Teachers Union Demands “Homeschooling Lite” for Maryland’s New School Year

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Earlier this past week, Maryland’s teacher’s unions weighed in with their demands that distance learning be used for at least the first half of the 2020-21 school year. [i]  In contrast, a survey of parents by the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) found 42% expected to have their children participate in face-to-face learning, 22% said they plan to have their children in virtual-only lessons and 35% were undecided. [ii]  However, the same survey found only one in four educators were ready to return to classrooms.

Before COVID, Montgomery County public school parents received each September a thick packet of educational “contracts.”  This stack of documents was thick enough to make even lawyers at a real estate closing blush.  The message communicated, however, was crystal clear. As an MCPS parent, you are responsible for your own children’s educational outcomes.

Has your child completed their homework?  Double-check your parental Edline account online each day.[iii]  Should your child failed to master the day’s lesson, then you will need to repeat the instruction yourself.  Should more help be required, an entire cottage industry of tutors and supplemental educational programs exists.   This extra educational help thrives, especially west of the I-270 economic divide, when MCPS fails to teach.

Educators have long debated the value of homework.  For example, The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning by Kralovec and Buell (2000), addressed the harm to economically disadvantaged students, who are unintentionally penalized because their environments often make it difficult to complete assignments at home.  Bennett and Kalish (2006) in The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It criticized both the quantity and quality of homework. They provided evidence that too much homework harms students\’ health and family time, while asserting that teachers are not well trained in how to assign homework.[iv]

What this debate misses – at least for school systems such as MCPS – is the extent to which these districts depend on their parents’ very substantial involvement.  Think of it as “Homeschooling Lite.”  Without it, they would be unable to earn their coveted slots in the “Top 100 Schools” lists.  These are rankings that MCPS – and Montgomery County realtors – love to trumpet.

Experience with cyber charter schools provides an instructive template for the likely outcomes from distance learning.   Researchers find that parental engagement is even more critical for success when students are learning from home as compared with classroom instruction.[v]

Worrisome too is whether Maryland public schools can effectively make the transition from classroom instruction to virtual education. Experience shows that rather than just broadcasting a talking head, lessons also need to be tailored to capitalize on the online medium’s advantages and mitigate its disadvantages.

This “Homeschool Lite” model involving all virtual learning that the teacher’s union advocates comes at a pronounced social equity cost.  Students in households unable to provide additional educational resources will be disadvantaged.  The COVID 2020-21 school year shapes up to be more of the same – but then some.  Children with from households able to “Homeschool Lite” will do better.  Those without the same resources are likely to be left even farther behind.

[i] https://marylandreporter.com/2020/07/14/marylands-teachers-union-and-associations-say-distance-learning-should-be-the-rule-for-the-fall-semester/

[ii] https://bethesdamagazine.com/bethesda-beat/schools/42-of-mcps-parents-say-they-would-send-children-to-in-person-classes/

[iii] https://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/oars/activate.shtm

[iv] http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar07/vol64/num06/The-Case-For-and-Against-Homework.aspx

[v] Black, E. W. (2009). An evaluation of familial involvements’ influence on student achievement in K-12 virtual schooling. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304883948?accountid=4488;  Borup, J., Graham, C. R., & Davies, R. S. (2013). The nature of parental interactions in an online charter school. American Journal of Distance Education, 27, 40—55. doi:10.1080/08923647.2013.754271

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