by James A. Bacon
A story I missed yesterday in all the excitement… Two days ago the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) announced a major expansion of Virtual Virginia, the state’s online learning platform to help teachers host virtual classes while schools are closed due to the COVID-19 epidemic. The initiative will enable public school teachers to share lessons and activities with students through June 30.
I applaud the Northam administration for this initiative. I just hope that public school systems find the wherewithal to extend the school year past June 30 for children who need the extra time to complete their learning.
“While there is no perfect substitute for in-person classroom instruction, this is an unprecedented public health crisis and we must do everything we can to ensure all children have equitable learning opportunities,” said Governor Ralph Northam in a press release. “The expansion of Virtual Virginia will help ensure that the closure of schools and interruption of formal instruction this spring does not lead to a widening of achievement gaps.”
Virginia Virginia content can be loaded onto devices for use by students in home without sufficient internet access to support online learning, according to the press release. “Access to the Virtual Virginia platform will be especially helpful for teachers and students in school divisions without robust distance learning systems,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane.
This Virtual Virginia expansion follows a previous initiative, Virginia Learns Anywhere, which created a hub of “resources and recommendations” to support teachers in the virtual teaching environment.
Bacon’s bottom line: After Northam’s order shutting down public schools across Virginia, school districts have had to shift to online learning environments in order to complete instruction for the academic year. Some systems, schools and teachers are better prepared for this challenge than are others. Likewise, students vary in their access to laptops and high-speed Internet access. It is entirely appropriate that VDOE provide assistance to those having trouble making the transition.
The standard public school year in Virginia is 180 instructional days or 990 instructional hours. It will be interesting to see how this requirement gets translated in the shift to online learning.
I would argue that instruction should continue as long as it takes for children to master the material, even if it means extending instruction past the traditional end of the school year. Even if it means teachers have to spend a few more weeks teaching and students have to spend a few more weeks learning. We cannot afford to throw up our hands and say, oh, well, maybe we can catch up next year. Next year will be challenging enough without playing catch-up.
I expect it would get tricky persuading some teachers to work longer. Lengthy summer vacations are a perk of the job. Of course, it’s not like most teachers can go anywhere during the COVID-19 shutdown. And it’s not like tens of thousands of other Virginians aren’t getting slammed by layoffs. But perhaps the Governor and General Assembly could consider reallocating funds to compensate teachers for working longer. Educational performance in Virginia was dismal enough before the shutdown. We can’t afford to let it get any worse.There are currently no comments highlighted.