I want to start by saying just how much I love public education and believe in it. I personally attended private schools growing up, but when I became a teacher myself I discovered my love for public education. Despite the flaws, it is an incredible idea–a place where all children can learn regardless of sex, income, religion, etc.
I have especially loved St. Tammany parish schools and indeed these schools are the reason we moved here in the first place. My oldest has significant disabilities and I knew only a robust public system could meet his needs. Every day I send him and his brothers off to school and feel secure that they will safe, cared for, and educated.
School shut downs in the wake of covid-19 have revealed a few cracks in the system, however. Our amazing teachers are working very hard to keep in touch and make sure that our kids have plenty of work. It’s very uneven, though. Each teacher is fending for themselves and I assume the vast majority of them are also tending to their own children at home.
And really, this is not a big deal at this time. We were on the downhill slide to summer when schools were shut down and they are only missing about one quarter of work. But sitting around my house all day has got me thinking about how we could do this better the next time–in case there is a next time. Or in case these same kids are out of school again in the fall missing even more school. So here are my humble proposals:
Create a Registry
At the beginning of school we fill out approximately one trillion forms. I have four kids so I end up doing it four times. They ask about free and reduced lunch, if we’re homeless, who can pick up our kids at school, etc. I suggest that we add one more form: an Internet status form. It should say something like “In the case of a school shutdown, my child would/would not have access to the Internet for online schooling.” Very simple. Let’s find out what percentage of our kids have access and which don’t. We might also ask about their preference for receiving work. Would they rather get PDFs via email or do they need to pick up a packet somewhere? We all know not everyone has internet access but not everyone has good printer access either. Mine is currently sitting in a box waiting for me to set it up after its predecessor died unexpectedly. Parents could update this information at any time but having a baseline would help immensely I think.
Make the Standard Curriculum Available to the Public
Most of us know that St. Tammany parish creates their own curriculum that aligns with the national standards. You can go online and see each unit that your child is supposed to complete in each grade with a breakdown of the individual standards contained in each unit. I’d like to see these pages augmented to include worksheets that align with the standard. So if I’m looking at a standard that says my child should be fluent in single digit addition, a few single addition sheets would be helpful. Links to online lessons on the subject would be great too. This could be done by department so teacher’s aren’t repeating each other’s work.
Figure Out Grades
It would be nice if we figured out grades before the next lock down. How will they be handled? Will kids simply get an average of the work they’ve completed at school? Will they be graded on the work they are to do at home? Personally I’d like all work at home to be provided but not factored into grades. Trying to maintain four boys in four different classes is a challenge and when you’re working with one, the other three are making way too much noise. Other parents have work obligations that prevent them from helping their kids. Maybe a pass/fail system would work?
Figure Out the Standardized Tests
I think that children should not be tested for work that was not covered in the classroom environment. That would mean altering the tests or not testing the kids in years that they have incomplete school years. I’ll let the smarter minds tell me which is more feasible.
Schools should be open to professionals so that they can conduct IEPs via Zoom or some other conferencing software. Perhaps there are additional items that need to be added to IEPs to cover when kids are out of school for an additional period of time. Special education teachers should be available for some kind of office hours so parents can touch base about their child. This could be done via phone or video conference or email depending on the parent.
Look, I certainly don’t have all the answers. I’m sure I’ve forgotten fifty things I should have covered. What I do know is that we HAVE to have a plan for next time. Maybe we’ll luck out and never use it, but there our seniors in our state who missed the beginning of high school due to flooding and are now missing the end of their senior year due to a pandemic. Stuff is going to happen and we would be smart to be ready when it does.
Feel free to comment with your ideas or suggestions! I think together we can come up with a great plan for the next time this happens (and then we can hope we never have to use it).