Student Equity in Education-May 20, 2020 Recap

Article | 10.07.2020

By Carl Baxmeyer, AICP, Manager of Planning

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By George Kacan, Education Sector Leader, Wightman 
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The second Wednesdays With Wightman focused on the issue of providing equitable education for all students during the COVID-19 pandemic. George Kacan, Regional Director of Architecture for Wightman’s Royal Oak office, facilitated the session. He pointed out in the three phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, as defined by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, we are migrating from the initial Triage phase and entering the Transition phase. During this phase, the discussion will center around the uncertainties of opening school. The town hall meeting is an opportunity to explore possible scenarios as we look ahead to the “new normal.”

Moderated by Dr. Thomas Langdon, a part-time Superintendent for Walkerville Schools and an educational consultant for Wightman, the session featured a panel discussion with Dr. Jason Jeffery and Mr. Bill Spakowski. Dr. Jeffrey is the Assistant Superintendent at the Traverse Bay Intermediate School District. Mr. Spakowski is the Director of New Business Development for Educational Services at DYOPATH, a firm dedicated to improving the educational landscape through the integration of technology.

The panel discussion identified the following key points:

  • Equity goes beyond access to technology and the Internet. There is a wide disparity between students with strong parental support and those who, due to work demands or other circumstances, do not have that support. Those children are most at risk of falling behind.
  • The two instructional areas most impacted negatively by E-Learning are reading and mathematics.
  • One unintended benefit from this situation is the enhanced ability of students to learn “when they want” rather than “a rigid bell schedule.” This primarily benefits older, high school students.
  • The “new normal” as we emerge from the immediate triage into the transition phase is likely to be some form of hybrid instruction with both in-person and E-Learning. In many ways, this situation is demanding a move to differentiated learning without adequate time to prepare.

The discussion moved to three possible options for education in the fall. For each option, the participants, including the audience and the panelists, identified inherent challenges.

Option 1 - Back to school with a regular schedule but with social distancing, PPE, special cleaning, etc.

  • Transportation – How to get students to school with appropriate social distancing and providing additional staff to monitor and enforce the requirements.
  • Human Resources Perspective – May need waivers or a change in certification requirements to have adequate teaching staff for a reduced number of students in each class.

Option 2 - A modified schedule, perhaps half of the students in the morning and a half in the afternoon or a block schedule with alternative days in person, to reduce the number of students in the building at any one time.

  • Transportation – run buses more
  • Not having students at school all day – impact on parents who both work.
  • Will districts need to offer more tutoring?
  • Can larger (or unused areas) spaces be used for additional learning spaces for social distancing and as designated student learning spaces for those students not in class?

Option 3 - Virtual schedule where learning time is away from school online.

  • Connectivity – Is there high speed internet at home? Allocation of funding to assist those in need. Can the school provide remote hot-spots? Some rural districts have placed wi-fi on buses and placed throughout the community.
  • There is a lack of high-speed Internet access in some rural areas in Michigan.
  • Differentiated professional learning is a must.
  • Leverage existing platforms like Khan Academy and Google.
  • Social/emotional interaction is lost online. Harder to identify issues and to provide support for students.

The discussion ended with George providing a wrap-up of the key points made during the town hall meeting. He stated that the Wednesdays With Wightman series would occur every two weeks, with the next session being on June 3rd, 2020.

The focus of the next Wednesdays With Wightman will be on “Furniture, Transportation and Connectivity Requirements of Returning to School.”  To attend the next town hall sign up here.

Here is a recording of the session.