Saturday, June 06, 2020

OCPA column: Did parents notice lack of learning?


Did parents notice lack of learning?
By Jonathan Small

When schools in Oklahoma and nationwide transitioned to distance learning in April in response to COVID-19, many schools simply stopped teaching students. Recent polling indicates parents noticed—and aren’t happy with that fact.

A recent RealClear Opinion Research nationwide survey found 40 percent of families are now more likely to homeschool or use virtual school after the COVID lockdowns. The desire for alternatives is understandable given how many traditional schools handled their duties during the shutdown. In too many cases, schools simply stopped teaching new material or even grading lessons that students were asked to complete.

And that trend was not a product of the “digital divide” that makes online learning more challenging for low-income students. In fact, some of the state’s wealthiest suburbs were among those who did the least for students.

Norman Public Schools informed parents and students that “no grades will be taken on activities assigned during distance learning.” Longtime journalist and Edmond parent Ted Streuli noted in a column that 90 percent of homes in Edmond have internet access, yet he wrote that students in that suburban school were asked to cover only “material they’ve already mastered” that “doesn’t count” because it was not graded.


Insufficient technical expertise was not the chief barrier. EPIC Charter Schools, the state’s largest online K-12 provider, offered several free distance-learning tools to other Oklahoma public schools, including two hours of staff development. Reportedly, only four districts took EPIC up on that offer by the April start of the statewide school re-opening via distance learning.

In March, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education estimated that only 10 percent of schools nationwide would provide “any kind of real curriculum and instruction program.”

It turns out student demographics mattered less in this process than school officials’ grit and dedication. For example, Crossover Preparatory Academy, a private school in North Tulsa that serves mostly working-class minority male students in grades six through nine, continued teaching and grading new material. That school serves many students with significant economic challenges and a lack of home internet access, yet school officials found a way to serve those children anyway.

As a result, those young boys in North Tulsa received a better education this year than many of their affluent peers who attend suburban schools. The suburbs may have lavish facilities, but long-term benefit is generated by student learning, not school architecture.

Many students at Crossover attend that school thanks to the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act, which supports school-choice options for low-income students. Lawmakers had the chance to build on success and expand that program this year, but House Republican leaders refused to hear the bill even after the Senate passed it.

Perhaps House Republican leaders feel what happened to students in Edmond and Norman should be the standard statewide. But polling suggests that parents, in Oklahoma and elsewhere, disagree.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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