Remote learning for students via city schools has been hit-or-miss. That cannot continue in the upcoming school year; students have lost enough learning time already.
When the pandemic hit, schools were unprepared to switch to remote learning. Many students lacked the technical equipment and online access necessary to engage. In response, the city stepped up to provide the needed technology to hundreds of thousands of students. But much more needs to be done.
Start with the stunning recent revelation, for example, that the Department of Education can’t say how many students have been receiving online instruction or for how long. That’s unacceptable.
The school system and its leaders, especially Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza, have an obligation to be prepared for whatever form of learning will take place next year. By September, they must have in place a working remote-learning platform that allows for real-time instruction, attendance collection and remote participation.
The city needs to get clarity that teachers will be willing to engage in actual interactive lessons. It should not come to this, but if the teachers union pushes back, DOE should furlough any teachers who are incapable or unwilling to teach online.
Students, too, must be nudged to participate in remote learning. In addition to taking attendance, school brass must make clear that traditional grades will be assigned, whether students are learning in schools or remotely. The excuses must end.
Normalizing remote instruction is necessary for two key reasons: One, students have lost enough learning time this spring. There is no reason that should continue into the new school year. Two, it’s likely schools will need a hybrid learning structure next year — with some students physically in class while others learn online, to limit the number of people in a building at once. This could take many forms, such as splitting students’ in-school time between morning and afternoon sessions, alternate days or alternate weeks.
The city also needs to quickly accept another undeniable reality: Simply put, some students can learn from home effectively while others cannot.
This dichotomy is not simply about poor and non-poor students. For example, younger students from all social classes have a greater need for in-school supervision than older students. Likewise, their parents have a greater need for them to be back in school. The demands on time and attention that younger kids present make it incredibly difficult for parents to do their own work from home effectively.
Students with special needs are also in greater need of in-school instruction from the teachers and staff specifically trained to accommodate them.
On the flip side, for students above a certain age, remote learning can work as effectively as in-school learning, particularly for the highest-achieving students. But to create a hybrid learning system that allots in-school time to those who need it most, it’s critical that the mayor and chancellor prepare a robust remote-learning regime for those who’ll be learning from home more often.
De Blasio and Carranza face an uphill battle in discussing this dynamic with parents of older children and high achievers, especially considering that they’ve already alienated parents at places like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science. Nevertheless, they must prevail, emphasizing that: one, their children can learn as effectively at home as in school; two, the DOE has put in place a fully working online-learning program to facilitate that; and, three, other students have a greater need to be in school.
Giving those with the most need more in-school instruction than the highest achievers is the best way to do the greatest good for all.
So long as they can trust that the leadership is being proactive and transparent in their preparations for the coming school year, students and their families will rise to the challenge.
Ray Domanico is a senior fellow and director of education policy at the Manhattan Institute.
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