Parents & Educators in Detroit Public Schools Demand a Better Plan for Online Education

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We are DPSCD parents and educators who have come together out of a shared concern for the well-being of our children and students this coming school year. We are calling on the district to revise its online learning plan so that screen time is drastically reduced and flexibility is prioritized in order to meet the needs of families.  

Covid-19 has forced school districts across the country to provide online education programs. In Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), 80% of families, representing approximately 40,000 P-12 students, have chosen virtual education rather than face-to-face in order to keep their children safe from Covid-19. Unfortunately, although DPSCD has had months to adjust to this new normal and plan robust, research-based, developmentally-appropriate virtual education, it is clear that the district’s proposed plan is not what’s best for kids and is not aligned with the recommendations of the Michigan Department of Education (MDE)’s “Learning At a Distance Guidance” (https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/LearningDistanceGuidance_686455_7.pdf 

Good virtual education does not simply recreate the face-to-face school day in front of the computer, but this is exactly what the DPSCD plan does. If DPSCD wants families to stay enrolled, students to stay engaged and connected to learning, and gaps in achievement and opportunity to stay as narrow as possible--as they say they do--they must change the online learning plan to one that prioritizes what we know is best for students. Other districts are doing this. DPSCD must as well. 

Specifically we would like the district to address two major problems with the online learning plan: 

1. Too Much Screen Time for Students 

The current DPSCD plan requires that students from Kindergarten through 12th grade spend an entire school day in front of a computer--from the time the traditional school day in the building where they are enrolled would start until the time it would end--for a total of 7 hours of virtual school, 5 days a week, with lunch and other built in breaks. 

We know that:  

  • excessive amounts of screen time are not healthy for child development , 
  • people of any age—including children—experience “zoom fatigue” and cannot successfully pay attention to or learn from platforms like Microsoft Teams for hours on end, and
  • there is no research-based correlation between the number of “live” online learning hours and improved learning outcomes. 

MDE explicitly states: 

“Learning at a distance will not look anything like learning in a classroom. We acknowledge and accept that time spent in structured, at-home learning activities will be different when compared to teaching and learning in a traditional or regular school day. 

Consistent with guidance provided by a number of other state departments of education, including Kansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington, we recommend: 

 ...Smaller amounts of time for younger children in grades PK-2
incremental increases in time for children in grades 3-8
...at a minimum, high school students should be expected to accomplish three hours of work daily

Learning time should allow for direct instruction, student practice, and enrichment activities. 

...Remember that the goal is not to replicate a normal 6-7 hour day; that is not feasible or advisable during this extraordinary time. Be creative and be thoughtful about the many other things happening in homes….Districts should consider the fact that the experience of school cannot be precisely replicated when designing these schedules.” 

We know that  it is not in the best interest of children -- emotionally, psychologically, or academically -- for a virtual school day to mirror the hours of a traditional face-to-face day. 


2. Not Flexible Enough for Families & Students 

The current DPSCD online learning plan fails to take advantage of one of the strengths of virtual learning--flexibility for students and families. In these unprecedented times, parents and caregivers of DPSCD students are trying to juggle work (inside and outside of the home) with supervising their children's virtual education. In many instances, parents and caregivers have multiple children who they must simultaneously care for and support academically. 

As MDE recommends: 

“All teaching and learning must be guided by flexibility, reasonable expectations, connections with students, and collaboration among educators. We do not know what is happening in the homes and lives of students on any given day, and should remain flexible and supportive….This unique time may provide increased opportunities for customized lessons…Learning activities should be designed so as to not require extensive support from parents or caregivers. Districts should design daily/weekly schedules that work best for their students and families, with a focus on flexibility and giving grace.

Districts and teachers should take the time to create learning opportunities that work for their students and families and engage parents and caregivers as partners in their children’s learning. Be mindful not to burden families that have limited technology or multiple children in their home with too many “live” meeting requests.

Sometimes a schedule set up by a teacher is just not going to work for a student or a family. Districts and teachers have to accept this with flexibility and grace, making adjustments as needed to serve students’ needs. These are not typical times, and as such we must be creative with our response.”

The current DPSCD model does not follow these guidelines. Instead, it: 

  • gives educators very little flexibility in designing a day that works best for the students they serve, especially those with IEPs, those who are English Language Learners, and those with other needs for accommodation;
  • lacks flexibility for parents and caregivers who may need to work during the traditional school day or care for multiple children; 
  • requires that students, including those as young as Kindergarten, log onto their virtual learning platform and transition 5 or 6 times throughout a school day--an unreasonable and unnecessary expectation for children and families that would require a full-time, stay at home parent to execute; 
  • mandates building-specific schedules that create unnecessary challenges for families with multiple school aged children in different DPSCD school buildings. Things as important as lunch might need to happen at different times for different children in the same household; and 
  • requires start times as early as 7:30am based on irrelevant busing schedules that are not best for student learning or family schedules. 
     

In contrast, we know that great virtual learning: 

  • uses a combination of synchronous approaches (in which the teacher is speaking live to students through the online learning platform) and asynchronous approaches (in which students are working independently), and uses videos and other methods for content delivery;  
  • reserves synchronous time for “active learning”; 
  • gives educators the flexibility to teach in innovative ways that prioritize 1-on-1 and small group time over large group time; 
  • limits the number of subjects taught each day to reduce transitions and “rests”--especially for young children; and
  • is built on reasonable and developmentally appropriate start and end times.


In sum, the DPSCD virtual learning plan is built on the idea of mirroring a face-to-face school day, which is not developmentally appropriate for children, is not best practice, and does not meet the needs of families for two major reasons: it requires too much screen time and lacks flexibility for students and caregivers.

As concerned parents and educators we demand:

  • Drastically reduced “live” instruction hours, with time increasing by grade-level as recommended by MDE;
  • A universal online schedule that starts at a reasonable, developmentally appropriate hour and has shared lunch breaks to help support families with multiple children; 
  • Block scheduling that limits the number of subjects taught each day to reduce the number of student transitions;
  • Schedules that maximize individual and small group time and minimize large group time during which it is harder for students to engage with the teacher and each other;
  • Recordings of synchronous lessons and/or other teaching methods that allow families to help their students with school outside of the traditional school hours;
  • Flexibility for educators that allows them to best meet the needs of their students.

 

SOURCES

"Michigan Department of Education Learning at a Distance Guidance" https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/LearningDistanceGuidance_686455_7.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0rZtMzpOYNVRPi9WiYmXlkflepnM_9OTKHqqWXd4mASGLHbBfGimhg0KQ

"New Warnings on Screen Time, as Students Nationwide Move to E-Learning," Ed Week, Sarah D. Sparks, March 23, 2020 https://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2020/03/new_warnings_on_screen_time_language_delays.html#:~:text=The%20American%20Academy%20of%20Pediatrics,of%20high-quality%20educational%20programming

"Schools Start Too Early," Center for Disease Control, May 29, 2020 https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/features/schools-start-too-early.html

"9 Ways Online Education Should be Different from Face-to-Face," Cult of Pedagogy, Jennifer Gonzales, July 2020, https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/9-ways-online-teaching/

"Asynchronous and Synchronous E-Learning," EDUCAUSE Review,  Stefan Hrastinski, November 17, 2008 https://er.educause.edu/articles/2008/11/asynchronous-and-synchronous-elearning

"Why Does Zoom Exhaust You? Science Has an Answer," Wall Street Journal, Betsy Morris, May 27, 2020 https://www.darley.com/documents/general_content/Why_Does_Zoom_Exhaust_You__Science_Has_an_Answer_-_WSJ.pdf

"This School Year is Going to Be Mostly Remote. We Have to Do Online Education Better." Shayla R. Griffin, PhD, August 9, 2020 https://medium.com/@shaylargriffin/this-school-year-is-going-to-be-mostly-remote-we-have-to-do-online-education-better-efc25d294631

"iNACOL (International Association for K-12 Online Learning) Blended Learning Teacher Competency Framework," October 2014 https://aurora-institute.org/wp-content/uploads/iNACOL-Blended-Learning-Teacher-Competency-Framework.pdf

"U.S. Department of Education, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies," 2010 https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf