Back To School Covid Myths (Doug Green)

I have had a hard time locating actual classroom observations of hybrid teaching and learning. I did find that The New York Times sent journalists to visit seven different urban and rural districts that provided some evidence of what occurs in schools during the pandemic.

Doug Green emailed me that he had visited a small district near where he lives. I asked him to send me the results of his observations. Dr. Doug Green is a former teacher and principal in upstate New York. He blogs at https://DrDougGreen.Com

Since March of 2020, I have read countless articles about remote schooling. I have yet to see a convincing study on the relative quality of remote and in-person schooling, but I have seen many authors make unequivocal statements in favor of the in-person model. Whenever I see people stating hypotheses as facts I try to come up with reasons why they might be wrong, so here are the problems I find with the general consensus.

As part of my post-retirement professional life, I am the independent observer for a local school district. There I get to observe 120 teachers from K to12 thanks to the fact that our government doesn’t trust our principals to fairly evaluate their teachers. This allows me to base my oppositional views on empirical observations rather than “common sense.”

Myth #1. Zoom classes are clearly inferior.

From what I’ve read and seen, many if not most schools are using the “hybrid” model where kids spend every other day in school and at home attending the same class via Zoom or some other software option. This means that as a teacher, you have some students in your room widely spaced and some in boxes on your computer screen listening to what you say and seeing what you share on your screen.

All students hear and see the same instructional content regardless of where they are. All students get to ask questions and answer questions the teacher poses. The students in the room face a somewhat dystopian version of what classes use to look like while the “Zoomers” have “all the comforts of home.” Keep in mind that all homes are not created equal. Some students have their own “home office” while others have crowded conditions, responsibilities for caring for siblings, and poor or no reliable Internet access.

The hybrid model may be a downgrade for some, but it is likely an upgrade for others. It depends on each student’s learning style and home environment. To the extent higher-performing students can work at their own pace it could be better. This depends to a large extent on the ability of their parents to set up an environment conducive to learning and arranging age-appropriate supervision, and the teacher’s ability to differentiate.

Myth #2. It’s important that students go to school for social reasons.

From what I’ve seen, in-person schooling isn’t very social. Since some students have opted for full-time remote learning, in-school classes have less than half a class at a time. In my experience, eight students is a big class. The in-school students are distanced from each other and wearing masks. I have yet to see student to student interaction in classrooms. Between classes, they walk in the right lane down hallways at least six feet apart. For lunch, they eat at a distance from each other.

If this sounds like social life to you, you have my sympathy. Students go to the trouble and risk of getting to school somehow, getting up earlier, and slogging around a school environment that isn’t chuck full of fun social interactions. Students at home are free to use apps like FaceTime to have real social interaction with their peers. They can also get up later and walk about their home rather than being stuck in their sanitized seats.

Myth #3. There are no other advantages to hybrid schooling.

As a former elementary principal who had 535 students (90% poverty, 25% refugee) and no assistant, I spent more than half of my time on many days dealing with discipline. My school featured crowded classrooms and students who escaped from New York City where their parents could no longer afford to live. Most of my students were from one-parent families and suffered a lot of stress at home.

Fast forward to classrooms with less than half as many students sitting as far apart as possible and wearing facemasks. If you don’t think that this environment takes the discipline load on the principal down to near zero, you probably haven’t walked in my shoes. One of the biggest impediments to learning is caused by students disrupting classes. If you could make this go away learning overall would become more effective.

It’s popular to say that hybrid learning is negatively impacting poor students who generally attend schools with lots of discipline issues. Is it possible that some of these same poor kids who make a serious effort to learn under current circumstances aren’t the big winners? Also, while there may be stresses at home there probably aren’t many bullies.

I’m sure there are people in the trenches with different views. I look forward to hearing from you.

18 Comments

Filed under dilemmas of teaching, how teachers teach, leadership, research, technology use

18 responses to “Back To School Covid Myths (Doug Green)

  1. jeffreybowen

    Thoughtful and provocative, thanks!

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for the comment, Jeff.

    • Steve Suto

      As a former coach with a Physical Education degree, I see last year as a year where we lost all of the socially interactive benefits as well as real success derived from competitive contact and non contact activity. I know of no substitute for group team efforts.
      Last year forced everyone into unproved methods of conducting curriculums that might have otherwise been conducted by teams of educators and facilities that had a proven success but the old plan did not work in a pandemic interruption. That teaching team was also forced to scramble to salvage whatever hey could in spite of the best and worst real home environments that a school building mitigates.
      Out of everything I feel is most relevant to success or a failure of our education, I believe classroom size and parental involvement are the most relevant factors. With limited class sizes, we might have missed out on an opportunity to isolate and maximize these factors. Management is maximizing your assets.
      PS I idealistically remain an advocate of 360 evaluations in public education. It’s still just a concept more than a widespread practice.

  2. David

    Hi Larry–thanks for this. My high school has been hybrid since August and I concur with Doug Green’s observations. There was a front-page piece in the Washington Post on this issue yesterday too: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/teachers-remote-in-person-simultaneously/2021/02/20/8f466ff8-6bb9-11eb-9ead-673168d5b874_story.html

  3. Laura H. Chapman

    Most reports I read are totally indifferent to the curriculum and content of instruction and how online, in school, and hybrid delivery systems influence what can be taught. For example, teachers in the visual arts are being captured by a tech industry offering not much more than coloring books online. Whether at school or at home or on some hybrid schedule, coherence and continuity of learning are in the dumper. Teachers, parents, and students are baffled by the absence of predictable schedules.

    • larrycuban

      I agree, Laura, about the lack of concern about content of online curriculum during this remote instruction spasm. If you do run across any such reports, please send me the link.

      • Laura H. Chapman

        I find my information on forum posts sponsored by the National Art Education Association…for members only and one former student.

        I suspect there are comparable reports within other forums sponsored by professional associations, largely hidden from view unless you are a member ….or some controversy makes news outside of that loop, as in MInnesota’s controversy over social studies or Utah’s stance on teaching Black History.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks, Laura.

  4. Myths? As a teacher in the trenches these are not “myths”. I think the author uses too big a brush to paint the picture. For some schools his picture may be correct. For my school, a private college-prep school, the differences between Zoom and in class instruction is reflected in grades and attitude. Zoom students do not see or hear as well as in class. The teacher cannot see the Zoom student’s reaction to material, get a feel for their understanding or prompt the Zoomer any where near as easily. Zoomers are less likely to volunteer answers in class. Many do not feel part of the conversation. The upper level students are less affected. The middle level is greatly affected. The low level seem to go both ways. Some improve, others disappear. Art, any science with hands on labs, programming classes for kids without good home computers, all are toast.

    • Thanks for your reply. My point is not that there aren’t negatives to hybrid learning, it’s that it’s not all negative everywhere. Some teachers are being creative and discovering things that they will continue using post-pandemic.

      • I agree whole heartedly about the things we have learned that will continue post-pandemic. A terrible event has somewhat kicked education out of it’s comfort zone. We know we can teach remotely but we also know it is not the equivalent as being there. There are a number of new tools that are now added on to what schools can do to help students. I almost feel sorry for the kids, no more snow days.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks again, Garth, for the comment.

    • larrycuban

      Again, Garth, thanks for the comment on remote instruction at your school.

  5. Pingback: Larry Cuban Posts Dr. Doug Green / Jobs On Doers / New Cyberattack « Dr. Doug Green

  6. Thank you for sharing this perspective. My school (small private elementary school) has been in-person all year. 99% of our students are in person every day. As an elementary school, we have created pods/cohorts and within those small pods students do not have to social distance all day; therefore it is significantly more social than zooming.

    A couple thoughts: First, hybrid, or zooming from home does benefit some learners. Removing classroom distractions and allowing students to hyper-focus can produce significant learning gains. However, there is also a cost. These same students often miss the opportunity to practice much-needed social skills and return with an increased deficit. Neurodiversity is a significant aspect how this impacts individual students.

    Second, the last 12 months has brought into focus (I hope) the significant and horrific inequities in our education system and the opportunities schools give to many students. Some districts/schools and areas were much more able to adapt quickly and support students. It remains to be seen what the long-term impacts are of the past 12 months of exasperated inequities.

    Third, from our experiences, the worst option is hybrid where some portion of students are in class and some are zooming. 100% zooming is much preferred to the hybrid model, with in-person the most preferred. @gflint above states this clearly.

    Finally, I am disappointed that so many teachers have not found ways to return to the classroom. As we learned more about this virus, and understood transmission, it became more clear that schools should be open-with mitigation systems in place-and too many are still closed. Today is our 100th day of school with zero transmission. We are not alone, and I hope that we will see more schools opening soon.

    • larrycuban

      Always good to hear from you, Briel. Especially in describing your experiences at your school and your thoughts about hybrid instruction and teachers. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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