‘Schooling from home’ impacts reveal need for in-classroom schooling

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

As many of us emerge from our pandemic cocoons, sinking into summer schedules that no longer include the daily battles dubbed “virtual learning,” it is tempting to shut the door on the past few months and try to forget them. It would be easy to allow the dull heat to erase the emotional turmoil that accompanied the chaotic springtime shift to social distancing and schooling from home. Especially with all the important social changes being discussed right now, it’s tempting to rely on “someone else” to sort out what will happen with schooling in the fall.

It’s tempting, but it’s also dangerous. Taxpayer dollars directly fund the state education systems that we, as a society, rely on to turn out educated, adjusted, productive citizens. Therefore, as tax payers, we need to make ourselves heard regarding our preferences. 

The lessons learned from our national experiment of virtual schooling from home need to be examined closely before we make any decisions about what is to happen to our children’s education in the fall. Already some public school districts are rolling out plans that severely limit students’ ability to receive in-school education for the rest of this calendar year. But where is the public dialogue that is informing these decisions? Are we critically questioning the data on which these decisions are based? 

We’ve become a nation fascinated by infection rate and mortality statistics, and seem content to let these data sets, flawed as they may be, drive all other policies. Where are the statistics on the impact of “schooling from home” on: 

Students’ educational achievements? 

An NWEA working paper acknowledges that there is little data as yet, but that projections indicate students are likely to have only met two-thirds of expected progress in reading and less than half of expected progress in math as a result of school closures.

Students’ physical and emotional well-being?

Again, calls for research abound but meaningful data is still scarce. A United Nations policy paper reported, “Lockdowns and shelter in place measures come with heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse… . Children’s reliance on online platforms for distance learning has also increased their risk of exposure to inappropriate content and online predators.” 

Additionally, a survey conducted by a British charity supporting mental health for children and youth reported that 83 percent of respondents felt the pandemic had made their pre-existing mental health conditions worse. 

How virtual schooling impacts the disparities between affluent and not-affluent communities? 

A June New York Times article reports on a study conducted by Brown and Harvard Universities that revealed “student progress in math decreased by about half in classrooms located in low-income ZIP codes, by a third in classrooms in middle-income ZIP codes and not at all in classrooms in high-income ZIP codes.”

Parents’ (and especially mothers’) ability to work?

RAND published insights on the U.S. populations group suffering most from the closure of schools and child care, based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Current Population Surveys, including that approximately 75 percent of U.S. households have children under 14, and up to 26 million families had no access to in-home child care during the pandemic.

The New York Times took a closer look at the impact on working mothers, highlighting that experts are predicting mothers are “more likely to lose a job and more likely to shoulder the load of closed schools and day care. For many working mothers, the gradual reopening won’t solve their problems, but compound them — forcing them out of the labor force or into part-time jobs while increasing their responsibilities at home. The impact could last a lifetime, reducing their earning potential and work opportunities.”

This article raised troubling questions for me about educator well-being, especially when the teachers expected to conduct virtual classrooms are also parents of younger kids. I’ve watched several friends struggle through this challenge since March, and was therefore disappointed that I could find no research or reporting on this segment of the U.S. workforce on whom so many of us have been depending for so much. 

As a result, I wanted to begin the dialogue on the importance of resuming in-person schooling locally by recognizing the incredible efforts our child’s teachers exerted during the pandemic. To that end, I waited until after the academic year was over and grades submitted, then sent letters to both of our son’s teachers thanking them for their resilience, dedication to their students, and caring. I also sent a letter to the school principal, emphasizing the excellence of the teachers’ performances and also stating my hope that school will resume in the fall. I’m happy to share copies of these letters with anyone who would like to use them. Just let me know in the comments. 

I know others who have written to their local legislators and state officials, and I would be grateful if they felt like sharing their experiences in the comments. I plan to do that too, and also to engage with my congressional representative on this issue. The more widely each of us reaches out, the more respectful dialogue we can promote, the more likely we are to come up with a solution that will serve our children as well as our society. 

4 Replies to “‘Schooling from home’ impacts reveal need for in-classroom schooling”

  1. Thanks for this article, Thea. I’ve been writing our senator, congressman, and governor. It may feel like you’re writing into a void, but someone is reading the letters – and hopefully sharing my thoughts. Our children are voiceless, so I would also encourage others to write and share their concerns about education in the fall.

    1. You’re amazing, Julie! Any chance you’d be willing to share prototypes of those letters, maybe via the FB page, so that others could use them to send to their own state and federal representatives and government officials?

  2. As I have been mulling this over, I have had a few thoughts (fleeting!) that I thought I could throw out there for discussion.

    Let’s skip, for the moment, the way the U.S. treats parents who are primary caregivers. This is an uncompleted part of the women’s movement that seriously needs addressing, but I suspect the COVID crisis and police brutality will take all the oxygen for now.

    What is needed, in addition to “education,” is some ability to socialize with others. We could cluster children in smaller groups (especially at the younger ages) with a fixed number of adults. Say 6 students to one teacher with an assistant/cleaner. This would require a great deal more space than currently available, but the space can be found. There would be temperature checks on arrival of students and staff. Staff would have weekly COVID tests. You could cluster students by age/grade (as now) or by neighborhood. The advantage of neighborhood clusters is after-school care/play.

    In the past students with compromised immune systems or other impediments to attending school could be linked in to their class via interactive technology. That would need to be in place for students who do become unable to attend class.

    More problematic is a teacher who cannot be in class. Calling in a last minute substitute will not work. All adults working in the building (administrators, special area teachers) would also be tested weekly and would need to be able to step in to cover a class.

    Because there are limits to the number of hours a teacher can work, even with smaller groups, there will need to be a lot more teachers hired. Even with double the number of teachers it is likely that classes will be only half a day. The other half? Specials such as music, art, P.E., and library. Teach life skills such as cooking, cleaning, gardening in class groups, maybe including making lunch together. Between any 2 groups using a space there would need to be a thorough cleaning.

    I am sure that this does not begin to cover the issues, but at least it gives everyone something to work from.

    1. Thanks for sharing all that food for thought, Nancy! You raise one of the issues that I find particularly tricky, which is how to create an environment that allows school workers to feel safe AND do the jobs they are trained, certified, and prepared to do. I worry that asking teachers to continue to conduct virtual schooling is unfair on them, as most of them are not trained, certified, or particularly well prepared to do so — it certainly wasn’t what most of them signed up for when they decided to become educators, and I think it is particularly burdensome when they are also parents.

      However, I also feel that the level of fear of contact with other human beings has become disproportionate, thanks to hyped (and fatalistic) media coverage combined with policies that reinforced fear to keep people at home while the government sought time to better prepare our health care system and, allegedly, roll out testing to help us better understand the extent of the spread. However, at least in this part of the U.S., testing is still ad hoc at best. I think you’re probably on to something with the regular testing of staff and the daily temperature checks, but I also would offer that a concerted effort to acquire comprehensive testing results of school district families prior to the start of the year, combined with significantly more flexible and supportive health leave policies for school workers (and for workers in general across the U.S.) would probably go far to addressing the many of the concerns parents and school workers may have.

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