With the spread of Corona Virus worsening daily Seattle Public Schools needs to prepare for online learning NOW. But they are moving in the opposite direction. According to KUOW Superintendent Juneau says Seattle schools will resort to a low-tech solution. “We are going to go old-school and put together learning packets, and make sure that those are available – should there have to be a closure, that there’s access to some type of learning at home.”
This low tech solution is intended to accommodate students who don’t have access to computers at home. But students will lose and discard paper packets. And every parent knows they are not an effective way to learn. Students need direct contact with teachers. They need dynamic discussions, opportunities to work with each other, share presentations, watch videos, etc. This is what’s provided by good online learning platforms such as Zoom for Education.
When I was on the School Board eight years ago we discussed the equity gap in technology access at home. There are solutions that should have been implemented by now. They include partnering with cable companies to provide affordable internet access for low income families, and giving every student a computer. Seattle is way behind the curve on this front. We need to take action in a forward direction, not a backward direction. If we don’t move forward this equity gap will grow. Students with computers at home will continue their education if schools close. Some will enroll in online schools or courses. Those without access will be left further behind.
Juneau and her team need to assemble a fast-forward action plan that determines which students don’t have computer access, and find ways to provide it. They need to train all teachers and students for online learning. They need to contract with a provider of online classrooms, such as Zoom. We already have Schoology, and teachers need to be trained on how to fully implement all the features.
Everyone hopes staff and students of Seattle won’t be directly impacted by this virus. Most of us know that’s wishful thinking. With an exponential rate of spread we need to prepare for school closure that could be indefinite.
If we’re extraordinarily lucky and this virus does not spread into our school communities we will have finally closed the equity gap around computer access at home. We will have taken a significant step forward in preparing students for online learning in college and the workplace. The time to act is now, and it’s not with learning packets. It’s with action that will put our students on equal footing with students in suburban districts such as Northshore and Bellevue.
Sharon Peaslee is a former Seattle School Board Director and currently teaches at Ingraham High School where she is Chair of the Business Department.