achievement gap · coronavirus · educational equity · online learning · remote learning · School Choice · school diversity

Never Waste a Good Crisis: How NYC Families (And Teachers And Advocates) Can Take Advantage, Too (Part #2)

Last week I hammered home one of my favorite points: One educational size doesn’t fit all. This applies to traditional versus progressive learning, ethnocentric classrooms, acceleration, dual language programs, and more.

While engaging in my favorite activity of advocating for giving every family what they want, and giving every student what they need, I asked the following question:

When schools reopen in September, why not let families decide whether they prefer face-to-face or remote learning?

The main criticism lobbed at parents and students who express a preference for remote learning was that it stank of privilege. Parents who could stay home to supervise their child’s academics, as well as students who had the bandwidth and the work-space for online learning, were certainly privileged. You’ll get no argument from me on that one.

So why not take advantage of it on behalf of those who lack such privilege? (We’re certainly happy to speak for them on a variety of other subjects.)

Let the parents who have no choice about going out to work and the kids without personal devices with which to access their teachers (yes, we know the DOE fixed that problem by hand-delivering overly expensive iPads to families that requested them – and a bunch to families that didn’t because, as Evita taught us: When the money keeps rolling out you don’t keep books/You can tell you’ve done well by the happy, grateful looks/Accountants only slow things down, figures get in the way….); let those parents and students who desperately need face to face learning have priority for returning to school.

And let the privileged who don’t want to, either because it makes their lives easier, because that’s how they learn better, or because they’re afraid of contagion, stay home. (No, this does not mean I am advocating sending poorer children into school so they are more likely to catch Coronavirus and die. All families will have a choice about whether or not to return. But we’re being told over and over again that some people don’t have that choice. So they should be the first ones allowed back in, just like the children of essential workers were the first ones offered daycare. With all necessary precautions taken.)

Fewer students in the classroom will aid with social distancing, and bring numbers closer to the small classes some advocates have been demanding for years. It will be less of a strain on the budget, which is predicted to shrink dramatically next year, as kids who stay at home don’t need to be fed, cleaned up after, or provided with supplies like soap and paper towels. (Oh, who are we kidding? There’s never enough soap and paper towels in public schools. But maybe if a proportion of kids stay home, there finally might be!)

It would also benefit teachers. Teachers, especially older ones who are more at risk for Coronavirus, could teach from home those students who wish to keep learning from home. 

And, finally, let’s talk about achievement gaps!

To date, we have been told that the reason there are (so-called) “high-achieving” schools and “low-achieving” schools is because Black and Hispanic children have been deprived of the honor of sitting next to white ones. (Sure, multiple schools disprove that theory but, that’s neither here nor there.) When the two populations are mixed, achievement will go up for everyone! Or so the theory goes. At the very least, those achievement gaps will be much harder to see! And isn’t that what really matters? The optics?

If “privileged” students opt to stay home, there will be more room for the “underprivileged” in the “high-achieving” schools, right? So we can test out the above theory?

In fact, parents and students who can afford to stay home should choose to do so in the name of equity! Taking one for the team, as it were! 

What better way for those teens from Beacon and other majority white/majority wealthy high schools who have been protesting for months to demonstrate their commitment to letting the less-privileged have access to their top-of-the-line classrooms than by opting to give up their in-person slots to those who need them more? 

(Wait, I see the problem with that plan. Since minority kids can only learn while sitting next to white ones, how will they ever manage without them? It really is such a burden.)

Conversely, if we assume that buildings aren’t responsible for high test scores, it’s the teachers who work inside those buildings (and not at all the fact that the kids who populate those buildings are getting prepped outside of school or learning on their own), then won’t it be wonderful when those miracle worker teachers are giving instruction online? Especially if it’s the oldest and most experienced teachers. They’ve got to be the best ones. They’re paid the most!

Low-performing kids can be deliberately assigned to them. With 97% of NYC instructors rated either “effective” or “highly effective,” there are so many to go around that every child who needs one can reap the benefits!

A combined in-person/remote learning approach would benefit public health, allow families to choose the educational option best suited for them, save the DOE money, integrate schools, and bring struggling students into the virtual classrooms of exemplary teachers in order to shrink the achievement gap!

If only we all resolve to never waste a good crisis….

What do you think?

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