Adams: From Freedom to Focus to Technical Troubles, How 1.1 Million Students and 75,000 Teachers Are Dealing With Remote Learning in NYC

Monday, March 23, 2020, was the first official day of remote learning in New York City public schools, although some individual teachers had begun sending out material the week before.

In a city with more than 1 million students, 1,700 public schools and 75,000 teachers, it’s impossible for everyone to have the same remote learning experience. (It is also impossible for everyone to have the same in-school learning experience, but those of us who write about education are chastised for saying so. All schools and all teachers are equally excellent. How else could 97 percent of NYC teachers be rated effective or highly effective?)

Based on what I’m hearing from my own kids (a seventh-grader and a 10th-grader), as well as from fellow parents, families and teachers are responding to remote learning in three distinct ways.

Families are:

  • Diligently tracking all online meeting times, supervising homework assignments, communicating with teachers, helping their children with any work they don’t understand or hiring tutors.
  • Allowing kids to set their own schedules and turn in their work independently.
  • Ignoring online learning completely.

Teachers are:

  • Scheduling live classes during which they lecture, call on students and facilitate “turn and talk” live discussions.
  • Putting up learning materials and assigning homework due dates, directing students to YouTube or other outside websites for help with the actual learning part.
  • Throwing content up on an online platform, then disappearing (my son has one such teacher; there have been no communication or assignments since the material went up; and, yes, this is a Regents subject class at that specialized NYC public high school, the one that is supposedly so terrific that Chancellor Richard Carranza has made changing admissions to it his top priority).

Student reaction to the new normal has varied.

As my son wrote on New York School Talk:

Having the freedom to work at your own pace and with your own timing makes everything easier. Being able to go to the bathroom, grab snacks and water, and take naps whenever I feel like it makes school so much easier. …

Having other students in a classroom with you doesn’t exactly breed focus. When you’re working on a Google Classroom assignment at home, the class clowns and their tomfoolery are kept far away from you. Nobody is going to randomly drop a metal water bottle, or if someone does, it was probably your fault. Nobody is going to hold up the entire class because they’re trying to explain the extremely plausible chain of events which led to them not having their homework with them…

Online learning, for anybody with a fast internet connection, is so much better than in-school learning that I doubt anybody except the most devout extravert would choose to return to in-school learning anytime soon.

His sister actually is a devout extravert.

She misses her friends. She misses the in-school time spent hanging out and goofing off. She misses lunch, free periods and extracurriculars.

But she’s enjoying the flexibility of remote learning. She’s not the passionate student her brother is. But even she told me she prefers having fewer classes a day that run longer, so they can go into depth on a subject, and, as she says, “If the class goes off topic, we have more time to get back on and still learn something.”

She’s also getting a kick out of teachers who “don’t know how to turn on the grid feature, so they only see a couple of students on their screen and they call on those same kids over and over.”

Parents, overall, seem to be enjoying the experience less. I’m one of the hands-off moms. I’m letting my kids row their own boats. They’ll either do the work or they won’t, but I’m not going to check up on them.

Then again, my kids aren’t in elementary school.

One mother of an elementary school remote learner declared on Facebook that she feels like the personal assistant of the world’s busiest, tiniest CEO.

As Karol Markowicz wrote in the New York Post, the sheer quantity has been overwhelming — “links, passwords, Google classroom, Zoom, Zoom, Zoom. It’s too much: We get messages from their music teachers, their art teachers, librarians, even their gym teachers. They take attendance strictly.”

I’m not overwhelmed because I’m ignoring them. But that’s my approach offline, as well.

When remote learning ends, kids are going to return to school having mastered varying amounts of material in varying ways. That’s no different than how kids enter real-world school buildings every day.

Denying it is what leads to so many of New York City’s issues.

But those of us who write about education are chastised for saying so.

Alina Adams is a New York Times best-selling romance and mystery writer, the author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten and Getting Into NYC High School, a blogger at New York School Talk and mother of three. She believes you can’t have true school choice until all parents know all their school choices — and how to get them. Visit her website, www.NYCSchoolSecrets.com.

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