The 29-minute mini-documentary examined the education needs of students in rural school districts throughout California and the extraordinary challenges they face. It highlighted the impact of chronic absenteeism, a lack of internet service and barriers to going to college.
These barriers are similar to those in urban areas but get far less public attention. The mini-documentary, which drew on EdSource’s multimedia reporting on the topic, describes this education divide and the efforts underway to help students earn college degrees and other post-secondary credentials.
A notable feature of the project was that it called on students and teachers in rural areas to help shape the project as it was getting off the ground by sharing their experiences and ideas.
Judges praised the documentary “as doing an exemplary job of finding students, teachers and visuals to humanize these issues with depth.”
The mini-documentary was produced by videographer Jennifer Molina drawing on reporting by David Washburn, Carolyn Jones, Sydney Johnson and Larry Gordon. Anne Vasquez was the executive producer; Rose Ciotta, project editor and Denise Zapata, co-editor.
The full year-long project was a collaboration of many EdSource staffers including: Daniel Willis, Yuxuan Xie, Justin Allen, Andrew Reed, Lee Romney and photographer, Julie Leopo.
Leopo’s photo of a child riding on a school bus entitled, “The Long Bus Ride,” won first place in feature photography in the California News Publishers Association awards. The project won a total of six awards including video journalism-news for a segment on chronic absenteeism, interactive graphics, layout and design and public service.
The project also received support from the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism and from the Education Writers Association in the form of fellowships to Washburn.
In announcing the launch of the project in January 2019, EdSource asked our readers to help us tell about the needs of students and educators in rural areas. Many reached out to help us.
“California is a big place, and we are a small newsroom,” EdSource explained. “We need eyes and ears on the ground — students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members whose real experiences can help us make a difference.”
The inspiration for the project came from examining data on chronic absenteeism and from Carl Cohn, the former Long Beach Unified superintendent who wrote a commentary for EdSource in which he described the dire needs of students in the state’s rural areas after visiting Modoc County in his position then as head of a new state agency, the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence.
“Right here in our own state we have places that we need to do a better job of listening to and showing up in if we’re going to come together around the rescue of all school children,” Cohn wrote.
Cohn recently launched a podcast series titled “Schools on the Frontlines” on how school districts are coping with the pandemic, including looking at the Victor Valley Union High School District in the High Desert in Southern California.
Within five days of school closure in March, Pajaro Valley Unified in Watsonville successfully implemented distance learning that included distributing 15,000 Chromebooks and 1,000 hot spots so that all 20,000 students had a device.
In this webinar, Supt. Michelle Rodriguez and Rolling Hills Middle School Principal Ivan Alcaraz speak to EdSource’s John Fensterwald about how the district has provided social and emotional supports to students and staff during this transition, their preparations for the fall and their plans to help the students farthest behind get a jump-start on the new year.
Click here to view the slide presentation and resources for this webinar.
While most school districts across the United States are providing students with educational resources, many have not been able to connect all their students to the internet and are still struggling to put attendance and grading policies in place, according to research from the Center on Reinventing Public Education.
“This is no time to lower expectations of students or teachers,” said Steven Wilson, a senior fellow with the center. “Time on task continues to matter enormously. Districts that bargain 2- or 3- or 4-hour days are basically abdicating their responsibility to educate. I really think it is quite shocking and disturbing.”
Researchers from the center, high school history teacher Manuel Rustin and Jeffrey Garrett, the senior director of Leadership Development at the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, discussed the state of education during the coronavirus pandemic in “To the extent feasible: Strategies for success with distance learning,” a webinar hosted by EdSource on Tuesday. More than 1,000 viewers participated in the webinar.
Rustin and Garrett host a YouTube show called All of the Above, the Unstandardized Show About Education.
The researchers reviewed websites and social media channels of 82 large, mostly urban school districts and 18 charter management organizations to determine their progress in rolling out online curriculum and instruction, according to Bree Dusseault, a practioner in-residence at the center.
Older students were given more instructional time and more curricular resources.
A third of districts are allowing schools to decide how to provide online learning.
The majority of student learning continues to fall on parents.
Since March 26, the percentage of school districts offering curriculum and progress monitoring increased from 5% to 59%.
Attendance tracking is only being done in only 29% of districts and 56% of the charter management groups reviewed.
Little information is being provided about how special education students are being served.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools is an example of a district that effectively rolled out online learning, according to the research. The district started online learning immediately after school campuses closed and distributed over 100,000 laptops and Wi-Fi-enabled phones to students, Dusseault said. It rolled out an attendance plan in April and began measuring how many students were logged in for daily instruction. School staff contacted the families of students who were not logging in and now the district’s more than 300,000 students have achieved 99% attendance, she said.
The district also set clear expectations for parents, students and teachers, including that lessons would last 45 minutes to one hour a day, that teachers would have three hours of office hours daily that would include online lessons and time to take questions from parents and students. School district officials also have committed to trying to start their school year in late July or early August to help kids get ahead and is planning virtual summer school, Dusseault said.
The researchers offered tips for school districts in preparation for summer school and next school year. Schools should plan to move between remote, in-person and hybrid school models as cases of coronavirus increase and decrease, said Layna McKittrick, a research analyst with the center. Districts should set clear teaching and learning expectations for each scenario, as well as decision making and communication protocols, common assessment platforms and increased training and support for staff, she said. District and charter officials also will need to have new health and safety policies, as well as new ways to track attendance, deliver grades and offer credit recovery.
Schools should pilot some of their ideas over the summer, Dusseault said.
Garrett, of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, agreed with much of what the researchers said, but disagreed with the premise that lowered expectations would hurt students.
“We knew before COVID-19 that there were vast areas of inequities in our profession and we know that this has dramatically exacerbated those inequities,” Garrett said of the move to online learning. “Our first order of business, in my mind, has to be about doing everything we can to level the playing field.”
Federal stimulus funding is coming to the aid of California’s school districts. An EdSource analysis projects that of the 897 districts that receive their funding through the state’s education funding formula, 60.4 percent would get more in stimulus funding than they’d lose in state cuts.
Quality early care and education are critical to prepare California children for school and their lives in general. But a large percentage of children do not have access to high quality early childhood education programs. The coronavirus pandemic has eliminated most hope of expanding preschool to more low-income 4-year-olds in the near future and has caused financial strife for early learning programs trying to meet health and safety guidelines and keep staff and children safe.