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In this new series, Carl Cohn will talk with leading school superintendents about how they plan to meet the challenges of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and reopening in an environment of public health crisis and unrest.

New podcast episode: Schools on the Frontlines

Introducing: Schools on the Frontlines

June 25, 2020 - COMING JULY 1st: Each episode, California education expert Carl Cohn will talk with a leading school superintendent about the immense challenge of reopening schools amidst the coronavirus pandemic and the movement for racial justice.
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While most school districts across the United States are providing students with educational resources, many have not been able to connect all their students to the internet and are still struggling to put attendance and grading policies in place, according to research from the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

“This is no time to lower expectations of students or teachers,” said Steven Wilson, a senior fellow with the center. “Time on task continues to matter enormously. Districts that bargain 2- or 3- or 4-hour days are basically abdicating their responsibility to educate. I really think it is quite shocking and disturbing.”

Researchers from the center, high school history teacher Manuel Rustin and Jeffrey Garrett, the senior director of Leadership Development at the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, discussed the state of education during the coronavirus pandemic in “To the extent feasible: Strategies for success with distance learning,” a webinar hosted by EdSource on Tuesday. More than 1,000 viewers participated in the webinar.

Rustin and Garrett host a YouTube show called All of the Above, the Unstandardized Show About Education.

The researchers reviewed websites and social media channels of 82 large, mostly urban school districts and 18 charter management organizations to determine their progress in rolling out online curriculum and instruction, according to Bree Dusseault, a practioner in-residence at the center.

Some of the study’s findings include:

  • Older students were given more instructional time and more curricular resources.
  • A third of districts are allowing schools to decide how to provide online learning.
  • The majority of student learning continues to fall on parents.
  • Since March 26, the percentage of school districts offering curriculum and progress monitoring increased from 5% to 59%.
  • Attendance tracking is only being done in only 29% of districts and 56% of the charter management groups reviewed.
  • Little information is being provided about how special education students are being served.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is an example of a district that effectively rolled out online learning, according to the research. The district started online learning immediately after school campuses closed and distributed over 100,000 laptops and Wi-Fi-enabled phones to students, Dusseault said. It rolled out an attendance plan in April and began measuring how many students were logged in for daily instruction. School staff contacted the families of students who were not logging in and now the district’s more than 300,000 students have achieved 99% attendance, she said.

The district also set clear expectations for parents, students and teachers, including that lessons would last 45 minutes to one hour a day, that teachers would have three hours of office hours daily that would include online lessons and time to take questions from parents and students. School district officials also have committed to trying to start their school year in late July or early August to help kids get ahead and is planning virtual summer school, Dusseault said.

The researchers offered tips for school districts in preparation for summer school and next school year. Schools should plan to move between remote, in-person and hybrid school models as cases of coronavirus increase and decrease, said Layna McKittrick, a research analyst with the center. Districts should set clear teaching and learning expectations for each scenario, as well as decision making and communication protocols, common assessment platforms and increased training and support for staff, she said. District and charter officials also will need to have new health and safety policies, as well as new ways to track attendance, deliver grades and offer credit recovery.

Schools should pilot some of their ideas over the summer, Dusseault said.

Garrett, of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, agreed with much of what the researchers said, but disagreed with the premise that lowered expectations would hurt students.

“We knew before COVID-19 that there were vast areas of inequities in our profession and we know that this has dramatically exacerbated those inequities,” Garrett said of the move to online learning. “Our first order of business, in my mind, has to be about doing everything we can to level the playing field.”

A look at distance learning strategies for success | EdSource webinar

Sometimes, an email just isn’t enough.

Students at an Orange County school for deaf and hard of hearing received a specially-made video from their teachers this week, saying how much they are missed during the school closures.

Set to “It’s a Small World,” the 2:20-minute video features teachers in Disneyland attire — while sheltering-in-place at home — singing, signing and smiling for their students.

“We all wanted to reach out to our students at a time when they needed it most,” said David Longo, principal of the Orange County Department of Education’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing program. “This whole process has been very difficult for many of them. We had heard many comments from them about missing school and wanted to let them know we miss them, too.”

Like districts across the state, the Orange County Department of Education recently announced it was closing its offices and campuses due to the coronavirus pandemic. Amid the rush to set up online-learning systems and email families, teachers at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program felt they didn’t have ample time to connect with students personally, said teacher Chris Gonzales.

“Most importantly, we wanted to say, ‘We are still here for you. See you soon,’” he said. “We wanted to send a message to our students to let them know, although we are currently divided by miles, we are still here for them whenever they need it.”

The school serves 105 6th-through-12th graders from throughout Orange County and surrounding cities. Located at two campuses in the Irvine Unified School District, the program offers special day classes for students who need them, as well as the chance to participate in regular classes and extracurricular activities. The school also offers services for young adults to age 22.

Teachers were inspired to create the video when they saw a few social media posts featuring “It’s a Small World,” the well-known Disney anthem. The staff felt an extra urgency to connect with students, Gonzales said, because outside school, many students have few people with whom they can communicate.

Gonzales and counselor Kim Coronado “put countless hours” putting the video together, Longo said.

“All I can say is I still cannot watch it without smiling,” Longo said. “It’s nice to share a little humanity at this time, especially when many of our students don’t have access to communication at home. School is often that one place where they feel connected and important and we wanted to make sure they knew we were still here.”

Carolyn Jones covers student wellness for EdSource.

'It’s a Small World': Orange County teachers inspire deaf and hard of hearing students [VIDEO]

More than half a million students live in California’s rural areas. The challenges they face at home often spill over to school: chronic absenteeism, lack of college preparation and college isolation, and limited access to technology. EdSource takes a closer look in its first documentary.

This documentary is part of an EdSource special report on the challenges facing schools and students in California’s rural communities.

Rural California: An Education Divide | Documentary

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