Distance Learning, Disrupted Learning & Social Eruptions

15. As if taking a page from the school of “disruptive innovation” of Silicon Valley, a mantra promoted by Clayton Christensen and Business Schools, the contorted promotion of “school choice” as the major civil rights issue “of our time” in the face of increased disparities in health care inequalities and civil rights violations confounds the mind, if it doesn’t make one’s blood boil. The recent proposal of a five billion dollar tax credit program for private schools in an age of coronavirus not only subverts the intent of $13.5 billion for K-12 schools, seeking to use the “evidence” of the failing abilities of public schools to provide remote learning assignments and graded assignments, or to shift their syllabus, at a time when no fixed guidance or model existed for the shifting to remote learning or the compelling need to do so, as schools faced a disruption across the country due to incoherent public policy choices, and uncertain options for “re-opening” instruction through early April, moving from mid-March to early Spring Breaks, and hastily trying to assemble instructional teams remotely, and to keep students engaged as many faced economic stresses and obligations in their families.

Indeed, DeVos undertook sustained and concerted efforts to promote distance learning solutions even as schools shuttered during the pandemic. By developing contacts with school officials, state governors, and school district leaders, she exploited national vulnerabilities while offering no road map to how public school policy might develop in the face of multiple stresses that the pandemic has unexpectedly introduced, abdicating any role on providing guidance for reopening. The decisions fell to often divisive district boards who are asked to struggle to formulate plans with uncertain funding and state support, leaving many schools open to later accusations of a filature of management; De Vos’ greater attention to preparing to foot the bill for the future development of charter, private, and parochial schools to pick up the pieces where public schools “failed” seems to have been conducted behind the backs of public school principals and teachers: it stands to be senselessly and insensitively disruptive to networks of support public schools provide.

In an age when school sites were shuttered with an astounding uniformity by early April, the networking to create a new educational infrastructure in the nation echoed the “silver lining” FOX contributors gloated at how the possible pandemic would be another trigger, itself, as “school closures should prompt states to pay parents to educate their kids in other ways,” by “freeing up existing education dollars to be more nimble,” or how Kahn Academy founder Salmar Kahn presented the pandemic in rosy tones, as an occasion when Americans could re-imagine a “better balance” between online learning tools and in-person learning, as they “realize that you can lean on these types of online tools,” as a welcome disruptive innovation.

Was not the state-wide closure of schools in all but five states presented in rosy tones?

April 3, 2020 Coronavirus School Closures/Ballotopedia

By March 18, several days after President Trump announced a State of Emergency to confront the novel coronavirus, a far less clear consensus existed, even as millions of students were already sent home from in-class instruction–save in more agrarian states with large rural communities. But the powerful crowd-sourced too indeed powerfully revealed “the grip on the world of education” across the nation, and a demonstration of the nation’s paralysis in the face of the virus’ spread, as school district information was pooled to create an active map of what the nation’s schools looked like in the face of the pandemic’s spread. While the temporal distance of about two months from George Floyd’s killing was considerable, the consolidation of a policy of school closures that occurred between these dates is striking. Although adoption of a uniform policy of closures was piecemeal and difficult to map in March–

Screenshot oF EdWeek online map/MapTiler; CARTO
Screenshot of Coronavirus School Closures, March 18, 2020: Entire State Closed (Rose) v. Partial Closures (Ochre)

If in mid-March, the EdWeek map of the nation saw quite a few bastions of complete closures, but a broad uncertainty as to statewide policy, the expanding decision to go with mandatory statewide school closures was surprisingly uniform, but concealed deep effects on local communities, and suffered from a failure to articulate national educational policy in a time of crisis in potentially quite dangerous if not implicitly discriminatory ways.

One the month, school districts furiously juggled, often in zoom meetings, with questions about status of enrollment, school lunches, or grading coursework, hopeful of the possibility of some in-person instruction at a later time, if the basis of restarting schools was difficult to table; the largest national districts–New York; Chicago; Los Angeles–rushed to offer video training to K-12 teachers, and intensified attempts to convert syllabi to online settings that risked reducing engagement; kids rarely checked in, in many cities, and the disturbing lines of divides among minorities, often lacking online access or speedy internet, created disturbing static of sharp inequalities in baseline instruction rooms and questions of how the school year would proceed. But the prospect of a months-long disconnect, and the disruption that this would present to an entire cohort of K-12 students, was not able to be confronted as we formulated a reaction.

While we looked to choropleths, misleadingly, to determine the scope of infection rates, the impact of school closures on the scarce commodity of front line nurses and health-care workers was noted in late March, using U.S. Census records to project the pressure of COVID school closure on child-care obligations, based on Census and Labor records to determine the extent o which school closures could either reduce mortality or the health-care force, with almost a third of health-care workers care for children–and are without a clear epidemiological conclusion. They could potentially reduce the pandemic’s intensity, but lengthen its duration; the childcare obligation posed serious challenges to single parents.

Health Care Workers with Child-Care Obligations/The Lancet

The impact of the serious rupture of closing a public school network was almost not considered, however, given the need of reducing contact networks, as there was little other plan to contain infections’ spread.

The plan for school closures had been defined in scenario that described the far more contained outbreak of disease, but as the multiplication of the virus in many sites in the United States had occurred beneath the eyes of health authorities–and without any clear testing protocol having emerged since the virus was notice for the first time in 2019; the cases of the epidemic had spread with a far great density, we now think, than had been understood at the time–it is difficult to weigh the dangers of the contacts that schools were a serious vector, indeed, given the intensity of the spread of infection by March 1, for further infections, had adequate distancing had been mandated or adopted.

New York Times, June 27, 2020

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Filed under Coronavirus, COVID-19, education policies, remote learning, school closures

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