No Good Answers, But Some Really Stupid Ideas

Panda Lunch

Like many others in the US, the overly-large school district is slowly trying to get students out of their homes and back into the buildings. The process started last month with small groups of kids who in a few special programs.

Now the superintendent has announced plans to step up the pace and, as you can imagine, exactly no one is completely happy. The proposal also includes some really stupid ideas.

As new grades open, our plan is to employ concurrent instruction for in-person students, a model in which students receive two days of teacher-led instruction in the school building and two days of teacher-led instruction at home.

This approach maximizes teacher-led instruction by allowing in-person students to “log into” class on at-home days.

That message includes a video that “that demonstrates how a concurrent classroom will look”. It’s not a good look.

Concurrent instruction, sometimes called hybrid or “hyflex” instruction (for hybrid flexible) is primarily being used in some colleges as part of their pandemic response. The basic concept has the teacher in a classroom with some students participating live (socially distant and wearing masks) and the remaining students at home watching online.

The format, as it will be applied in Fairfax, is supposed to give everyone – students, parents, and teachers – the choice between completely online or partial online. Except, as the teacher associations1 are pointing out, the teachers aren’t really being given much of a choice.

But when it comes to concurrent/hybrid teaching, that idea only really works if you assume that lecture/demo is a great instructional format (it’s not). If the teacher is equally good at working with students in a classroom while also talking to a camera with unseen faces at the other end. And if the kids in both locations are interested, motivated, and able to learn in this configuration.

Since real learning is largely a social process, I’m going to speculate that does not describe most teachers or students. Especially younger children.

Now I’ve never taught at the elementary level, but my friend Jen has much experience at that level. In a recent post, she reflects on how this plan will affect her students and says there are no good answers. And she ends with some fundamental questions we should be asking as we try to find them.

The question, it seems to me, is what school means to us. Do we have to get kids back into school buildings so families can get back to something more like the normal we knew? What is the most important goal for schools? Teaching students academic content? Helping students grow as thoughtful, productive, caring people?

Frankly, all of those questions should have been addressed long before this crisis.

Anyway, Fairfax is not alone in their efforts to bring school back to some kind of “normal”. And, considering the seeming desire on the part of too many people to just ignore the whole issue of a largely uncontrolled deadly disease, I expect most of those plans will move forward for now. Because, in the end, this is a political decision by administrators in the overly-large school district,2 not one focused on children, teachers, and learning.

While all this is happening, maybe this would be a good time to have that discussion about why we have schools in the first place.

The picture has nothing to do with the topic. But we can always use more pandas these days, right?

1. Virginia doesn’t allow public employee unions, so the NEA’s local chapter and other affiliate groups don’t get any real seat at the discussion table. Hopefully, that will be changing soon.

2. I’ve always maintained that the superintendent’s position in overly-large school districts is a political, not an educational, job.

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