DEBATE: Virtual School on Snow Days?

from “Room for Debate,” The New York Times, 2/5/14

[Michael’s Note: This debate was inspired by the decision some Chicago-area schools made to upload digital lessons and hold snow-day classes online.]

“There’s Beauty, and Learning, in a Snow Day” (by Kate Fridkis, Home Education Magazine columnist)

I’m conflicted when I read about schools implementing long-distance learning techniques on snow days. Learning happens in the snow. It happens through play and family interactions and goofing off. It’s amazing how much children learn outside the classroom….

At the same time,…if formalized education is necessary…then [enabling students to complete assignments from home] seems like a gentler, more flexible complement to the rules of the classroom. Ultimately, the less separation between the acquisition of traditional knowledge and the rest of life, the better!…

[My daughter is] only 6 months old now…but I can’t help thinking ahead and wondering if I am willing to relegate her sledding days to weekends and days when school is canceled. What a wild sense of freedom I had, growing up. I can’t help but want that for her…. I fantasize about some sort of middle ground, aided by technology…on snow days.

As one Chicago area high school student says: “As long as it’s not too much like an actual school day, it’s a good thing.”

I still believe that the snow part is the best part, but maybe throwing a little bit of school in the mix can be a good thing, too.

“Great Idea, but Not Just for the Rich” (by Marilyn Anderson Rhames, Chicago charter school middle school teacher)

Teleschooling” on snow days is [a big] advancement in education… It just makes sense….

As exciting…as this news is, it’s yet another story about the great work the white, affluent suburban schools are doing to educate their youth. I kept…hoping to see mention of one nonselective enrollment Chicago public school that also used remote learning tools during the storm. I saw none, and I’m not surprised.

The success of teleschooling, just like brick-and-mortar schooling, boils down to equity in funding, proper management of the resources a school district has, and the willingness of administrators to think outside the box. None of which, I’m pained to say, is in great abundance within the Chicago Public Schools. When you throw poverty in the mix, advancements like tele schooling seem near impossible….

Chicago Public Schools includes 658 schools and 400,000 students, with 87% considered low income. Technology…is notoriously outdated and plagued with theft and corruption. So before teleschooling can take hold,…checks and balances to prevent abuse or loss of equipment would have to be firmly in place.

Additionally, in my 10 years experience teaching in Chicago, about 25 to 30% of my students did not have Internet access in their homes, which further challenges the notion of teleschooling….

Postponing summer break certainly won’t inspire quality teaching and learning, so tele schooling really is a good idea…. If done right, this type of instruction could provide students with the technology and independent learning skills that are necessary for a quality 21st-century education. But all students — not just the privileged few — should have this creative opportunity to learn.

“Online Programs Are Important Tools” (by Maureen Suhendra, Khan Academy)

It was snowing hard outside the KIPP middle school in Manhattan, as Silvestre Arcos’ class…[was] practicing math….

If there was a snow day the students could continue working, using the Khan Academy software…. Arcos could also send assignments to his students through Khan Academy. While the students are in the warmth of their homes, across town, Arcos could watch their progress in real time. He could see which students were struggling,…which students needed to be challenged more, and how much time students were spending on the site. Then he could take all of this information into account when planning for the next day, carefully considering how he can tailor his instruction to meet each student’s unique needs.

Khan is one of many online tools that let teachers provide instruction and guidance and allow students to continue their studies at home. Snow days make these online tools particularly handy.

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