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Community Voices (Roemer): What the coronavirus is teaching our schools

No one knows when schools will re-open, and while there are students and families who have the resources and discipline to make distance learning work, many don’t. Likewise, there are teachers who have the know-how to provide quality instruction remotely, but for many that’s a bridge too far, irrespective of the crash training they may be receiving at the moment. It’s simply not a skill set Carroll County Public Schools (CCPS) teachers have ever been required to possess.

Everyone at CCPS is doing the best they can under difficult circumstances, but we need to be honest about the outcomes we should expect. I think it’s fair to assume most students will not achieve the same learning outcomes they would have achieved had the school year not been interrupted by the Cornavirus. That fact may have a longer lasting impact than we realize.

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Failing to master math concepts, for example, can plague students for years. In math, you’ve got to learn “A” before you can do “B”, and you’ve got to learn “B” before you can do “C”.  Miss any step along the way and future instruction becomes far more problematic.

Questions about grades, graduation requirements and the like will be answered soon enough by the state officials who make those kinds of decisions, but the fact remains, students are missing thousands of hours of instruction and that’s something teachers are going to need to address when school eventually resumes.

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Hopefully, CCPS is planning now for how it will remediate the learning gaps students are sure to bring with them when the new school year begins in August.

Beyond that, the school system needs to figure out how it will address the long-term capacity of its teachers to provide quality instruction remotely. Current circumstances have demonstrated clearly that’s a competence which can no longer be considered a luxury. It needs to be an ongoing skill development priority for the school system, not only so it’s prepared for the next crisis that closes schools, but because in the 21st century, it’s how students learn.

And for those teachers who have worked hard — mostly on their own — developing the skills they need to provide instruction remotely, unfortunately they face an onerous list of restrictions which deny them access to far too many online tools.

Whether these bureaucratic restraints are really necessary is something the school system needs to take a close look at. Taking the time and effort to train educators how to teach remotely only to deny them access to the tools the need to apply those skills seems a little silly.

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The coronavirus is causing society to reexamine how a whole host of things get done, how we educate our children and prepare our teachers for that supremely important task among them.

Chris Roemer writes from Finksburg.

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