Parents across Michigan say they are unhappy with the education their kids have been getting during the pandemic and they want to see how schools plan to make up for lost time.
School Desks (Photo: halbergman, Getty Images)
“What are we going to do with this time over the summer? What does our strategy look like as a state for the coming school year?” said Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest, a Royal Oak-based nonprofit that commissioned a poll of 400 parents statewide last month. “We need a plan. We need to think about what our educational recovery looks like. It’s probably going to be a multi-year process.”
Among the poll’s findings:
- 85% of parents want to see plans to address learning loss related to COVID-19.
- 84% say they support the state setting quality standards for remote learning.
- 83% of parents support voluntary, in-person summer school to help kids who have fallen behind catch up.
The online poll of 400 parents statewide was conducted by Global Strategy Group Dec.10-16.
More: Michigan school districts have tough COVID-19 choice to make in January
Almost half of parents said their children’s education has worsened since the pandemic began and have received little or no information from their schools on how it will be addressed.
The Education Trust has long advocated for more equitable funding of schools in Michigan, saying the disparities leave behind students of color, those learning English language for the first time and kids with special needs. The pandemic has made those problems worse and the time to act is now, Arellano said.
“If districts are going to do something like optional, free summer learning, for example, that would help kids catch up … and give kids and families that opportunity, the budgeting decisions for that kind of thing are happening in the next few months.”
Educators agree that learning loss, or delayed learning as they prefer to call it, is real and they are working on ways to address it.
“We are putting together our own work group to analyze and see what best practices would be,” said Tina Kerr, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators. “We’re going to be investigating that. Summer school and the balanced calendar is picking up a lot of discussion in momentum.”
Under balanced calendar, schools shorten the summer break and spread out time off throughout the school year. But Michigan weather poses a challenge doing that, Kerr said.
“If you are going to school in the summer, many of our facilities are not air-conditioned, so it creates its own issue,” Kerr said.
The state has to work through a variety of such plans going forward, said state Rep. Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township, minority vice chair of the education committee in the Michigan House of Representatives.
“I think that there are going to be a lot of needs that we never anticipated based on the way school has been done this year,” he said. “Summer school should be one. I don’t think that it should be mandatory, but it should be an expanded offer that we allow many families to participate in and allow for teachers to work if they choose to do so. Those are extra income opportunities for teachers and extra time in classrooms for kids to have our learning loss reduced.”
Kerr said many school districts already offer summer school of some sort to help kids who have fallen behind. Camilleri said expanding it would probably require federal money as part of COVID-19 relief.
Establishing standards for online learning is another parental concern. When schools pivoted to online learning in the spring, many of them were learning it themselves for the first time.
Kerr said educators got better at online delivery by the fall, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
The presence or absence of in-person learning has been controversial in districts across the state.
Some have offered it, others have not. Both decisions have angered parents and triggered recall attempts against school board members.
Access to in-person learning has also varied by area. The poll found 81% of Black parents said their children are attending online-only, compared with 74% of other minority parents and 63% of white parents.
Some parents acknowledged there were at least some benefits to online learning, including 40% who said their children were better able to learn at their own pace in a remote setting.
Among the other recommendations Education Trust-Midwest has made:
- Fund expanded summer school this year to help address COVID-19-related learning loss.
- Increase funding for schools that serve large numbers of students from low-income families, English language learners and kids with special needs.
- Narrow the digital divide by ensuring all students have internet service and devices to connect.
- Boost pay for teachers in high poverty districts to attract and retain educators.
Arellano said Michigan needs to prioritize students with the greatest needs.
“How do we shield the kids that have fallen the most behind and that were already facing huge opportunity gaps before the pandemic started?” she said. “How do we shield them from the harshest of cuts, if not entirely from cuts? How do we prioritize them?”
Contact John Wisely: 313-222-6825 or [email protected] On Twitter @jwisely
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