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In mid-August, almost 70 percent of city public-school students planned to enroll in blended-learning. A month into the school year, less than half of city students have chosen to continue attending in-person classes.
“The students seem to be voting with their feet,” said Eric Nadelstern, a Professor of Educational Leadership at Columbia University’s Teachers College and a Deputy Schools Chancellor under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It’s an indication that those who did come in-person didn’t find it a worthwhile experience.”
Delays Didn't Help
The roll-out of blended-learning has been plagued by delays, with the Sept. 10 reopening pushed back 11 days due to the threat of a strike by the United Federation of Teachers over unaddressed safety concerns. Classes for elementary, middle- and high-school students were postponed once again thanks to a Teacher shortage, which prompted Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza to shift to a phased-in reopening, with middle and high schools finally opening their doors Oct. 1.
Judith Kafka, a Professor of Educational Policy and History of Education in the Marxe School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, said it was hard to know whether the number of students enrolled for in-person classes declined because of “the quality of education they’ve been receiving, or if it’s a response to chaos.”
The Department of Education reported Oct. 13 that 48 percent of students were signed up for in-person classes. Students enrolled in blended-learning attended classes one-to-three times a week, and class sizes range from nine to 12 students in order to maintain social distancing. City public-school Teachers have described classrooms with just a handful of students, while online classes have ballooned to as many as 40.
Although the city pushed to reopen schools in order to provide a higher quality of education than many students received remotely this past spring, some students sitting in classrooms have still gotten online instruction because there weren’t enough Teachers to staff every class, particularly in the higher grades.
The city has tapped substitute Teachers and instructors from the City University of New York to fill the gaps, but the UFT and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators have said that thousands of educators were needed to effectively teach both online and in-person classes.
An Ill-Conceived Plan
“The system doesn’t have the capacity to serve perhaps even half the students with hybrid instruction,” said David Bloomfield, a Professor of Educational Leadership, Law, and Policy at Brooklyn College. “I think it was wrong to create a plan where any parent who wanted on-site instruction could get it.”
Instead, he said, the DOE should have prioritized in-person instruction for students with disabilities in District 75 schools and those who struggled during remote-learning in the spring.
But Ms. Kafka, who has twins attending city middle schools, defended students receiving lessons via an iPad in class as long as they also get quality instruction on the days they are home. She also believed students could still benefit from blended-learning for reasons beyond learning English and Math.
“For little kids, there’s no good online option. They can’t be in front of the computer all day,” she said. “For older kids, developmentally it’s good for them to be around their peers.”
Mr. Nadelstern argued that the DOE focused too much on debate over blended-learning versus online instruction, which “unfortunately served to keep educators from developing online instruction.”
'Didn't Improve Online Plan'
The sudden shift to remote-learning presented many challenges this past spring, including the fact that more than 300,000 students needed laptops and tablets, which meant that some students missed days and even weeks of instruction.
“People did not plan to improve online learning, and now in-person instruction and online instruction are both a shadow of their former selves,” Mr. Nadelstern said.
He added that the city should have consulted outside experts to develop a system-wide approach to remote teaching.
“If you analyze the actions taken by the school system in the spring, it did the least logical thing you can do,” Mr. Nadelstern stated. “Instead of acknowledging organizations that have years of experience providing and developing online instruction and availing themselves of that expertise, they had each school create its own plan. That was about the most foolish thing they could have done.”
He added, “It’s like how President Trump dealt with coronavirus—they each delegated to the next group of people down the line.”
Parents, Staff in Dark
Although the school year began remotely Sept. 16, parents and school staff have still not been informed about a variety of policies, including how grades and attendance will work for the school year.
And though reopening schools was thought to be a key to getting New Yorkers back to work, so far it has not brought that level of stability.
“I think the Mayor felt he made a promise he couldn’t break. But certainly by the time we had serial delays in September, he should have folded his tent and made schools remote-only until at least Christmas vacation,” Mr. Bloomfield said.
Citing the recent uptick in COVID cases in several Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods—which has resulted in the closure of over 100 public schools—the threat of a second wave, and “the really lousy results” of in-person instruction, Mr. Nadelstern advocated for city public-schools to go remote full-time for the rest of the school year.
Mr. Bloomfield urged a harsher remedy, calling for Schools Chancellor Carranza to resign over the chaotic reopening of schools.
“There comes a point of professional integrity for this Chancellor to stand up to the Mayor,” he said. “The Mayor is not an educator. The Chancellor has every right to distance himself from the Mayor and run the system as an educator, and we haven’t seen him take any steps to do that.”