This post is by Jethro Jones and was first published on JethroJones.com. It has been reposted with his permission.
Start with Reducing Class Sizes
One thing that teachers are always advocating for is lower class sizes.
We have a unique opportunity to finally provide this to teachers, right away, and deal with the coronavirus situation in a much more supportive manner.
I’ll use actual, public data from my current school district to illustrate this.
According to this page, Spokane school district has 30,747 students and 2,015 teachers, with an average of 13.5 years of experience.
This is a recipe for success!
Let’s imagine that each family in our district has 2 children in the school system (this includes preschool, btw).
Now, since it is very likely that school won’t be open anyway, let’s reassign all our teachers to focus on families.
Early childhood teachers could focus on those with young children, while high school subject-matter-experts could focus on families with high-school-aged children.
Also, you’d want to assign families most likely based on their neighborhood school first and foremost.
If you do this, in my district, where I currently live, that would be just under 16 students per teacher. We can’t split kids in half, so we’ll round up to 16.
If each family has 2 children, most teachers would have to focus on supporting the education of just 8 families, or 16 kids.
(My family has 4 kids, so that would greatly reduce the load for some. My sister, who lives here, has 2 kids, so potentially, the teacher who supports us could support her family as well, thus lightening the load further.)
In my district, the teachers could use their 13.5 years of experience to directly support those families. And, they would probably be very successful.
Teachers would spend one day each week in different professional contexts supporting and learning from each other. PLCs, masterminds, professional development, etc.
The other benefit to this plan is that even our most tech-averse teachers could handle communicating with just 8 families each week. They don’t need to learn how to use new tools and could just make that connection very personal.
Principals’ roles would change and they would focus more on the families their teachers are supervising and finding and delivering support to them. They’d monitor family responses to how things are going and provide support when needed.
If we are focused on families, this would also provide other ways to stimulate the economy. Field trips and other activities could be arranged to provide for social distancing and cleanliness that would make things that haven’t been possible yet more likely to be possible.
OK, I’m in. What does the Day to Day look like?
Daily, each teacher checks in with students and makes sure the family has what they need. Different families will have different levels of need. This would be a family check-in, done via text, email, synchronous video call, or something similar. 15 minutes each family, or so.
Weekly, each teacher has a 1:1 meeting with each student. If they are small families, and we are keeping the networks small, we could justify in person meetings much easier than in-person classes. Families could come to the school or the teacher could go to the families’ homes.
One day each week (the same day) teachers would all be focusing on professional improvement. Either through PLCs, masterminds, professional development, or other activities to help them be more successful. The district would set this day and the department that usually does PD would guide it in collaboration with principals.
Students could still be enrolled in “courses” to support the learning that they need to accomplish, if that is what the family wants.
WHAT ABOUT CURRICULUM?
There are already plenty of providers that provide curriculum virtually, and it would be cost effective to purchase these programs from various vendors. More importantly, districts could create these programs on the fly to support students.
The teacher’s role in that situation would then be to support her families’ kids in their online courses. She’d be a support to help them be successful and take pressure off the parents.
WHAT ABOUT SPECIAL EDUCATION?
My daughter has down syndrome, and needs a lot of support, so this is one of the things I think of first.
IEPs are Individualized Education Plans, and special education teachers would still need to work with their families. In my district, there are 4747 students with special needs. That means each teacher could have 2 students with special needs. I’d recommend each special education teacher is assigned to families with special needs.
Often our special education teachers have skills way beyond what is being utilized in the classroom, and they could really shine in this difficult situation.
What are the problems with this plan?
- Standards attainment!
While I don’t really think this is an issue, many people will, so I will address it. Many standards are eerily close to each other as you go from grade to grade. Middle school ELA, which is what I taught, is basically the same all three years (6,7,8). Yes, there are differences, but they are negligable, and easy to differentiate.
- State testing!
In my district, the achievement is 55% for ELA and 45% for math. What we’re doing is obviously not working for ALL kids, so we don’t have much to lose in that regard.
- What if they can go back to school?
We already know how to do the in-person school thing. People will probably go back to the model they are comfortable with. And even though I don’t think education will ever be the same, people will be eager to get back to what they do know!
- Teachers teaching not in their content area.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and all the plans I’m seeing now are leaving so many kids out, this plan at least makes sure that a certified teacher is supporting every single student at a capacity they can actually sustain! This is a simple lobbying effort to get the state to allow it during the closures, and I think most state offices of education would go along with it as a viable solution to what we are facing.
- Our district doesn’t know who is related to whom!
This is actually the biggest problem. In previous districts, we didn’t have kids connected to their families in the SIS, so this would be a monumental task to get everyone organized. If we are looking at bubbles of kids, imagine having cousins (who are likely already spending time together) grouped with the same teacher. The risk of spread is greatly reduced in this situation, because the network is so small.
- Would teachers teach their own kids?
That depends. Some families, that would make sense. Others, they would need other support. But, that could also help make things easier.