K1C Parent Board

CPS Parents Tell Kids First Chicago How to Fix Remote Learning This Year

In July 2020, Kids First Chicago spoke with 163 CPS parents about their recommendations for the upcoming school year. They included four dual-language focus groups to connect with Spanish-speaking parents. This is very important since the district and many individual schools still struggle to communicate effectively with parents who primarily speak Spanish. (Let alone parents who speak other languages!)

You can read their full report here. I’ll offer some highlights and a bit of personal reflection as a parent trying to support my child’s remote learning last spring. (I wasn’t very successful.)

Kids First parents–and parents all over the city–already won the ear of CPS officials with their demand to start the year remotely. Now it’s time to listen to what they have to say about how schools can improve on the very uneven and frustrating experiences Chicago families had with remote learning last spring.

So far, the district has begun to deliver on their first recommendation: clear expectations for length of school day, consistent platforms and one-stop online sources for information on what children are supposed to do.

What’s unclear yet is the district’s expectations for teachers about live instruction. Last spring the timing and amount of instruction delivered live varied widely by school. As the report says, “Parents preferred teacher-led instruction rather than applications to deliver content.”

I’m one of those parents. Here’s my truth–I can’t sit on top of my daughter and force her to engage with online platforms all day. I’m working from home and I need to concentrate. Seeing her teacher and classmates live only 2-3 times a week for an hour a stretch was not enough to keep her on task. Our family needs daily live interaction to have any hope of making online learning work. No, it doesn’t have to be five hours a day of live teaching–I think that’s unreasonable for both teachers and students, though plenty of private schools are doing it. But a daily check in and check out makes plenty of sense, as do virtual lessons and small groups.

And of course how this works in practice will vary by age, grade level and other factors. Kids with IEPs may need very complex schedules to connect with specialists.

Here’s what worked for the parents Kids First Chicago spoke with: “regular schedules where [students] interacted live with teachers and classmates and submitted teacher-created assignments in a single platform.” They used digital games and apps for supplemental practice. That makes sense.

This Year, CPS Must Do More than Provide Laptops and Internet

CPS also needs to do more than provide laptops and Internet. That’s a toughie, since we still haven’t even gotten those basics to every family yet. But we also need to think beyond those basics. In Kids First focus groups, parents said they had had to buy art supplies and even scanners and printers for their children to be able to complete and submit work. In a system where more than 80 percent of kids qualify for free lunch, that’s unacceptable.

Another key recommendations I fear the district won’t be able to deliver on is providing parents with training to help their kids manage the technology involved. A related issue is regular communication with teachers about work and assignments and helping kids learn to manage communication with their teachers in platforms like Google Classroom.

We’ve got less than a month until school starts. I hope CPS leadership pays attention to what parents are saying about how to improve remote learning. I also hope City Hall pivots quickly into working with the Chicago Park District and out-of-school time providers like the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club (and others all over the city) to develop remote learning hubs for kids who don’t have adults at home who can supervise and support. There’s a lot of work to do and not much time to do it.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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