What’s Best for Our Kids During a Pandemic?

by Sarah Wayland

The opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

I recently learned that the Maryland State Board of Education is meeting on Tuesday September 1st, 2020 to consider mandating the number of hours that children must spend actively engaged in learning. The graphic is a slide from the presentation that presents the proposal the board is to consider. 

Screen Shot 2020-08-30 at 12.32.21 PM

All schools must provide 6 hours of instruction per day. And, by implication, all children must engage in 6 hours of instruction per day.

This is not reasonable.

It is not reasonable to mandate that all children must engage in 6 hours per day of electronically-delivered instruction. There are many reasons. Some of the most compelling include:

  1. Equitable access to the internet and electronic devices that allow for such access. According to EdWeek, a third of K-12 students aren’t adequately connected for remote learning.  
  2. Developmentally appropriate expectations regarding daily engagement and focus with academic content. Parents who homeschool their children regularly find that their children can accomplish their learning goals with 2-3 hours per day of focused learning. Importantly, “time doing academic study was determined by the pace at which we got through the material, rather than how many hours we did.” (quote from the linked article).
  3. Developmentally appropriate limits on screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children get at least one hour of physical activity each day, as well as 8-12 hours of sleep each night. And if ADULTS are having a hard time with Zoom Fatigue, our kids are going to struggle as well. 
  4. Children with disabilities, especially disabilities that impact focus and executive functioning, are going to struggle disproportionately with these demands. 
  5. We are experiencing an extended period of national trauma and ambiguous loss right now, and our kids are experiencing it right along with us. To expect them to act as if everything is normal is unreasonable. 

It is not reasonable to expect parents to help their children engage in 6 hours per day of remotely-delivered instruction. Parents cannot both earn a living and monitor their children’s engagement with education. Parents were busy (and often overwhelmed) before the pandemic hit. Asking them to take on even more responsibility now is just not possible for many families. 

  1. 32% of families in the USA in 2016 were headed by single parents. If you are a single parent, you likely have to work to support your children. We are asking these parents to choose between making a living and ensuring that their children can get an education. 
  2. Both partners in two-parent families are employed outside of the home 64.2% of the time. These families are in a similar bind to single parent families. To continue meeting their financial obligations, both parents must work. Many families have decided that one parent must cut their work hours so they can help their children. Other families don’t have the freedom to make that choice. 
  3. Prior to quarantining, both parents were able to work outside of the home because their children were in school and under the careful supervision of responsible adults. They often hired someone to watch their children after school because their children needed someone with them to keep them safe. Shifting to full-time distance learning plans would require parents to find care for all the hours they need to work, and this is roughly triple the amount of time they needed before the pandemic
  4. Some families have the financial means to hire a nanny or direct support staff to help their kids stay on track, but there is both a shortage of such people, and this option is only available to the families who can afford it. Again, this is an issue of educational access and equity. 
  5. Returning to in-person instruction should be driven by science-based decisions by Health Departments and not wishful thinking. If we return our children to school before the coronavirus is contained, we put them, their families, and our teachers at risk. 

It is not reasonable to expect teachers to deliver 3-5 hours of direct teacher-led online instruction to large classrooms.  Those statistics reported above? Those apply to teachers too. And most teachers go into teaching because they love kids, so many of them have kids of their own. How are they supposed to balance the demands of their own children with their responsibility to the children they are educating?

Because parents will be unable to provide the necessary supervision to ensure that their children will be able to meet the attendance guidelines, I feel certain that many of them will decide to pull their children out of the public schools and homeschool them. In homeschooling the emphasis is on what you have learned, not the number of hours you have spent “looking like you are learning”.

Instead of focusing on the number of hours of instruction, our educators should be given the freedom to focus on whether the kids in their classes are actually learning, and if not, how to adapt the approach so their students do learn. And individual counties should be given the freedom to follow local Health Department guidelines to keep their residents safe.

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