Distance, Yes. Learning, Maybe.

What I’m calling, “The Great Distance Learning Experiment of 2020” has commenced for nearly all of the 57 million K-12 students in the United States.  In such an experimental phase, the continuity of instruction is muddled, and students, teachers and educators find themselves in uncharted waters. 

The old rules, like attendance policies, don’t apply, at least here in California.  The Governor suspended all attendance policies by Executive Order on March 4, 2020, so schools could continue being funded through the end of the school year, without having to prove attendance since typically reported student attendance correlates to how much funding a school receives. While Governor Newsom wanted to ensure schools could continue operating, he effectively changed the dynamic between students and educators, empowering students to determine if they could “attend” classes and learn, given what other disruptions may be happening in their lives, and removed power from teachers and administrators to compel students to “attend”.

Since flexibility in how and when students learn is important, given every student and their family is experiening the shelter-in-place orders differently, many school districts have not mandated particular hours in a day when students must be doing school work. Thus, teachers can schedule their own virtual classes (or not), or upload pre-recorded videos, for students to check (or not) on their own accord. Several students shared that they have two conflicting “mandatory” Zoom classes to attend, which only meet once a week, yet teachers just “excuse” their absence, without announcing an alternative meeting time or agreeing to coordinate with the conflicting teacher. Students share they “feel guilty” for missing one class meeting over the other, adding to their stress and frustration about distance learning. 

Additionally, the California Department of Education (CDE), issued academic grading guidelines which local school districts could “choose” to adopt, including that secondary students’ grades could be “frozen” on the date that their campus closed, so students can only improve their grades until the end of the school year. Many district administrators adopted this provision, so several teachers shared that they are concerned students aren’t engaged, especially those who needed extra help to learn the material, as well as that they lack motivation to teach, since many students are choosing to not submit work or attend office hours. Students also shared their lack of motivation to complete assignments, as they’ve got A’s already when school closed in mid-March. 

Jump to 4:37

Thus, not being compelled to attend class on a regular basis and “frozen” grades, or the “do no harm policy”, is likely why Principal Cadenhead of Folsom High School, near Sacramento, CA, in the above video, is pleading with students to stay committed to their education. After watching the video, one freshman and their friends thought Mr. Cadenhead’s plea was unusual, showing that the administration does not have any means to hold students accountable “to any extent rn [right now]”. 

Public Policy Institute of California, April 2020

Since the “old rules”, like mandatory attendance or participation in class activities, don’t apply in this “Great Distance Learning Experiment”, it’s not a wonder that in a recent poll, as seen in the chart above, almost a third of Californian parents report being “very concerned” about “providing productive learning in their home” otherwise their children are “falling behind” in their learning. 

The expectations for how students learn have changed from the teacher providing instruction, setting the terms and “punishments” (i.e. a lower academic grade) where students follow the “rules”, to students being self-directed based on an intrinsic motivation “to learn.” Yet, without any practice, reasonably expecting that teachers, administrators and students will automatically change their entire mindset and orientation to “school” and learning, where students are equal partners in the learning process, and teachers are “guides on the side” seems hopeful at best and misguided at worst. 

Since 2003, Jill has advised clients about all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly so clients succeed. Contact her at jill@creativemarbles.com for more details about how her expertise can benefit families and organizations.

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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