It seems like only yesterday that schools were closed due to the pandemic and districts began scrambling to create online alternatives.
Actually, it was exactly ten weeks ago, on March 23rd, that Virginia’s governor ordered the closure. And it’s only been since the end of spring break (April 13), that our overly-large school district formally began their abrupt switch to remote instruction.
Time flies when you’re having a crisis.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, I would have been inside of FCPS helping to make this transition work as part of their instructional technology office. Now all I know of what’s going on comes from conversations (most virtual, an appropriately distant face-to-face) with neighbors, friends, and former colleagues. And following the chatter on social media, of course.
Then there’s the coverage of events from our “local” newspaper,1 The Washington Post, where readers are told the transition has been one disaster after another.
Very early in the transition there certainly were major problems with the district’s LMS platform which, as I noted in an earlier post, was largely due to a long history of bad choices by administrators, especially in the information technology department.
However, the Post articles were largely silent about the complex task of trying to switch schooling for nearly 190,000 children from a face-to-face environment to online. The reporting focused instead on disputes between administrators, the school board, the vendor, and a few other groups.
Not long after the issues were relatively smoothed out (and the head of IT was eased out), a Post headline proclaimed that “online learning flopped” and that the district “switched to Google”, neither of which was accurate. Online instruction is an ongoing process that is far from over, and many teachers were already using Google resources, in spite of directives from IT.
The Post also breathlessly reported that some parents of special education students had filed a complaint with the state saying that the district was failing to “provide equal learning opportunities to students with disabilities”. The article didn’t say how many parents were involved, only quoting one anonymous mother and an advocacy lawyer, with almost nothing about what services were involved.
Once again, the reporter failed to include anything to help the reader understand the complexity of special education when times are normal. Nearly 29,000 students in our overly-large school district receive some kind of services, which are carried out by a large number of educators, mostly on an individual basis. Moving that online for every child involved is a massively difficult process that was never going to happen in a couple of months.
In the middle of all this chaos, the Post is also concerned about student assessment. Or, more specifically, grades.
One story headline in April worried that “letter grades” are being “erased” from schools with nothing to replace them. Plus there’s Post education columnist Jay Mathews fretting about the lowering of grading standards, calling this the “year of the easy B”. Not to mention his high concern for the pandemic–related problems of his beloved Advanced Placement testing program.
Anyway, this school year finally comes to an end in a couple of weeks. But we haven’t heard the last of online schooling here in the overly-large school district.
Or the end of the Post’s superficial coverage of it.
The photo shows one slide on the electronic sign in front of our local elementary school.
1. The quotation marks are not intended to be sarcastic. The Post is an excellent, reliable source of national and international news. Local reporting, however, is often very shallow and leans toward the sensational, probably driven by competition with the area TV news departments.