Welcome to January 2021, students, parents, and teachers. Take out your iPads, fire up your Zoom accounts, and get ready for semester number 3 of virtual learning. Nearly a year into pandemic-induced virtual learning, it is common knowledge that online school has meant the proliferation and exacerbation of unequal learning. The outcomes, as highlighted by this study by the PEW Charitable Trust, in many ways reflect the challenges pre-pandemic, only more pronounced: Students of parents with college degrees are faring significantly better than their peers whose parents do not have college degrees. Children with disabilities and multi-language learners are experiencing substantial obstacles with respect to accessing learning that fits their needs. Finally, low-income students struggling to access the technology needed are falling further behind.
Parents and caregivers are crucial to student success in normal times and imperative during the pandemic. However, engaging parents and caregivers in virtual learning has been a persistent challenge. Despite the fact that we’ve still not decided on the best approach to assessing and grading student learning during this challenging time, that has not
With schools shut across the world, millions
of children have had to adapt to new types
stopped others from raising the question, “should we grade parents on online learning?” The answer is no for three key reasons: the unequal distribution of technological resources in our communities, the racial inequity that has defined our education system to date and the impact of the pandemic, and the lack of trauma-informed care for families.
Access to and understanding of technology also hinders parents and caregivers from fully supporting students and partnering with teachers. Teachers at the New York City Department of Education have repeatedly highlighted the challenge of engaging families in virtual learning when the technology issues remain intractable. Multiple problems prevent families from engaging in students’ virtual learning, including, lack of a robust technological infrastructure that supports staff, students, and families, and aligned training for all stakeholders; and few online tools that support families to easily understand and address students’ teaching and learning needs. Moreover, many families, particularly low-income families and those that don’t speak English as a first language may have difficulty accessing technology and/ or understanding virtual learning tools. Without access to technology and learning opportunities to master it, grading parents on online learning runs the risk of punishing them for a range of factors beyond their control, including lack of district and school tech resources and poverty.
Second, we cannot underestimate the racial inequity that undergirds our current education system and defines the unequal negative impact of the pandemic on communities of color. Stories of Black and Brown students being disproportionately targeted and punished by teachers for how they show up in online learning abound. Studies indicate that Black and Brown students face innumerable practical obstacles to engaging in virtual learning, from crowded living conditions to poverty. Black and Brown families and low-income families are more likely to be opting for virtual learning, even when the option for in-person might exist. Collectively, these choices weigh on parents as well. Unable to systemically and systematically care for the needs of Black and Brown students, including how we assess their learning, it is hard to imagine a fair system for “grading” parents that accounts for the disparity in circumstances they currently face.
Finally, we cannot overlook the impact of trauma at this moment. Teachers at the NYCDOE expressed concerns that for families who have been caring for students with special needs since March, those suffering from economic loss, and families in shelters, the need for trauma-informed care is critical. The pressure to provide teaching and learning support, in addition, to other parenting duties, adds to the trauma. The provision of resources for caregivers that address how to cope with trauma and mental health issues, and support the social emotional learning needs of students is absolutely critical to support parents in engaging with online learning.
Parent engagement in student learning is more important than ever. At a time when families are struggling, it is imperative that we support parents and caregivers to access technology, overcome racial disparities, and receive the trauma-informed care they need to support themselves and their students. Parents want to be involved in their students’ learning, assessing them on how well they do isn’t the solution.
Are you a parent, caregiver, or community member struggling to help students with virtual learning? Check out these resources:
For parents, caregivers, and community members:
For teachers and educators: