Randy Richardson: Now that schools are open, you can see the folly of the governor’s lack of leadership. All of the consistency that promotes student learning is gone. -promoted by Laura Belin
Many years ago I was sitting in Professor Pat Kolasa’s Human Growth and Development class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I still remember Pat telling all of us future teachers that one of the keys to student learning was consistency. She went on to explain that students needed to have a clear understanding of classroom procedures and their importance. That message stuck with me as I became a teacher and parent.
Unfortunately, Governor Kim Reynolds never had Pat Kolasa as a teacher.
Earlier this summer, every school district in the state was required to submit a Return to Learn Plan. Those plans provided an outline of how districts would provide instruction in-person, as a hybrid, or virtually. Just as districts were submitting their plans, the governor announced that she was interpreting Senate File 2310 (an uncontroversial online learning bill) to mean that all schools should provide at least 50 percent of their instruction face to face unless the Iowa Department of Education approved a request to move to online learning.
Then the governor, Department of Education, and Department of Public Health determined that districts could not seek permission to shift to remote learning unless the COVID-19 positivity rate in their county exceeded 15 percent and at least 10 percent of students were absent due to the virus.
Shortly after the school year began, the education and public health departments changed their guidance on how to count student absenteeism, presumably to make it harder to hit that 10 percent level.
Now that schools are open, you can see the folly of the governor’s lack of leadership. Those schools that did open for face-to-face learning also were required to allow parents to opt out and have their children only attend classes virtually. So even in the best of situations, teachers would teach some students in-person and some virtually. Planning for a normal in-person class is tough enough, but trying to plan to teach part of the students using one method and part using another is mind-blowing.
Naturally, the best laid plans for schools haven’t worked out. Some have opened for face-to-face learning only to have high numbers of students test positive and others placed in quarantine. A number of schools that opened for face-to-face learning have now had to shift (in a matter of days) to a hybrid plan where some students attend on alternate days while other still attend virtually.
Imagine what this is like for students. For two weeks they attend schools and either sit in a classroom with their normal teacher or attend virtually. Suddenly, there is an outbreak and school is canceled for a couple of days. When students return they only attend class every other day or move to virtual learning.
All of that consistency that promotes student learning is gone. Students don’t know from one day to the next if they will attend school in-person or virtually. They don’t know if their friends will be at school or at home. They also can’t have any reasonable expectation that they will even have a teacher that will make it through the year. At one time, we could at least count on having a qualified substitute teacher, but the reduction of the standards for a substitute’s license now ensures only that kids will have a warm body in front of the classroom.
And it isn’t just students who crave consistency. Teachers are used to operating in a world governed by clocks. They know when it’s time to change classes, when they have a planning period and even when they can sneak in a quick trip to a bathroom. Now that’s all gone. Several districts announced that they would shift from face-to-face learning to a hybrid model in the matter of a few days. That would require a teacher not only to change their lesson plans but also to shift instructional strategies. The stress level for classroom teachers in this state has to be at an all-time high.
It’s not just students and teachers who crave consistency. Parents like it too. They like to know what time their children go off to school (or log in). They like to know whether school will be open. They like to know who will be watching their children if they need to stay late at work.
Instead, we’ve been given a system with zero consistency. Some schools operate in one manner and others don’t. Neighboring school districts may have totally different rules and procedures. Football and volleyball games are on and then off, unless your school opts to only provide virtual instruction. Then all games are canceled.
The really horrible thing is that it didn’t have to be this way. Reynolds and the Department of Education could have provided real leadership. By the July 4 holiday, they knew the positivity rates for COVID-19 weren’t going down. They should have announced then that all schools in the state would operate online for a period of nine weeks. That would have allowed teachers to plan for a consistent period of time, knowing that classes would be taught in one manner only. No starting, stopping, and starting again.
And yes, I know virtual learning has its issues. However, having students in a consistent instructional model would be far superior than the inconsistent mess we have today.
Schools, teachers, and students are used to operating in nine week chunks of time. Six weeks into that quarter, the state could have looked at the positivity rate and decided either that it was safe for schools to all reopen in person, or that schools would continue online for another quarter. For low-income students schools could have opened their doors and provided online instruction with adequate social distancing and tutors.
Which brings me back to my Human Growth and Development class. We also learned that students do not want a school and a classroom that have no procedures and follow no instructional plan, where neither the teacher nor the students know from moment to moment what is going to happen next. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the governor and the Department of Education have provided.
Top image: Governor Kim Reynolds visits the Oval Office on May 6, 2020. Official White House photo posted on the governor’s Facebook page.