.

This can happen by teachers and special education resource teachers calling parents and students one-to-one, emailing, going through individual education plans, maintaining personal relationships by Skype or other platforms where possible (vital with vulnerable children), giving structured feedback on work done online (it can be handwritten, colored or constructed, then photographed on a smartphone and sent back where possible) to ensure these students don’t struggle more than they need to and don’t fall behind.

9. Think about how communications can be inclusive of all kinds of students and their families.

Canadian TV had an item on how parents are dealing with learning at home — the family was a mixed-race lesbian couple with a single child. Include students and student voice in communications on national TV — Norway, Canada and New Zealand have done this especially well. Don’t just pitch to the same median middle-class white students all the time. This is a time when our values come alive. Being inclusive in our communications isn’t just something we should do when things are going well and we have extra time, but it also should define how and to whom we communicate, all the time, unless it creates excessive delay regarding the urgency of the message itself.

10. Consider an early, phased start to the new school year.

Children will have had a long time away from classroom routines. Many will have forgotten how to line up, sit in a circle, listen to others and wait their turn. Some will have spent months in close quarters with parents and siblings plunged into poverty, hardship and stress. They will have had fewer learning supports than modal middle-class families. So, school may need to start a bit earlier in the calendar. Some “normal” professional development days may need to be sacrificed and the rest redirected to dealing practically with the issues of the vulnerable and the left behind. Students who are known to be more vulnerable (through contacts that teachers will have kept with families over the isolation period) may need to start school before the rest — as often happens when phasing in arrivals in kindergarten or junior-kindergarten. This will be hard on teachers, but for a few months they may need to be as turbocharged in their professional approach as health workers have had to be, because this will save a lot of disruption later on.

11. Promote positive family and friendship relationships

Part of being at school is feeling safe and being cared for. Socio-emotional learning is definitely looking like a need that’s fundamental right now; not an indulgent frill. The most important thing in stressed-out families, at this time, more than rushing through planned lessons, is making children feel loved, safe and reassured. So, communicate the importance of simply spending time with kids for part of the day, hugging them, talking and listening to them, enjoying some moments of silliness and laughter, and doing things together like cooking or reading. Remind parents and other caretakers about this on a regular basis. Help children communicate with their friends by writing them a postcard, Skyping or face-timing their grandparents and showing them what they’ve been doing, etc. Now, more than ever, kids, especially younger vulnerable kids with emotional or learning difficulties who are in stressed-out families, need to see and hear their teachers as part of their distance experience. Be empathetic about and supportive toward how parents themselves are feeling and about what they have to cope with, too. Understand they may be dealing with family illnesses, their own work demands, loss of income and other problems. Let them know it’s also okay to lower their standards a bit for their kids sometimes in terms of tidiness and other things.

12. Value play.

Play, especially outdoor play in the garden or the driveway (if families have them), is always a vital part of learning — a way to develop the imagination, engage in conversation, build relationships with others or work through anxieties. During nature study, for example, my grandchildren have named natural objects as their friends — like sticky and buddy — cute, of course, but also a possible sign they are missing their friends. Many education systems in the past few years have tended to play down “play” in favor of more work, test preparation and downloading serious study to younger and younger age groups. Older kids have also been spending more and more time indoors on their smartphones in a world where even before the crisis, that was already too much. This is actually an opportunity to reverse the cycle for some kids at least — to let them make up their own activities with perhaps just a few materials thrown their way, like balls of wool, or pebbles, or cardboard boxes, to get them started. Play can work for teenagers, too — singing online together, making up ridiculous skits, building things from junk around the house, and so on. More play, less work, might actually be a good direction to take in these unique circumstances.

13. Protect teacher well-being.

Teachers are under stress too. They’ll be worrying about how to prepare and deliver lessons at a distance. They’ll be anxious about those kids for whom home is not usually a safe haven. They’ll be uncertain sometimes about how much initiative they can take in communicating with homes and families without guidance from principals, school districts, governments and their unions, or without getting sued for failing to provide for every student equally. And this guidance may not always be clear or consistent. They’ll be working at full tilt but not always sure about the impact of what they are doing. They’ll be missing their kids and their colleagues. And many will be looking after kids of their own at home. Unlike health workers whose heroic efforts are publicly very visible, what they’re doing is less visible, and the public may start to wonder about and criticize what they’re actually (not) doing. So, supporting teachers now is critical — providing counseling to teachers who are stressed, anxious and depressed; ensuring there are virtual forums for teachers to collaborate — not just to plan and prepare but also to provide moral support; and communicating clearly, accessibly and transparently what it is that teachers are doing for parents and kids rather than disguising everything with bureaucratic edu-speak.

14. Underline the value of expertise.

This crisis has elevated the importance of expertise in the public imagination. After years when government has cast aspersions on professional expertise in favor of popular opinion and common sense, state and federal leaders are having public health professionals stand alongside them to explain and legitimize scientific expertise as a basis for decision-making. We need to ensure the same thing happens for teaching and learning. Many parents and other caretakers will do a heroic job with learning at home in the coming weeks and months. The task of teachers and leaders is to support and guide what parents are now doing based on the science and expertise of effective learning, and to communicate this when it is asked for and needed, clearly, without talking down to people. Teachers must be confident in their own professional expertise, share that collaboratively with other teachers to strengthen that confidence, and communicate it clearly to others.

15. Keep up collaborative professionalism

Working together collaboratively is always important and never more so than now. Try to ensure that time is built in for professional collaboration, department planning, learning teams and so on within the school. Also leverage networks of ideas and support across schools at this time, especially where those networks already exist. There will be a temptation to think there’s no time to collaborate with adults or engage in existing networks because everyone is too busy churning out stuff for their kids. The role of all kinds of leadership here is not to abandon networks and meetings but to ensure they are used to provide the best possible learning and caring at a distance for all students in these unprecedented circumstances.

16. Promote public professional leadership.

Many parents are unsure and unclear about so many issues concerning their children now. Will there be quality support, ideas and activities for them to help their children with? How long will this go on? Will their teenagers be able to graduate and get to college? Will their children fall behind in their reading, their mathematics and other areas? Many governments have provided excellent public communication about health and the economy, standing alongside experts in those fields as they do so. The same needs to happen in education — regular public announcements about education, and learning at home, and about what teachers are and will be doing. These announcements need to be made by state and federal leaders standing together with accredited education professionals from teacher unions, boards of professional standards, leadership organizations, and so on.

17. Applaud our educators.

Within a couple of weeks, after the initial scramble to get resources up and make connections with families, parents and the public will start to understand the many extra miles teachers have been going during lockdown — sometimes literally, door to door to give out and collect resources and paper — to keep their kids learning, engaged and well. Parents at home trying to fulfill their demanding job responsibilities while their kids run riot in the background will be figuring out pretty fast that online learning is often overrated, that it can’t keep the undivided attention of kids unable to self-regulate, or concentrate, and that those darned teachers go the extra mile all the time and deserve every cent they make — and then some. So by the time we hit May 1, the day the international community celebrates the value of people’s labor, let’s open our windows, and lean off our balconies, to give three cheers and three minutes of applause for all our teachers — in districts and charters, schools and colleges, public and private — for all the work they’ve been doing for all our students and their families.

18. Beware: perfect is the enemy of good.

One of my favorite books on school leadership is “Imperfect Leadership” by Steve Munby. Imperfect leadership, Munby says, is not the leadership of superheroes. It’s “messy leadership, trial and error leadership, butterflies in the stomach leadership.” It’s about stepping up to lead even when you feel completely out of your depth. It’s about being unafraid to admit you don’t know what to do sometimes. And it’s about being ever ready to ask for others’ help. In these times that are without parallel, imperfect leadership doesn’t and can’t wait until everything is perfectly mapped out, where all risks have been eliminated, and every student is guaranteed equal access to the same curriculum. Perfect is the enemy of good. Educators will make some mistakes right now. They won’t be perfect with everybody, all the time. But that is better than waiting for the perfect plan, holding off and doing nothing at all until it’s ready.

19. Let teachers take the lead.

In the early days of the pandemic, there has been a lot of unavoidable confusion about what kinds of online platforms and resources can be set up for all teachers to use in districts or entire state systems. This can be frustrating for teachers and for parents and kids, too. Let’s not show the worst face of school district and national bureaucracies. Let’s not have the teacher wait for the principal, and the principal for the state department, before anything gets done, in those outdated hierarchies of top-down control. Teachers need to be allowed to be the heroes of learning, like our health workers are being the heroes of combating infectious disease. Teachers are professionals. They know where they are in the curriculum. They know their kids, what point each of them is at, which ones have greater needs than others. So with just a few basic guidelines — keep kids learning and interested in learning, actively care for and support them, and communicate with them personally, individually and collectively, as often as possible — unleash teachers as professionals to use whatever platforms they can to get things started and get connected as fast as possible. And then give them ways to connect with each other as colleagues as they move forward together.

Don’t make teachers wait. Let them go, go, go.

The Boston Globe interviewed parents and discovered a groundswell of exhaustion and frustration caused by the closure of schools and their new roles at home. I don’t think these parents will want more of the same when school reopens. The kids and their parents will be thrilled to see their teachers and classmates again when that happy day arrives.

It was music class that finally drove Melissa Mawn over the edge.

She was already dutifully arranging her quarantine workdays around the expectations of her three children’s math, English, and science teachers, surrendering her work station to their Zoom meetings.

Now, the music teacher was proposing a “fun activity” and Mawn’s thoughts immediately turned to the recorder — the piercing woodwind instrument that her twin 10-year-old boys are learning to play this year.

“I mean, we’re stuck here in the house, and I cannot have recorder class for an hour,” said Mawn, who is working full time from the Wilmington home she shares with her three children, her husband, and her in-laws.

“We have to live here and, like, not kill each other,” said Mawn, “and the recorder is definitely going to knock one of us over the edge.”

Mark the fourth week of school closures as the moment when parents began to crack. The state’s experiment in home schooling may have been interesting for a week or two, but as social media rants reveal, many parents are now fed up. Managing their children and their anxieties amid a global pandemic, and working from home if they still have jobs, some parents have begun resisting the deluge of demands coming from their children’s teachers.

“It’s just overwhelming. Everybody’s overwhelmed,” said Mawn, who aired her frustrations last week on a Facebook page for Wilmington residents.

“I understand a love for the arts but in a state of emergency, I can’t teach music and gym,” she wrote. “My children can play outside, in their own backyard or ride their own bikes in our driveway. That will have to count for gym.”

Around the same time, Sarah Parcak, a renowned archeologist from Maine, was drafting a lengthy, expletive-filled Twitter thread reiterating what she’d already told her son’s teacher: First grade was officially over for the year.

“We cannot cope with this insanity,” Parcak wrote. “Survival and protecting his well being come first.”

The parent rebellion is not at all fun for teachers, who have found themselves in a no-win situation since schools were closed in mid-March. First, they were hounded by some hard-charging parents who expected more daily structure and an immediate and effortless switch to online instruction. Teachers had to quickly develop new coursework and ways of presenting it, and jet into families’ living rooms via video conferencing, where their every move would be scrutinized.

Now, with teachers more regularly holding classes online, parents are pushing back, saying the expectations are unmanageable — particularly for younger children who can’t handle the technology on their own and need a parent by their side.

One mother reported that her Dorchester nursery school is offering twice-a-day Zoom meetings for her toddler and preschooler — a gesture that she appreciates but that she considers more trouble than it’s worth.

The first time they participated, she said, “it was like a nightmare.” The 4-year-old did not understand: “Why can’t they hear me? Why can’t I talk?” she said. When the girl did get time to speak, she grew shy and clammed up.

“And five minutes later she wants to do it and the Zoom call is over and then she’s hysterical,” the woman said.

One irony is that many parents have been schooled to limit young children’s screen times; now they’re being steered to it by preschool teachers.

It feels like some weird science fiction story, said the Dorchester mother

The story them goes on to quote one parent at length, who happens to be the leader of the Walton-funded Massachusetts Parents Union. she is not exactly typical because the MPU pays her a salary of $172,500 to advocate for charter schools and against teachers’ unions. Professor Maurice Cunningham, a specialist in dark money who is featured in SLAYING GOLIATH, has the story and the tax returns here.

Lenore Skenazy wrote this article in the Washington Post. Her advice to helicopter parents: Give up! Relax! Let the children play and figure things out. It is a welcome antidote to the policy wonks who are predicting that American children need constant academic pressure, more testing, more worksheets, held back a grade, or face a life of failure.

Skenazy is an advocate of “Free-Range Parenting.”

She writes:

The idea that parents have to enrich every second of their kids’ lives was a crazy lie even before the coronavirus. Kids never needed all that parental stimulation and all those teachable moments.

You know how Einstein spent much of his time as a kid? He made houses of cards.
Just imagine young Albert, the little loser, balancing cards and learning absolutely nothing. Except … well … patience … and concentration … and physics.


The point being not that you should run out and get your offspring a deck of cards so they can win the Nobel Prize before school starts up again. (Don’t run out for anything!) The point being that kids have always been bored, and they’ve always come up with things that seem like a total waste of time to adults — I’m looking at you, slime! — but maybe aren’t.


Many are the parents right now who are worried their kids are turning into “Call of Duty” fanatics. Okay, perhaps I am worried one of my sons is turning into a “Call of Duty” fanatic now that his college classes have switched to pass/fail.

But is that terrible? Nothing is interesting to kids — or any of us — if it’s not at least a little challenging. So even if a kid is working on his “kill/death ratio” (sigh), he is learning focus, frustration tolerance and how to make alliances. Those are transferable skills — not wasted hours. Video games are absorbing because they turn kids on, not off.



Coronavirus has parents and families self-quarantining with their children. So don’t worry about those.
Don’t worry, either, if a child seems to be slacking off in the homework department. Think back on how much you loved summer vacation. Wasn’t it a huge relief to finally not worry about grades and tests?


Before covid-19, childhood anxiety levels were going through the roof. In a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, 70 percent of teens said anxiety and depression were “major problems among their peers.”
Now children have, basically, a long, strange, twisted vacation. Yes, for many, school is continuing, but it’s not taking the same number of hours, and all their after-school activities are off, too. This opens up a vast swath of free time that many children and teens have never had before. It can turn into a period of growth — mentally and emotionally.


Though not every youngster will become an Einstein while quarantining, many seem to be turning into the kids they would have been if they’d grown up a generation or two earlier, with more time to discover their real interests and hobbies (remember those days?), before childhood got so structured and busy.




So, don’t worry that everyone else’s children are making fabulous “Les Misérables” parodies while yours is hitting his brother with the webcam. You can shower your child with construction paper and glue sticks, but if she hates arts and crafts, she probably won’t emerge from quarantine an artistic genius. (Just like I stocked up on lentils. Why? I am not suddenly a vegan. I should have stocked up on chicken thighs.)


What I mean is: It’s all okay. Our kids are not going to seed even if they are sleeping, gaming and bingeing on YouTube. In fact, they’re growing, simply because kids are always growing and learning from everything — houses of cards, Nerf guns, Barbies, baths, videos, but most of all from that vital resource more rare and precious than toilet paper: free time.
My advice for would-be coronavirus helicopters? Think of the quarantine as an AP class in chilling. You can help your kids ace it by stepping back.

Joel Westheimer has advice for parents who are at home organizing their children’s days.


FORGET THE WORKSHEETS AND TRYING TO REPLICATE SCHOOL

I am really struck by the variety of media inquiries I’ve been getting about the impacts of Covid-19 on education, what parents should be doing at home, and so on. The interest doesn’t surprise me (I am an education columnist on public radio), but the preoccupation with whether kids will “fall behind” or with how they will “catch up” has. I see hundreds of stories, websites, and YouTube videos that aim to help parents create miniature classrooms at home. Maybe some parents have folding chairs they can bring up from the basement and put in rows. Where’s that big blackboard we used to have? Is there a run on chalk at Costco?

Stop worrying about the vague and evidence-less idea of children “falling behind” or “catching up.” This is a world-wide pause in life-as-usual. We’ve spent the last 25 years over-scheduling kids, over-testing kids, putting undue pressure on them to achieve more and more and play less and less. The result? Several generations of children and young adults who are stressed-out, medicated, alienated, and depressed.

This is not a time for worksheets. This is an opportunity (for those of us lucky enough to be at home and not in hospitals or driving buses or keeping our grocery store shelves stocked) to spend meaningful time with our children to the extent it is possible in any given family. Parents shouldn’t be thinking about how to keep their kids caught up with the curriculum or about how they can recreate school at home or how many worksheets they should have their children complete. They should bake a cake together. Make soup. Grow something in the garden. Take up family music playing. And neither school personnel nor parents should be focusing on how quickly or slowly children will return to school because none of us know We should be focusing on ensuring that teachers are afforded the conditions they need to best support their students — now when school is out and later when school is back in.

Remember that ditty about the two Chinese brush-strokes that comprise the word ‘crisis’? One is the character for ‘danger’ and the other the character for ‘opportunity.’ We are more and more aware of the danger. But we’re missing out on the opportunity: to spend time as families (in whatever form that family takes in your household).

This brings me back to the questions I keep getting. What are my recommendations for what to do with your children at home when they are missing so much school? Stop the homework (unless you and your children are enjoying it).Stop the worksheets. Stop trying to turn your kitchen into Jaime Escalante’s A.P. math class. But do help your children structure their day. Help them process what is going on around them. Help them engage in activities that do not take place on a screen. Help them maintain physical activities whether that means running around the block, running up and down the stairs, or running around the kitchen.Help them be creative. Give them — to the extent possible in your household — the gift of time and attention.

And when brick-and-mortar school (hopefully) returns next Fall, let’s give teachers a great deal of latitude in what, how, and when to teach any particular subject matter. Their primary job should be to restore a sense of safety, nurture a sense of possibility, and rebuild the community lost through extended social isolation.

_________
Joel Westheimer is University Research Chair in Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa and an education columnist for CBC’s Ottawa Morning and Ontario Today shows. His most recent book is “What Kind of Citizen: Educating Our Children for the Common Good.” You can follow him on Twitter: @joelwestheimer.

Valerie Strauss wrote a delightful article about parents who have a new-found respect for teacher’s, now that the pandemic has forced them to become home teachers.

They have discovered that teaching is not easy. They have realized how hard it is teach two or three children and are amazed that teachers can handle classes of 24 or more at the same time.

Plenty of parents around the country — and, presumably, around the world — are finding new appreciation for their children’s teachers as they sit at home with their kids during the coronavirus pandemic and take over the role of educator.
Some 1.5 billion students around the world have been affected by school closures during the crisis, and parents whose jobs are not deemed “essential” to keep the country functioning are at home taking over as impromptu teachers. It’s a lot harder than many of them realized, as you can see from the following tweets.





One parent, Shonda Rhimes, tweeted:

Been homeschooling a 6-year-old and 8-year-old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.”
16 March 2020.

Veteran teacher Nancy Bailey offers some common sense advice about how to help students become better readers and writers. Her advice is meant for students with or without disabilities.

Here are first two suggestions:

I welcome teachers and parents to add whatever they’d like to share, what works for you, or special resource pages or links.

Handwriting

Teachers don’t always focus on handwriting because of other skills they are made to address. The focus on technology has sometimes pushed handwriting out of the picture. So, helping students, especially students with reading or writing (dysgraphia) disabilities, become better at handwriting at home, might be a beneficial exercise at this time.

Teachers struggle to understand what students mean when they turn in sloppy papers. Even if students misspell words, it’s much easier to see the breakdown of their errors and help them correct their papers, when letters are neatly printed or written in cursive.

***Don’t push a child to write if they have difficulty holding a pencil or if they are too young.

Holding a pencil.

This may seem strange, but many students don’t know how to hold a pencil! My husband teaches college students and remarks about the many strange ways he has observed students holding pencils and pens in a cramped and uncomfortable manner.

The pencil should be held between the thumb and middle finger with the index finger riding the pencil. The pencil should be grasped above the sharpened point. Pencil grippers are helpful, or some tape or a rubber band wrapped around the pencil can help with gripping.

Younger children work better with larger pencils.

As a left-handed writer with horrible handwriting, I should remain silent. But I have noticed young adults who literally don’t know how to hold a pencil and whose handwriting is even worse than mine.

This is one of the best articles I have ever read in Education Week. It is not an opinion piece. It is a news article by veteran journalist Stephen Sawchuk.

He begins:

This was the week that American schools across the country closed their doors.

It was the week that our public schools—often dismissed as mediocre, inequitable, or bureaucratic—showed just how much they mean to American society by their very absence.

The unprecedented shutdown public and private schools in dozens of states last week has illuminated one easily forgotten truism about schools: They are an absolute necessity for the functioning of civic culture, and even more fundamentally than that, daily life.

Schools are the centers of communities. They provide indispensible student-welfare services, like free meals, health care, and even dentistry. They care for children while parents work. And all those services do much to check the effects of America’s economically stratified systems of employment and health care on young students.

These insights came into focus last week as the nation’s governors, in the absence of a coherent message from federal officials, took charge and shuttered tens of thousands of American schools, affecting tens of millions of students, in an effort to curb the menacing spread of the new coronavirus,or COVID-19.

Education historians and researchers struggled to come up with a historical precedent to this brave new school-less world. The only certainty, they said, is that the long-term impacts for students will be severe, and most likely long lasting.

Student learning will suffer in general—and longstanding gaps in performance between advantaged and vulnerable students will widen, they predicted, a combination both of weakened instruction and the other social consequences of the pandemic.

With tax revenues in free fall, schools and other public services will suffer when they eventually re-open.

With annual testing wiped away, at least for this year, accountability hawks are weeping, but teachers and students can dream of schools that prioritize teaching, not testing.

Parents are finding out how difficult it is to teach, even when they are in charge of only one, two, or three children. They marvel that teachers can do what they do with classes of 25 or 30 children. And they long for a resumption of school. Students miss their friends, their teachers, their teams, the rhythm of daily life in school.

For a few brief weeks, maybe longer, Americans have been reminded of the importance of their community’s public schools and their professional teachers.