Photo by Julie Leopo / EdSource

Dissatisfied with the uneven quality of distance learning among school districts after they closed in March, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature established minimum requirements for the next school year in legislation accompanying the 2020-21 budget.

For many districts, the school year will begin next month. With Covid-19 infection rates and deaths rising, some districts, including the state’s largest, announced this week they’ll open solely with remote learning or hybrid instruction, with some in-person and some remote teaching.

The minimum requirements include ensuring every student is equipped with a computer and internet access, taking daily attendance and interacting with students in some form every day. Proponents of the standards say they’re pleased the Legislature acted but haven’t given up lobbying for additional requirements, particularly more extensive online teaching.

“Live instruction is an important equity issue. We want to know how districts plan to monitor it, so that it’s not simply a daily roll call with links to Khan Academy,” said Samantha Tran, senior managing director of education policy at Children Now, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

To make sure that districts follow through with the requirements, legislators are conditioning state funding on compliance. And they’re requiring that districts explain how they will implement distance learning in a new report they must write, present at two public hearings and adopt by Sept. 30. Districts are also required to reach out to parents to ask, among other issues, what distance learning should look like.

The Legislature is calling it the Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan. If that sounds familiar, its acronym is the same as the Local Control and Accountability Plan, the annual document that districts write, detailing academic priorities and how they will spend extra money they get for English learners, low-income students, foster and homeless youth. The Legislature suspended that LCAP this year because the pandemic has been so disruptive and replaced it with the learning continuity plan.

On Tuesday, the California Department of Education presented draft language of the requirements. In its format and requirements for public participation, the seven-page LCAP “template” resembles the yearly LCAP — only shorter. Each district and charter school must hold two public hearings on the plan before adopting it.

Elements of the plan include:

  • Actions and spending, once in-person instruction resumes, to help students who have experienced significant learning loss due to school closures. Districts must specifically address the needs of English learners, low-income students, foster youth, special education students and homeless students. They must also say how they’ll measure the effectiveness of what they are doing. (Gov. Gavin Newsom has provided $4.5 billion from the federal CARES Act to address student learning loss. The money must be spent by Dec. 31.)
  • Efforts to monitor and support students’ mental health and social and emotional well-being to address the effects of the pandemic.
  • Strategies for connecting with parents in multiple languages of students who are now engaging in distance learning. Under the new state law, this effort must kick in when students fail to participate online for three or more days in a week.
  • Efforts to continue providing free and reduced-price meals for eligible students, which districts began in March.
  • A plan for distance learning that will “ensure pupils have access to a full curriculum of substantially similar quality regardless of the method of delivery.” It will include:
    • A description of how connectivity and a computing device will be provided to all students. Some districts have provided technical assistance to families, although that’s not required in the plan.
    • How staff will receive training, resources and technical support.
    • Extra academic support for those who have had the most difficulty adjusting to distance learning, including English learners, special education and homeless students.

Call for more live instruction

The Equity Coalition, a coalition of civil rights organizations and student advocacy nonprofits, including Children Now, had called for distance learning standards, arguing that the disparities in quality had disadvantaged low-income Black and Latino students compared with their higher-income peers. A survey of Los Angeles Unified parents that it cited, conducted by the nonprofit group Speak Up, found that those students last spring were much less likely to receive daily online instruction and have daily contact with teachers. Some parents complained they never heard from some teachers.

The Legislature did include some of what the coalition suggested. But it declined to act on one area they pressed hard for: requiring teachers to do at least three hours of online instruction daily in most grades. Lawmakers included live teaching, known as synchronous instruction, as one of several options, along with uploading videos and lesson instructions. Their statute requires only daily “interaction.”

The phrasing of a question in the draft plan does suggest, however, that online instruction should be used. It asks charter schools and districts to describe how they “will assess pupil progress through live contacts and synchronous instructional minutes.” Several districts administrators at the webinar indicated they don’t know how to assess online progress and would appreciate guidance from the state.

The coalition also called for giving county education offices and the California Department of Education the authority to monitor remote learning and intervene when districts’ efforts are “egregiously” bad. But the Legislature is requiring only that county offices review, not approve or disapprove, the continuity of learning plans. County offices can make recommendations, and districts will have to respond to the suggestions.

As they do with the yearly LCAP, districts and charter schools must seek extensive public feedback, and explain how the public’s suggestions influenced their plans. They should reach out not only to parents, students and teachers but to those who may not have internet connections, the draft says.

Even though districts will work on a “compressed” timeline, “it is important that the engagement be authentic and not just a rubber stamp to get the plan out the door,” said Shereen Walter, director of legislation for the California State PTA.

After all, as one parent wrote recently in a comment to EdSource, “parents — who were the de facto ‘co-educators’ during ‘crisis learning’ in the spring — and their children know what worked or didn’t and are therefore well-positioned to offer advice on best practices.”

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  1. Patrick 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    We've already seen how this "say in the plans" is going to work. We've gone through multiple surveys, and Zoom "town hall" meetings. Last night the district answered questions. Well, some questions anyway. They love to answer questions about Chromebooks. They skip over questions about how students will receive feedback, will papers be marked up and returned, etc.. This is because they have no intention of providing feedback. They really danced … Read More

    We’ve already seen how this “say in the plans” is going to work. We’ve gone through multiple surveys, and Zoom “town hall” meetings. Last night the district answered questions. Well, some questions anyway. They love to answer questions about Chromebooks. They skip over questions about how students will receive feedback, will papers be marked up and returned, etc.. This is because they have no intention of providing feedback. They really danced around the distance learning issue and spend maybe 80% of the time talking about in-classroom hybrid models and other nonsense that just can’t happen.

    I asked the local union leader directly if they were opposed to distance learning and was ignored. Not one of my kids teachers has a real syllabus, one that outlines week by week what is planned for the semester. I’m convinced that the weak teachers want to hide in the classroom away from accountability and are holding back distance learning at any cost.

  2. Marie 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    My comment was originally a couple paragraphs long explaining what a teacher does, how we are paid and so on then deleted it. I will say that I became a teacher 20 years ago, with this being my second career, having children and staying home with my kids for awhile etc. I live my job. What I don’t understand is how people who have never taught or spent time (lots of time) in a … Read More

    My comment was originally a couple paragraphs long explaining what a teacher does, how we are paid and so on then deleted it. I will say that I became a teacher 20 years ago, with this being my second career, having children and staying home with my kids for awhile etc. I live my job. What I don’t understand is how people who have never taught or spent time (lots of time) in a classroom can ever understand what we do. I began by explaining, then realized it’s pointless you will never understand because it is easier to blame the teacher.

    Replies

    • Geraldine Anderson 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Marie, I don’t blame the teachers. I love my kids teachers at both schools because as a single mother, I have come to appreciate school administration to be a respected part of my children’s upbringing. What I want to bring attention to is a school district that doesn’t support parents having a seat at the table or parents’ voices partnering with teachers to help make decisions for all our children to have equitable access to … Read More

      Marie, I don’t blame the teachers. I love my kids teachers at both schools because as a single mother, I have come to appreciate school administration to be a respected part of my children’s upbringing. What I want to bring attention to is a school district that doesn’t support parents having a seat at the table or parents’ voices partnering with teachers to help make decisions for all our children to have equitable access to rigorous academics, health and wellness supports, and live instruction, making sure our teachers are paid their worth with personal development to teach and support our children, as well as engage our parents.

  3. Samuel Juria 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I don't care how much technology, money, time, and planning you throw at distance learning...the vast majority of kids under 8 years old (and some would argue older) will get absolutely nothing out of it, and the only ones who will get anything out of it are those who have parents that can sit with them for three hours a day. Newsom seems to assume that most parents can do that from both logistical and … Read More

    I don’t care how much technology, money, time, and planning you throw at distance learning…the vast majority of kids under 8 years old (and some would argue older) will get absolutely nothing out of it, and the only ones who will get anything out of it are those who have parents that can sit with them for three hours a day. Newsom seems to assume that most parents can do that from both logistical and economic perspectives, or he’s thinking magically.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      In all fairness, Samuel, there is rarely a press conference in which the governor emphasizes that in-class instruction is preferable to distance learning, were it not for the safety issues.

  4. Katie 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    How can the governor mandate closure for private schools and not fund their technology needs? Private schools receive no government funding (public schools receive $10,000+ per student), their teachers are paid lower, and may be forced to close due to this mandate.

    How is that fair and equitable? Not all parents want to have the state-mandated material taught to their child. This seems like an overreach of power.

  5. Denise 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    I’m confused. So teachers don’t feel safe at school. Want distance learning but don’t find it necessary to reach out to their students? Where are all the teachers saying they miss their students? They want to teach? This is important? Your job, career is to teach, regardless of a virus?

  6. Geraldine Anderson 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    I am a single mother with 2 boys, one in charter and one in traditional public. I have sat in on several meetings with parents, grandparents, and caregivers, before and during this pandemic. My son in charter school has amazing educational experiences and a nurturing educational environment in-person and online. My other son in public school, not so much. I am just grateful he built independent study habits at a charter school and a boarding … Read More

    I am a single mother with 2 boys, one in charter and one in traditional public. I have sat in on several meetings with parents, grandparents, and caregivers, before and during this pandemic. My son in charter school has amazing educational experiences and a nurturing educational environment in-person and online. My other son in public school, not so much. I am just grateful he built independent study habits at a charter school and a boarding school.

    I listen to my fellow parents suffering this crisis teaching, or parents of special needs children, parents of middle-schoolers self-harming because of the lack of understanding their school work or not being able to have access because of the digital divide, our youngest scholars feeling sadness for missing classmates and their teachers, and our rising seniors not being prepared for college and the rest of their adult lives. We have elected and appointed officials who need to be held accountable for the educational crisis present and has always been present for our black and brown families.

    Parents need to be included in all these decisions and have a seat at the table to have their voices heard. We are talking about our children!

  7. Sue Chisam 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    So...we are starting school in three weeks and we have yet to be succinctly guided on distance learning modalities and methods which work for all grade levels, have no answers for how to access said learning and ascertain the amount of parent ir older sibling help our students may have had in summative quizzes and tests, have no answers to the problems of inconsistent Internet service, much less what it will be with the high … Read More

    So…we are starting school in three weeks and we have yet to be succinctly guided on distance learning modalities and methods which work for all grade levels, have no answers for how to access said learning and ascertain the amount of parent ir older sibling help our students may have had in summative quizzes and tests, have no answers to the problems of inconsistent Internet service, much less what it will be with the high demand load all this will put on it, the problems of multiple children in a household finding a quiet place to be in an online class, time to find resources for the online lessons which means basically redesigning the grade level curriculum…..again…… At least with remote learning by packet the parents could see what the curriculum was and how it was being approached. The packets were relatively easy to scan, much easier than being present at each child’s online class to see what is being taught and how. What if they have three kids or more? How are they going to supervise three kids lessons?

    How long do they think it takes for a teacher to prep for quality, scaffolded, standards and skills driven instruction, making sure there is way to start units with formative and review status, comments, discussions, then provide interactive lessons where a teacher is assessing curriculum knowledge and not the student’s tech skills. for instance if I had known in May that we were going to be doing distance learning by online instruction (I know, impossible to guess back then) I could have spent a lot of the summer looking up quality lessons and figuring out how to deliver them in a meaningful manner.
    If we were surgeons and had to suddenly try to do surgery remotely we would not just be given something 3 weeks ahead of time and then expect that surgery to go successful.
    A lot more professional courtesy is expected …you are treating us as if we were babysitters and can change everything at the drop of a hat.

    Replies

    • Jimmy b 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Our district says our teachers are professionals and have been working on this since last Spring. I seriously doubt they actually have and I assume it will be just as ineffective as it was in the Spring.

    • Samuel Juria 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Just to play devil's advocate, my girlfriend is an English teacher at a private high school in San Francisco. They had 2 days to implement a distance learning program from the ground up, and she gets paid about 2/3 of what public high school teachers make. It was a smashing success. The difference between it and what public schools did was that it was largely synchronous Zoom meetings, with some breakout room time, and a … Read More

      Just to play devil’s advocate, my girlfriend is an English teacher at a private high school in San Francisco. They had 2 days to implement a distance learning program from the ground up, and she gets paid about 2/3 of what public high school teachers make.

      It was a smashing success. The difference between it and what public schools did was that it was largely synchronous Zoom meetings, with some breakout room time, and a small portion of asynchronous assignments. So, this whole notion that implementing a successful distance learning program takes tons of time and training seems to me, at least at the high school level, to be predicated on the assumption that most of the “teaching” is going to be done asynchronously. Why are public school teachers so resistant to providing synchronous instruction? I’ve yet to hear a good answer to this question, and for many parents, the perception (valid or not) is that teachers are using the situation as an extended vacation.

  8. Todd Maddison 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    We have a number of well established charters that have been doing this for a while.

    Would it be so hard to choose a few that have demonstrated the most success, perhaps using Dashboard measures, and ask them to define “what works,” and mandate that?

    Or is that too much “using actual data to determine best practices and then requiring they be followed” for our education industry?

  9. Joe 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Of course there will be actual funding for this… Or just more lip service and failed leadership from the state and federal government. Cast blame where it belongs, right at the top. Leadership