The chaos from the COVID-19 Corona Virus continues to impact in many ways great and small.
I just called the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission for information about a bill and got a recording saying the commission is shut down until further notice. No one is answering the LRC phones. So, I called the information number at the Kentucky Department of Education and that call was transferred to a communications office staffer working from home. The education department’s offices at Sower Boulevard are apparently empty.
There are tons of other impacts, of course. Some especially important ones concern the education of Kentucky’s children. Without question, the COVID-19 outcomes for kids are certain to be profound, but it is far to early to gauge those impacts.
Still, some research has started. Interesting information was presented yesterday during an Education Writers’ Association webinar titled “Remote Learning 101 in the Time of COVID-19.”
One of the participants in this webinar was Benjamin Herold, who is with the Education Week newspaper but currently is on sabbatical. Herold used several slides to illustrate his points yesterday, and I have his permission to share some of them with you here.
I’ll start in this first blog with a slide dealing with a new term I had not seen before COVID-19 came along.
Herold’s key point here is that what our teachers are currently attempting to do across Kentucky doesn’t really fit into any of the existing models of digital or distance learning and instead the current situation is more correctly considered to be “Emergency Remote Teaching,” basically a crisis response to something that no one really planned for in advance.
Herold’s slide quotes from an article by Charles Hodges, Stephanie Moore, Barb Lockee, Torrey Trust and Aaron Bond that says:
“Well-planned online learning experiences are meaningfully different from courses offered online in response to a crisis or disaster.”
I think the concerns of all of these researchers are on target for Kentucky. Click the “Read more” link to learn why.
Instructional approaches like Online Learning, Virtual Learning and Distance Learning as we have classically thought of them have all been planned in advance under controlled circumstances. Furthermore, there has been fairly continuous monitoring of student progress to determine if the programs are working as intended.
At present, what is happening to education in Kentucky and elsewhere due to COVID-19 looks quite different. Even for those 83 Kentucky districts that already had been approved for some remote teaching days under Kentucky’s original Non-Traditional Instruction program (NTI), the current situation isn’t a very good fit.
Kentucky’s NTI was designed to cover a maximum of 10 snow days, not a prolonged, possibly months-long period of out-of-building instruction. For most districts, the COVID-19 out-of-school days already well exceed the 10-day NTI limit originally allowed by statute [KRS 158.070(9)].
I don’t know if many, or any, of the 83 NTI approved districts had contingency plans to allow for even more than 10 snow days and had additional, carefully-developed instructional programs available for extra days. Given the fact that useful instruction would have to fit into the schedule at weather-determined, and thus unknown, points during the school year, designing even more than 10 days of such instruction would have been challenging and time-consuming, at the very least. Also, the planning would have been for a period of winter weather, not the later-in-the-school-year impact of COVID-19.
Regardless, only 83 districts had approval for NTI for the 2019-20 school term. The other 89 districts didn’t even have an NTI program and probably had no pre-planned distance learning lessons on the shelf at all.
So, along comes COVID-19. Suddenly, all of the districts are now signed up to use the NTI program on an emergency basis. Furthermore, thanks to the just-enacted Senate Bill 177 from the 2020 Regular Legislative Session, the NTI program now has an emergency extension to cover much more than just the 10 days listed in the original statute. At present, the Kentucky Commissioner of Education is asking superintendents to prepare for six weeks of additional out-of-the-building instruction, at least.
So, here’s how this shapes up in regards to “Emergency Remote Teaching.”
There probably was no advanced planning of out-of-the-school-building instruction in any Kentucky district for more than the 10 lost school days allowed in the original NTI legislation. Furthermore, there certainly was little, if any, advanced planning in the 89 Kentucky school districts that didn’t even have an approved 10-day maximum NTI plan when COVID-19 hit. Those 89 districts essentially were at ground zero for planning any distance learning program when COVID-19 arrived.
Another interesting point is that under law in Kentucky each School-Based Decision Making Council is supposed to have final say on curriculum. But, with everything now socially distanced, it’s doubtful many councils are meeting at all. So, how are the emergency remote learning programs getting approved? Is it every teacher for his or her self? Is curriculum control gone? Is that legal in Kentucky?
In any event, I know teachers across Kentucky are scrambling to adjust to all of this. Many teachers had to start at ground zero, as previously noted, with no plan in place to cover even a limited, 10-day series of instructional programs.
Even teachers in NTI schools that did have instructional programs available have probably exhausted all of that by now. These teachers were at least familiar with some of the techniques and equipment needed to make distance learning work. But, for teachers from schools that had no pre-COVID-19 NTI program….
Bottom line: I think in Kentucky, at least, it is fair to say that Benjamin Herold’s “Emergency Remote Teaching” situation is the current order of the day. And, how well Kentucky’s education system will be able to rise to this unprecedented challenge is a great unknown, as well. I see comments on social media from a number of teachers that they are trying mightily to make this all work, but they certainly face some unprecedented challenges, and even growing help from the Kentucky Department of Education is going to be sorely stressed to make it all happen for kids.
That leads to another slide from Herold’s package that asks the following questions for educators:
I think many more questions and answers will need to be developed before we can begin to really assess the impact of COVID-19 on Kentucky’s public education system. But, we will need to start this effort as soon as possible.
By the way, Herold presented some very interesting data slides in the EWA webinar, and I’ll be covering more of that in future blogs.