George Boardman: Parents, students are depending on educators to get this year right | TheUnion.com
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George Boardman: Parents, students are depending on educators to get this year right

George Boardman
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

Observations from the center stripe: Failure edition

AFTER THEIR failure to arrest any of the thugs who disrupted the Black Lives Matter parade, until one arrest made five days later, Nevada City Police are strong candidates for the Inspector Clouseau award … A MESSAGE on our TV screen said an incoming call was possibly a scam. It was a robocall from Rep. Doug LaMalfa … THAT CALL came about an hour after another robocall from Rep. Tom McClintock, who still thinks we’re in his district almost a decade after the district was redrawn … HERE’S A question for people who blow off the coronavirus science: Do you also believe the earth is flat and gravity doesn’t exist? You can’t pick and choose your science … THEY MAY be off to a slow start, but the Giants lead the league for best name of a player: Catcher Chadwick Tromp … IF DONALD Trump has an edge over Joe Biden in the debates, it’s because Trump never allows ignorance or the facts to inhibit anything he says …

As public education prepares to enter the brave new world of distance education, parents and their children are hoping the educators get this right.

Remote education is a poor substitute for real classrooms, but California’s educators have opted for distance learning, online courses, or a hybrid approach that recalls the old joke about how the camel was created by a committee.

Gov. Gavin Newsom put in place a complex system for when schools can resume in-person instruction in counties with a high prevalence of the coronavirus, prompting most large districts to go with distance learning. But Newsom also created a waiver system that allows schools with risk-mitigation plans to return to on-campus education.



With few notable exceptions (Mount St. Mary’s Academy in Grass Valley is one of the few to pursue in-person teaching), decision makers around here opted for all three alternatives to traditional teaching. Mount St. Mary’s will now become the focus of much media attention while it tries to answer the question posed by the Los Angeles Times: “Is it a model or a mistake?”

School officials admit they’re learning as they go, and there’s a lot to learn. Despite President Trump’s claim that children are “virtually immune” to the coronavirus and therefore it’s OK to reopen schools, child infections jumped 40% in July and now represent 8.8% of the infections in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.



As schools in the south are showing, the old normal isn’t working. Governors there seem intent on complying with the Trump administration’s forceful and unscientific campaign to make schools provide full-time, in-person instruction. Schools in Georgia, Mississippi and other states are quickly reverting to distance learning as the virus spreads to unmasked students not practicing social distancing.

So, ready or not, distance learning is it for this school year. Unfortunately, there are few indications California educators are actually ready to make this work.

A lot of this isn’t the fault of local educators. State health and education officials have spent the summer fumbling around trying to figure out when it is safe to return to school, what precautions we should take, and how we should implement distance learning. Some of these decisions are just now being released to school districts as they get ready to start the new school year. Then there’s the state’s failure to keep an accurate account of coronavirus victims.

But aided and abetted by the state Legislature, the education establishment has protected its interests without being held accountable for educating students this year, according to Joe Mathews writing in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“The legislature and school officials have reduced the number of instructional minutes (by an hour a day for grades 4-12) and have suspended state assessments of student learning,” Mathews wrote. “There is little accountability for teachers who don’t interact with students much during distance learning. Worse still, the state budget has been changed to ensure that schools are funded — and teachers are paid — whether or not students show up.”

Do I think most teachers will just take a pass on this school year? No, but I do think it will be easier for educators to focus on the students who truly want to learn and let the problem students (many of them victims of poor parenting) who need extra attention to fall by the wayside.

Then there is the issue of how well prepared teachers can effectively conduct distance learning. By all accounts, last spring’s rushed attempt to implement distance learning did not go well. They get a pass for that attempt, the equivalent of trying to change a tire while the car is moving.

Have they learned their lessons since then? Well, I’ve heard from a couple of parents who have attended school updates via Zoom that were full of technical glitches and flubs that didn’t instill confidence in the educators making the presentations. News reports show many districts are off to rocky starts even though they had several months to prepare for this.

Then there is Nevada County’s well-documented paucity of reliable internet service in the rural — that is to say, most — areas of the county. For the unfortunate, spending time in a parking lot to download school assignments is going to get old very quickly, assuming they have access to a computer.

Parents who place a high value on the quality of their children’s education and have the money to back it up know all this, and are taking steps to make sure this isn’t a wasted school year. There have been several reports of groups of parents creating pandemic pods for their children, and hiring tutors to make sure they don’t fall behind in their work. Other parents who have ignored charter schools in the past are going to give them a new look.

That’s fine if you have the money, but what about families that can’t afford pandemic pods or tutors, or single parents who have to choose between going to work or leaving their children to fend for themselves during the school day? What about students who are stuck in poverty, live in unstable households, lack encouragement to pursue education, speak little English in the house, are behind the curve in technology, or who eat their best meal of the day at school? They have no alternative beyond public schools.

These are the students least able to endure a wasted school year. To use the vernacular, educators better not blow it.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Tuesdays by The Union. Write to him at boredgeorgeman@gmail.com.


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