When schools closed suddenly last March due to the growing pandemic, no one was prepared. Not the schools, the teachers, the students. And especially not the parents.
Mothers, fathers, and other primary caregivers were faced with juggling work and home responsibilities, and now, keeping their children engaged in remote learning.
With conflicting schedules, unclear expectations, and in many cases, no set curriculum, parents were confused and overwhelmed. And teachers, like myself, were at a loss to help them given the ever-changing guidelines provided to us.
The result was a mashup of delivery systems, reduced student engagement, and elimination of new instruction, additional grading, and state testing. We did what we could to survive through the final quarter of school.
Plans then focused on the fall with the reopening of schools. Classes were scheduled and teachers were told to think about remediation for lost learning as we develop our lesson plans for the beginning of the year.
Everyone was pretty confident we would be back in class with face to face, somewhat normal, instruction.
Where we are now.
But here we are over four months later still confused about what returning to school will look like. With all the differing opinions on whether it is safe to bring our children physically back into the buildings, parents are again faced with a huge dilemma.
Given their personal and work situations, moms and dads are wondering what’s the best way to ensure their child receives a quality education while remaining safe and healthy?
Adding to the confusion is the frequent use of terms such as homeschool, virtual school, remote learning, distance learning, and hybrid models of education.
I, myself, have used the terms interchangeably. But they are distinctly different options. Understanding the differences may help parents, not only join in the conversations about how school should look in the fall, but feel better about choosing the best fit for their family.
Below is a general overview of the three most basic options. It would be much too lengthy an article to include all the details, pros, and cons of each. But hopefully, it will give you, as parents, caregivers, employers, and even teachers a better idea of the choices out there.
Homeschool — just as the name implies.
Homeschooling means classes are held at home. Students do not attend public school, ride the bus, etc.
Key features include:
- The parents/primary caregivers are the teachers.
- They must adhere to strict guidelines per the state in which they reside.
- Curriculum is selected by parents, but must be approved (according to laws of resident state) and appropriate for the age of the student.
- Parents determine the daily school schedule and create the lesson plans.
- Homeschool students are usually required to take state tests just as students in public schools.
- Student have certain benchmarks they are expected to meet per state and federal guidelines
- Progress is monitored by parents. Parents are expected to keep records.
- Opportunity to participate in some public school activities (sports, clubs, elective classes) is usually available to students.
- Some schools have a homeschool liaison to assist parents with curriculum selection, planning, instruction, and recordkeeping strategies.
- Socialization will need to be incorporated into the program as homeschooling limits chances for peer interactions.
- Good opportunities to connect with other homeschool parents/organizations for ideas, troubleshooting, and instruction on how to set up and get started.
Homeschooling is becoming more popular. There are many resources available to families considering this option. But it is important for parents to understand 100% of the responsibility of educating their child will fall on you.
Virtual schools- all instruction is provided online.
There are several virtual public schools out there such as K-12. Many are specific to the state in which you reside.
Key characteristics of virtual schools include:
- Public virtual schools are taught by certified teachers trained in their grade level or content area.
- All instruction is delivered via the internet. Students will need to have a strong, dependable internet connection.
- Classes are scheduled with regular dates and times.
- Regular attendance is required. Teachers must record and report frequent and unexcused absences.
- Several students will participate in a class at the same time, just like a “regular’ classroom.
- Curriculum is established and provided by the school per state and federal standards.
- Recordkeeping including attendance, grades, and progress toward standards is maintained by the teacher.
- Virtual schools must follow state school board guidelines according to the state in which the students reside including number of days/hours of instruction required.
- Students will participate in state testing per requirements for other public school students of their same age/grade level.
- Virtual schools have office staff and administrators to take care of the business end of the program, including fiscal accountability and discipline procedures.
- Teachers make one on one phone calls, plan outings for socialization, and make recommendations for remediation or special education evaluations.
- Virtual schools, like all public schools, are open to all students regardless of age, income, race, religion, or ability level.
- Most offer special education services and instruction as well, including the development and implementation of IEPs (Individual Education Plan).
- Students will need to be self-motivation and very comfortable with technology.
With virtual schools, teachers are responsible for the classroom and instruction. But parents still play a big role in ensuring their child can access the instruction, participate as required, and complete the work assigned.
In the virtual school scenario, parents and teachers need to work closely together. Students must be motivated and comfortable with working independently majority of the time in order to see success.
Remote learning and hybrids -what public schools are proposing.
Most public schools are not set up to offer the same type/quality of online delivery of instruction as virtual schools. It takes special equipment, training, curriculum, and materials to teach a truly virtual class.
Public schools are taking some cues from virtual schools and doing their best to come up with something manageable for both teachers, students, and parents.
Basic components of remote learning through public school:
- Certified teachers, trained in their specific grade level and/or content area, provide instruction.
- Daily attendance is recorded by the teacher and tracked by the school district. Regular attendance is required.
- Curriculum is determined according to the student’s grade level and/or courses they are taking per district curriculum team decisions.
- Teachers present instruction via Zoom or Google or a similar platform.
- Schools and teachers determine the schedule (days and times of online classes).
- Instruction is not provided at school in the fully remote option.
- Hybrid options offer one or two days a week of face to face (in the classroom) instruction and students then do most of the work at home or may meet again online during the week.
- The hybrid model will require strict enforcement of health and safety guidelines including handwashing, the wearing of masks through the day, and social distancing students from each other on the days students attend class in the building.
- Students receive and turn in assignments through Google Classroom or a similar system in the fully remote option.
- Teachers are available for help via email or individually planned conference calls.
- Teachers are responsible for planning and correcting assignments, but they will need support from parents to ensure students do the work.
- Parents will need to assist students with homework or help the student access online material. It may be necessary for the parent to contact the teacher for additional help if the student is unable or unwilling to do so.
- Students will need to take state testing (if the state decides to do testing.).
- Students without reliable internet access will receive their work either by mail or by drop off or drop in. Instruction may be provided over the telephone.
- Videos can also be made and sent home to the student.
Strong relationships are necessary for success.
Building relationships with students is very important to the success of virtual schools and remote learning but is also difficult to do. Teachers will need to work especially hard on this.
And the relationship between parents and teachers is also key to the success of either option. Ongoing communication between staff and families is a huge component of distance learning of any kind.
Parents might also be considering private schools, private virtual schools, or hiring a tutor. These options are not feasible for many families because of the expense. But if you are thinking about any of those, research thoroughly and talk to other parents, both current and former to get a good understanding of the program.
Families may also consider a combination of the available routes to educating their children. For instance, older students at the secondary level may do well in a virtual school program. They may be more comfortable with technology and willing to work independently or with less support from parents than their younger siblings.
Remote/distance learning or homeschooling may be a better choice for younger students that need more parental support to navigate technology, understand and complete lessons, and/or benefit from hands-on learning.
Educating our children is vitally important to their future and the future of our country and communities. Our current choices for providing that education are not ideal. But anything we can do to better understand our options is helpful in guiding the decision.
One thing we do know. Parents will need to be more involved than ever before. To what degree they are capable of doing so (considering work responsibilities, comfort level, academic skills, internet accessibility, etc.) may, unfortunately, be the deciding factor.