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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

For Some Students, Remote Learning Is Better Than Sitting in a Classroom

Credit...Jahaira Santiago
Not Everyone Hates Remote Learning. For These Students, It’s a Blessing.

“At home, it seems to be a bit easier to focus on all the work,” said one eighth grader who was struggling in school. “Everything in general is easier.”

By , NY TIMES, May 20, 2020

Salah-Deen Fouathia, an eighth grader at Voice Charter School in Queens, was struggling in school. It was hard to pay attention. Math was a challenge. His grades in health class weren’t great.

So when the pandemic closed all schools, reducing his classes to the size of a screen, his parents feared Salah-Deen would struggle even more. To their delight, the opposite has happened.

With fewer distractions and the help of his parents and teachers, his schooling has been going better, and his grades reflect that.

“At home, it seems to be a bit easier to focus on all the work I’m getting and it’s almost like we’re one on one with the teacher,” Salah-Deen said. “Everything in general is easier.”

For the vast majority of students, remote learning is a poor substitute for being in the classroom. Not everyone has a laptop or reliable internet at home, and the socialization that happens in school can’t be replicated online. There is widespread concern that many students, especially the most vulnerable, will fall behind.

But one unexpected silver lining of the shutdown has been an improved learning experience for certain students, including some who struggle to pay attention in class and even some high-achieving self-starters. Enough students are benefiting from this crash course in remote learning that parents and educators are wondering if, when buildings reopen, there are aspects that can be continued for these students, as well as lessons that can apply to everyone else.

For some, the avoidance of distractions like disruptive classmates, or simply not being in a room filled with other children, has been a boon. Others have taken advantage of the ability, when offered by their teachers, to work at their own pace and take breaks when they want.

Some students have found it easier to participate in remote classes without the social pressures of a physical classroom. Introverts who are the last to volunteer an answer in class, even when they know it, are now making themselves heard.

“Kids who would not have put a hand up at the end of a lesson are now emailing me,” said Mike Drosos, a seventh-grade math teacher at Voice Charter. He said that it seemed to help those students “when the teacher isn’t making direct eye contact six inches from their desk.”

Miari Roberts, a special education teacher at Brooklyn Academy High School, a transfer school for students who have not been successful elsewhere, said that she had seen something similar. One student in particular had not even been coming to school, Ms. Roberts said. Now she is turning in all her assignments.

“Because her attendance was so poor, some teachers didn’t know her,” Ms. Roberts said. “Now those teachers are like, ‘Wow, who’s this girl?’ It’s this big turnaround.”

And the work she is handing in is good, Ms. Roberts said. When she asked the student why this works better for her, the girl said that her anxiety made going to school difficult.

For motivated students who don’t need a lot of help from their teachers, learning from home means they can set their own pace. Kaleb Stumpenhorst, who is in sixth grade at a public school in suburban Chicago, wakes up every morning around 6:30 or 7 and gets right to work. He tackles one or two classes, usually starting with math, before stopping for breakfast. By 9:30 a.m., he is done for the day.

“I like doing work this way better because I can do it in my own time,” he said, adding that it was by no means heaven. “I like going to school because I can see all my friends.”

His father, Josh Stumpenhorst, a middle school librarian in a nearby district, said that among his students, another group that has found some relief is children who are picked on by their classmates.

“Some of those kids are really liking it at home because they’re not dealing with the social anxiety of being quote-unquote different,” he said.

Educators say behavior issues appear to be less of a problem in general. With many schools not offering “live” instruction, instead sending out assignments to complete each day or week, there is no class to disrupt. Even when a class takes place on Zoom, if a student has a tendency to goof off for attention, there’s only so much attention that child can get while sitting at home, especially when the teacher has the power to mute a student’s microphone.

Of course, those students, and many others, may not be doing well under remote instruction; Ms. Roberts said that a lot of her students are just not completing their work.

Educational consultants at Teaching Matters, an organization focused on increasing teacher effectiveness, say the teachers they work with in New York City public schools each have at least one or two students who are thriving remotely. That leaves another 20-plus students who are not.

For nearly two decades, some education policymakers, tech titans and philanthropists have wanted to integrate computers more fully into education, with hybrid instruction that mixes online and in-person learning, letting students move at their own pace. But given the anxieties about screen time among parents and the potential for job loss among teachers, the idea has been tried in just a few schools.

The current experiment with digital schooling shows the promise of the approach for a subset of students, if by no means the majority.

“I hope if we learn anything from this,” Mr. Stumpenhorst said, “it’s that this does work for some kids and could be a viable option, some kind of hybrid model, when we go back to normal.”

Some of what works for these children about remote learning, however, will not translate well to the schoolhouse, like the freedom from classroom distractions or bullying. Still, Lynette Guastaferro, the chief executive of Teaching Matters, says her organization will counsel teachers to keep using what they have learned remotely — indeed, she expects they are going to have to, because school is unlikely to snap back to normal in September.

The way some teachers are incorporating videos and other multimedia into lessons is encouraging, she said, and could especially benefit so-called visual learners. Teachers could also let students use multiple ways of demonstrating they have mastered material — some are allowing students to make videos or podcasts, for example, to show that they know how to construct an argument.

Teachers could also lay out what they plan to teach, and how the students will be assessed, in a visual manner that students can refer back to, Ms. Guastaferro said.

“Why don’t they give the kids a video they can watch over and over again at their own pace,” she said. “When they’re learning the Pythagorean theorem, why not give them some multimedia that they can go backward and forward and watch over and over?

“There’s no reason for all learning to be built for extroverted, socialized kids.”

Jahaira Santiago, Salah-Deen’s mother, said the way schoolwork is mapped out and sent home allows her and her husband to keep an eye on her son’s assignments.

“I did struggle with, ‘OK, what do you have to do today?’” she said. “Now I can just look at it, I don’t have to wait until he tells me.”

Ms. Santiago said that she and her husband check on Salah-Deen probably once every other hour to see if he needs help, give him encouragement and make sure he’s doing his work.

Remote learning has not just required adjustments for students, but for teachers as well. Administrators say that while some of their most successful teachers have struggled to connect with students this way, other educators have shown surprising results. Some teachers may work better alone. And for younger teachers, learning the technology wasn’t such a stretch.

Susan Enfield, the superintendent of Highline Public Schools near Seattle, said a principal recently told her about a teacher who had a tendency to be silent in meetings with colleagues and had trouble delivering effective lessons.

But as the teacher and her co-workers rewrote their playbook on the fly, she contributed innovative ideas, tutored parents so they could help their children, and reached the students with creative lessons. From her living room, she has blossomed.

The principal was planning to put the teacher on a remediation plan, Ms. Enfield said, “but she’s knocking it out of the park on remote learning.”

Dana Goldstein contributed reporting.

The NYC Department of Education Will Have Almost 178,000 Students in Remote Learning This Summer

It is clear that the New York City Department of Education is scrambling to save face with parents whose children did not have, during the PAUSE, adequate resources to learn, and now do not have any grades to show (K-8). Parents of children with special needs are being particularly harmed (see full article below) by the current remote-only learning mandate.

On top of all that, kids are ignoring or not doing the work and their teachers:
NYC teachers say DOE’s remote learning interaction stats are nonsense

See also:

What about homeless children? Do they have laptops and wifi? We doubt this.

What about students who live in apartments/houses/shelters without wifi? Where are they getting their daily classroom work?

All of this is sadly not going to get students into the great schools of their choice. Admissions directors of private schools and public and private colleges and universities, with whom we have spoken, say that the student records from the NYC DOE are no longer trustworthy, and they are choosing to not admit from New York City public schools for that reason. Of course there are other criteria than grades for admission, but there is widespread distrust in the reports given by the NYC DOE.


Nearly 178,000 New York City public school students will undergo remote learning this summer, after the traditional school year was thrown into chaos by the coronavirus pandemic.

The city estimates 67,000 students in third through eighth grade and 83,000 students in grades nine through 12 will require additional instruction to account for lost time amid difficulties with online learning. Roughly 27,700 students with disabilities whose individualized education plans require year-round schooling will also need summer learning.

"It's going to be a huge effort, an unprecedented effort and the goal is simple and we believe we can attain the goal, we'll give every child what they need," Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a press conference Tuesday.

Teachers will look at individual students' progress throughout the last part of the school year to determine whether they have met grade level standards, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said. Students have been out of physical classrooms since mid-March. Roughly 300,000 of the city's 1.1 million students did not have sufficient access to computer technology when remote learning began — a gap that is still being bridged by the city's Department of Education. As of this week, the city has delivered 284,000 devices to students who needed them and 5,000 more are on the way.

Students will also have check-ins with guidance counselors this summer. The city plans to incorporate social-emotional learning activities and virtual field trips.

The schedule for students in grades 9-12 will be five days a week for six weeks. Students will have up to five hours of instruction daily in subjects for which they received a "Course in Progress" designation or if they failed in a prior semester. They will also have one-on-one check-ins and enrichment activities.

For students in grades three through eight, summer learning will take place four days a week for a total of six weeks, either on a required or recommended basis.

Students with disabilities with 12-month IEP plans will receive instruction and related services five days a week for six weeks. Those students will receive daily instruction and related services aligned to their IEPs.

Carranza said students who are recommended for non-promotion at the end of the term, as well as high school students who received an "In Progress" classification, will be required to take summer classes online, for example. Applications for teachers to teach over the summer will open this week, he said.

"The people who know their students best are parents, teachers and principals so the recommendations as to who is required to attend summer learning and who is recommended is going to be that individual analysis that teachers — in communication with parents — are having in terms of their child's academic progress," he said.

The city is weighing options like alternating days for students to attend school and keeping online learning completely in the event that it is not safe to reopen schools in September.

More than one in six city students are destined for summer classes, including many who will be required to attend to avoid being held back and others for whom attendance is recommended. About 102,000 students in grades 3-12 will be required to complete summer school, more than double the 44,000 who were in required classes last summer.
Announcing the summer plan on Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged the blow kids have taken from the loss of regular schooling. “Of course it’s going to have an impact, and it’s going to be a negative impact in a lot of cases,” he said. “So, unquestionably more kids need the help than would have been true in a traditional year.” Besides the absence of live classes, students have struggled with a host of issues, especially access to technology — with roughly 300,000 students lacking the tech they needed when remote learning kicked off. The city has now distributed 284,000 internet-enabled iPads to students who need them.
School officials hope the summer school surge will help close the gaps, but of course those classes too will be virtual, with school buildings still deemed unsafe — and doubts increasing about whether they’ll even be able to fully reopen in September. The summer school classes will run for six weeks in July and August, with elementary and middle school students attending four days a week and high school students five days.
This Is Schooling Now for 200,000 N.Y.C. Children in Special Education
By Eliza Shapiro and , New York Times, April 16, 2020
Parents and educators have embarked on a desperate scramble to avoid dire academic outcomes for some of the city’s most vulnerable students.
Credit...Luke Rosen
As soon as Trishia Bermudez heard that New York City’s public schools would be closed indefinitely because of the coronavirus, she scoured every inch of her apartment — including the medicine cabinet and pantry — to find objects that her son, Matthew, could use during his virtual physical therapy classes.

Matthew, who has learning disabilities, is in a special public school program for students with advanced needs. Ms. Bermudez has had to improvise, and Matthew now uses empty pill bottles and bags of beans during mobility exercises. On a recent weekday, she spent hours helping Matthew position his hand correctly so that he could grasp a pencil.

“I didn’t learn how to do that. I’m an accountant,” said Ms. Bermudez, a single mother who lives in Arverne, a Queens neighborhood on the Rockaway Peninsula. “We were barely getting there,” she said of Matthew’s progress in school, “and now it’s like, oop, we’re backward.”

The sudden switch to remote learning for the 1.1 million public school students in New York City has presented the nation’s largest school system with its greatest challenge in decades.

There is also a crisis within the crisis.

The city is home to roughly 200,000 public school students with disabilities. Now, the already-strained special education system must transform how they are educated, which includes crucial services — like speech, occupational and physical therapy — that are extremely difficult and in some cases impossible to translate online.

The city has already encountered some stark realities about remote special education in the first weeks of distance learning.

Interviews with about two dozen educators and parents showed wide agreement that, even if remote learning were executed perfectly, students with special needs would fall behind academically and socially.

The question is how much students will lose, and what can be done to prevent them from losing their grasp on essential skills that many other families take for granted.

“This is hard for everyone,” said Christina Foti, the special education chief at the city’s Department of Education. “This is incredibly hard for every parent, for every student. It’s unmeasurable how hard this is.”

Parents have been forced to assume the roles of part-time special-service providers; students for whom routine and social interaction are essential have been left confused and isolated; and teachers have had to scramble to create new ways of helping their neediest students.

But Ms. Foti said she was proud that New York was providing its special education services online, even as some other districts around the country said they could not do the same.

"It is our utter obligation to ensure that kids make as much progress as possible during this time,” she said.

But that progress could be tenuous.

The city and state Education Departments have given New York City schools permission to cut down on some special services and to delay special education services for children who need them for the first time.

And though Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has encouraged districts to keep up their online instruction, she is weighing whether to ask Congress for the authority to waive parts of federal education law requiring school districts to provide special education services, which could lead to huge disruptions in online instruction.

For now, the push to prevent dire outcomes for some of the city’s most vulnerable children is playing out in living rooms across the five boroughs.

As parents like Ms. Bermudez do their best, educators on the other side of the screen try to fill in the gaps.

Leslie Hack, a special education teacher in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, said she knew that it was next to impossible for many parents to keep a calm home while acting like teachers.

In the classroom, Ms. Hack said, “we are like the kids’ second moms, the tough parent who is teaching them to be independent.” When the space between home and the classroom collapses, it can be hard to challenge students, she added. “That’s why they need to be in school.”

Ms. Hack uses symbols and simple words to instruct her students. She said that one of her nonverbal pupils has been showing her mother the symbol of a school bus and then grabbing her backpack each morning of remote learning.

“She’s saying, ‘What the heck is happening, I’m up and you’re not getting me ready for school,’” Ms. Hack said.

Teachers and service providers across the city described a mad dash to find ways of reaching students who need the most help.

Mary Girimonte, who has a class of eight students on the autism spectrum at her school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said her biggest struggle during the normal school year was getting her class to focus and make eye contact. In school, she often uses a rock wall or a balance beam to help her students calm down, but is now stuck trying to soothe them through video chats.

“If they are left alone, they will resort into their own world,” she said, adding that she worries when she sees a student posting work late at night.

“My morale is down,” Ms. Girimonte said. “I thrive from being in the classroom with them.”

Debra Fisher, an occupational therapist at a school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, said she was in the most creative and difficult moment of her career.

“It’s an opportunity that I hope never happens again,” she said.

Ms. Fisher, who holds seven or eight therapy sessions a day for students, is constantly brainstorming ways to use household items for activities. On a recent day, she asked students to assemble a pile of cotton swabs, count them, color them with markers and sort them. She said the exercise helped students with hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, following directions and stamina.

Credit...Debra Fisher
But even as educators adapt to an entirely different way of learning, there is no way to compensate for lost time.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Saturday that city schools would be closed through June. Some students who have special education plans attend school year-round. Although it is unclear whether those students will be able to return to school in the summer, that is not even an option for young students who have not yet had their disabilities identified.

Young children develop so quickly that this period could significantly disrupt their long-term progress. Getting services when they are toddlers can be the difference between needing special education services when they get to kindergarten and being able to do without, experts say.

Emily Paddon, a teacher at the Kennedy Children’s Center in the Bronx, said that even after her students miss school for vacation, they require more prompting when transitioning between activities. They also might have trouble with things they knew the week before, like matching shapes or colors.

So, Ms. Paddon has been posting videos of herself reading books for her students, all of whom have disabilities and are between 3 and 5 years old.

She also video chats with them once or twice a week, during which she tries to recreate circle time as best she can. From her family’s home in Bergen County, N.J., she has replicated and adapted the visual aids she uses at school. There is the usual grinning smiley face and teary sad face, but instead of pictures that read, “Who came to school?” they ask, “Who is saying hi?”

For parents of young children with disabilities, this moment is especially nerve-racking. Esther Wolf’s 2-year-old daughter has global developmental delays and receives services to help her master everyday skills.

Now those services have moved onto the family iPad; her daughter sometimes tries to high five or fist bump her therapists through the screen. And instead of taking her to a sensory gym a few times a week, Ms. Wolf tries to get her daughter to step up and down on plastic storage bins, or crawl on a couch cushion to work on her balance.

Ms. Wolf is guided by therapists through video calls, and she said some sessions had been very successful. During others, her child has thrown books at her face.

“I’ve seen a lot of things circulating trying to comfort parents, saying things like, ‘You know, this isn’t going to make or break their future these next few months” Ms. Wolf said. “I totally agree with all of that, but it’s different when you’re thinking about special-needs kids.

“My daughter has worked so long and so hard for every single skill she’s learned,” she added, her voice breaking. “And three months could be the difference between her building on new skills and continuing to progress in her development, or spending all of next year trying to regain something that we lost.”

Ms. Wolf’s daughter receives services through a program called Early Intervention, which is managed by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Children can participate in it until they are 3.

Lidiya Lednyak, the assistant commissioner of early intervention at the Department of Health, said that while teletherapy had not been used much to serve young children in New York City, it could be as effective as seeing a therapist in person.

“The research is there,” Ms. Lednyak said. “But now we have to shift the way we’re thinking about this, and that’s hard when everybody is super anxious about what’s going on.”

Those anxieties can include seemingly simple obstacles like technology.

Many city families do not have internet access or laptops, and La Keesha Taylor, a single mother of two school-age children who lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, said she was making do with a tablet until the Department of Education finally lent her a laptop.

She has been using video chat on her cellphone to help her younger son, Ethan, who has special needs, see his physical therapist. During one session, she was juggling the phone in one hand while trying to keep her son’s heels down as he was bridging his back.

“My heart is breaking,” Ms. Taylor said. “I can just see he’s not fully getting what he needs.”

Still, parents said that being caretakers for children with disabilities had required them to tackle challenges they never expected to encounter. This moment is no exception.

“There’s days where I’m like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ I just want to crumple up and cry,” said Manisha Shah-Balangon, who lives in Rego Park, Queens, and has a child on the autism spectrum.

“So I just say, ‘Suck it up and keep moving,’” she said. “You just have to.”



NEW YORK, NY 10007

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 19, 2020, (212) 788-2958 


NEW YORK— Today, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard A. Carranza announced the City’s summer learning plan. This summer, the Department of Education will provide academic support to approximately 177,700 students with remote summer learning. This adjusted summer learning model will offer education and services to students with disabilities and provide academic support and additional time to the students not yet mastering grade-level standards.

“Our students, families, and educators continue to show resilience in the face of the unprecedented challenges we have faced. We are not going to let this crisis knock our kids off course, which is why we are going to help all students who need to catch up and strengthen their skills through remote learning this summer,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza said, "While this summer will be different than any summer we’ve had before, our remote summer learning model will keep our kids on track and ready to hit the ground running come September. I’m so grateful for our tireless educators and families who have adapted to remote learning and will continue to provide extra support to our students through the summer months.”

In line with previous policy and practice, promotion decisions are based on a holistic review of a student’s progress toward meeting the standards for their grade level. Teachers will use the full school year to make these determinations. If a school requires a student to attend summer learning, their promotion to the next grade is contingent on demonstrating sufficient progress in summer coursework. Additionally,  a new cohort of students who are not in jeopardy of being retained but could use some additional help to prepare for the next school year will also be offered summer learning.

Schools will begin to notify families in June if their student is being recommended or required to participate in summer learning. This timeline is the same as previous years.

In grades 3-8, students recommended for retention will be required to attend summer school. Teachers will use a holistic review of student work to make these determinations. In grade 8, students must also receive passing grades in ELA, math, science, and social studies classes to be promoted in June.
  • This year, in grades 3-8, students may still be recommended, but not required, to attend summer learning based on their individual needs for additional academic support as determined by their teacher and principal. These students will still be promoted to the following grade, but will greatly benefit from additional academic support that will accelerate learning and ensure they can enter the next year fully ready for success.
  • In grades 9-12, students who need to complete a course and earn credits required for graduation, either because they received a “course in progress” or a failure prior to this semester, are required to attend summer learning to complete their coursework. They will also have the opportunity to complete these courses from September 2020 through January 2021.
Programming will run in three time frames:

  • Students with 12-month IEP services will participate in remote summer programming from July 1 to August 13, five days a week. They will receive instruction and related services based on their IEPs.
  • Students in grades 3-8 will attend summer learning via remote instruction from July 13 to August 18. Students will engage four days a week, receiving ELA and/or math support via live or pre-recorded instruction, self-paced activities, and small group and 1:1 check-ins. Grade 8 students may attend summer learning in math, ELA, social studies, and/or science, as proficiency in those subjects is contingent on beginning high school.
  • Students in grades 9-12 who have a Course in Progress, or who need to retake a course they failed in a prior term, will participate in remote instruction from July 13 to August 21. Students will engage five days a week for six weeks in subjects they did not pass. They will have individual check-ins with teachers, guidance counselors and/or social workers.
All students participating in programs will have opportunities to go on virtual field trips to zoos, museums and cultural institutions and engage in daily community building and social emotional learning activities.  Additionally, the City is exploring ways to provide summer learning and activities for all students.

Regional Enrichment Centers will continue to operate throughout the summer, and students who are enrolled in a summer program and who attend a REC will engage in remote learning at the REC site.

Families can still request a remote learning device for their child by calling 311. 284,000 devices have been delivered to students so far.

More information about the Department of Education’s grading policies can be found here.