In Nashville, Tennesse, charter school teachers conducted a video conference via Zoom at 8 am while their principal flashed them a smile on Facebook live, reported Erin Richards of USA Today, an American middle-market newspaper. The principal reminded students to complete a daily online survey about their well-being. The question “Do you feel safe at home” is closely monitored by teachers.
At 8:40 am, a mindfulness coach based at a private preschool in Miami used Zoom to greet toddlers relaxing on carpets, couches, and beds at home. The kids’ faces lit up when the coach sang and said she loved them. In the US, school closures have become a new norm for parents and children alike.
California Parents Are Concerned That Closures Will Leave Students Academically Behind
Education Trust-West, a non-profit student advocacy organization, conducted a survey of 1,200 parents in California, finding that 44% of parents said their child’s teacher had contacted them personally and less than a quarter said they had been provided access to or contact with a school counselor, reported John Fensterwald of EdSource, a website that highlights strategies for student success.
81% of parents said their child’s school or district is doing an excellent or good job in providing learning materials and instruction during the closure. They have done this via email (63%), text messages (35%), and personal phone calls (26%). 29% of families statewide said access to reliable internet would be a barrier to distance learning.
The figure rose to 38% of low-income parents, 35% of Latinos in Los Angeles suburbs, and 47% of parents in Northern California, including the Sacramento area. Further, 50% of low-income parents and 42% of Latino and African-American parents said they lacked “sufficient” devices at home to serve multiple siblings. 21% of Latino and 12% of African-American parents said they received little to no information about academic or other resources from their school or district.
89% of parents were concerned that their kids would fall behind academically while 80% reported a higher than usual level of stress due to school closures. 84% of parents of low-income households were concerned about being able to provide financially for their families unlike 72% of those from higher-income households.
25% of non-English home speakers said their child’s school has not provided materials in other languages, while only 31% of all parents said the school or district is giving instructional materials for English learners. 72% of Spanish-speaking parents, 62% of African-American parents, and 61% of low-income parents reported being very concerned that school closures would put their kids off track to go to college, unlike 51% of parents overall. The survey concluded that policymakers will need to transition from crisis management to long-term solutions to guarantee education equity in every school, district, and state-level decision.
How Are Families Coping With School Closures?
Caitlin Morse, a working mother of three in Illinois, said her school does not require e-learning—at least, initially, quoted Kristen Moon of business news Forbes. However, by March 30, Morse was informed that e-learning lessons will be available.
Aneeka, a high school senior in California, stated that she received little support from her school. “As of now, the teachers are technically not allowed to assign any homework that is due, but they will post resources and exercises on School Loop,” she narrated. Teachers can’t assume that every student has internet access, so they can’t do much.
Bethany Braun-Silva, a mother and editor of Parenting.com, is working remotely while dedicating a block of time in bonding with her kids. Her family is “doing a lot of online learning, reading, and hanging out.” Braun-Silva is also using the time to teach her kids about meditation, dance, and rock and roll history—which are activities not done normally in schools. As an editor, her team is video conferencing throughout the day and creating a schedule that allows her to accomplish some tasks and take care of her children.
However, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to scheduling. For example, Aljolyn Sperber is finding ways for their kids to stay active while working. Her 11-year-old has creative and reading time after his usual morning hygiene routine, enabling Sperber to finish most of her calls or meetings for her business, a subscription box for women.
Sperber added that her son is an “intern” in her company, in which he conducts basic research for products for the subscription box. He also learns how to construct a professional email, help pack boxes, think of creative social media content, find influencers, and more.
Not Everyone Is Coping Well With School Closures
Remote learning is hard if families don’t have adequate shelter, attentive parents, steady meals, stable access to technology, and familiarity with English. Families are also worried about the physical health of their loved ones, as well as personal finances, sudden changes in routine, work-related difficulties, and studying and teaching in cramped spaces.
Many families also live in places where internet service is spotty or non-existent. Stable internet access and other challenges involved in e-earning are a problem for most schools serving low-income students. Andy Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, said, "You’re looking at fairly serious losses in learning time for kids. The immediate challenge we need to triage is access.”
CEO of Rocketship Public Schools Preston Smith noted that this is not just an issue involving devices. Smith added that the issue is about trying to reach families living in trauma and toxic stress. Even middle and upper-income suburban districts have struggled to help disadvantaged families leverage technology. Expectations range from student engagement to the amount of new material to cover. He added, “These parents are losing their jobs, or they're out there as low-wage workers, potentially being exposed."
Elizabeth Self, an assistant professor of education at Vanderbilt University noted, "Sometimes districts are saying: 'This is the basic expectation.' But then among teachers in that district, there's a huge variance outside of that depending on their comfort with technology."
Do We Need A New Approach In Learning
Perhaps schools could focus on students’ social and emotional needs rather than paying close attention to grades and curriculum. Thomas Hatch, an education professor at Teachers College at Columbia University argued that online learning widens opportunity gaps rather than alleviating them. In fact, schools were not designed to help students catch up. Hatch added, “This is an opportunity to rethink what’s really necessary.”
Online learning helps kids catch up with lectures and schoolwork. However, not everyone has access to stable internet, which impairs children’s learning experiences. Maybe it’s time for schools to cater to kids’ social and emotional needs and to encourage parents to help them learn life skills.