This morning, Chicago Public Schools announced in a press release the plans so far related to “remote learning,” which will launch on April 13, after the district’s regularly scheduled spring break. For more on remote learning, you can check out their guide for parents.
Here’s what we know so far:
100K+ of devices for the neediest students. Between new purchases and the pre-existing supply of school-based digital hardware (think iPad tablets, Chromebooks and other types of laptops), the district says it has about 100,000 devices to put in the hands of families who need them. The district has put out a call to the philanthropic community for help purchasing and acquiring more. In their statement, CPS acknowledges it can’t purchase Internet for all students but that low-income families can work with Comcast and AT&T to obtain free WiFi.
School- and teacher- led instruction. In what I think is the most positive development, schools and teachers will have authority to determine children’s daily learning activities. They can tweak curricular materials CPS will provide every two weeks, or create their own. The up side of this is that schools and teachers know their students and are best-positioned to determine what works for the young people they have already been teaching. The down side? We know from years of experience, that when all schools are given the freedom to chart their own course, some will support their students well, and some won’t. Students are expected to do their work, but all assignments done through remote learning can only help a student’s grade, not hurt it. (The district is still working through what will happen about grade promotion and graduation. Stay tuned.)
Direct contact with teachers. In the statement, CPS promises that “teachers will be directly available to their students for academic support.” As a mom, I say, “Hallelujah!” Schools will determine exactly what that looks like, but it seems likely we’ll see a mix of live-streamed activities and office hours by phone or email. The district promises “a maximum of two hours of digital learning” daily, in line with medical guidance around screen use for young people.
Reasonable, flexible scheduling. Again, unlike districts elsewhere, Chicago Public Schools is setting a 2-hour daily cap on screen time. Teachers are expected to be available to their students for four hours daily. Speaking solely for myself as a working parent, I feel like these guidelines will allow me to be involved with her learning and also give her enough to do independently that I can get my own work done. I’m sure other parents will react differently–some may want their kids much more occupied, others less.
Families will hear more specific plans from their children’s schools on April 6.
“Nothing can take the place of classroom time with our dedicated educators, but now more than ever, we need to come together as a CPS community to support our students and help them stay engaged during this unprecedented time,” CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson said in the district’s statement. “Schools know their communities best, which is why our guidance is centered on flexibility, with an emphasis on family and student engagement. We understand this is a difficult and unprecedented time for families and staff, and we thank them for their commitment and patience.”
As I write this, my daughter is having her first classroom gathering on Google Meet. It’s the first time she has been able to see and talk with her teacher and classmates since March 10 (she went to Mexico before the coronavirus outbreak so she’s had even more time away from school than most Chicago kids). I’m delighted CPS is not trying to replicate six hours of school time on devices, and at the same time is working to ensure that all students are connected with their school communities and learning through this very difficult, stressful time.