Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Opening Fairfax County Secondary Schools this Fall

Dear FCPS School Board and Leadership,

This Spring had its challenges. I'm not going to re-hash them, but want to praise the many teachers and administrators who still made effective learning happen for their students. I was impressed by and grateful for my daughter's devoted, talented, creative teachers.

Here are some thoughts about secondary schools as you plan to open FCPS this Fall:

1: Your Proven Online Solution: Use Fairfax's Online Campus to push many courses online that already have virtual versions. Perhaps the base experience for many classes could be shifted to the Online Campus course, with in-person instruction once/week (as long as health conditions allow) as well as weekly synchronous virtual class sessions (see below). FCPS has the content and infrastructure to make this work. Also note that leaning heavily on Online Campus will make it easier to pivot to all virtual learning if the health circumstances require it. 

2: Teacher Support: Teachers who will be blending virtual and in-person instruction need ...
  • Content that is designed for virtual/blended delivery. Few teachers have the time or expertise to create the depth and breadth of digital content that they will need to pull this off well. 
  • Tools for collaboration and for creating simple content (e.g., simple instructional videos).
  • Training in blended and virtual technology and pedagogy. Facilitating a course that depends on technology requires comfort with technology, but also with new pedagogical strategies. 
  • Time to plan and collaborate with their colleagues. For instance, there is no reason that each English 10 teacher in a given school should create their own videos. They should be able to share the burden and stay in sync. 
A few quotes from teachers:
"Asking teachers to reinvent the curriculum for online delivery is impossible and a fools errand...will...not...happen."
"... Teachers want to be prepared to help their students should virtual learning continue but we need help."
"Registration for the FCPS Academy course on online teaching opened at midnight on June 15th. The two sections filled in less than 4 minutes!! It’s summer break and hundreds of teachers are up at midnight to register for a course so they can learn how to teach online. By mid-morning over 100 were waitlisted,"
Without all of these supports, the system will struggle again, student learning will suffer, and FCPS will lose many talented, devoted, but frustrated teachers. 

3: A Blended Model: The scenarios presented so far seem to be either fully virtual or fully (in terms of synchronous teacher support) face-to-face. What about a blended solution? For instance what about using a variation of Scenario 2:
  • Monday and Tuesday: Half of students in school each day with 8-period day. 
  • Wednesday: Virtual periods 1-4 synchronous online
  • Thursday: Virtual periods 5-8 synchronous online
  • Friday: Intervention block
Some advantages of this blended approach are: 
  • More structured time for students. None of the proposed scenarios have students learning synchronously more than two days/week. My suggestion pushes it to three.
  • Less in-person contact time so that health risks are reduced.
  • Easy to pivot to fully online if health conditions change for the district or for a particular school, teacher, or student. 
4: Reaching Out for Guidance: K12, Inc.'s headquarters is right here in Fairfax County, and they have been doing virtual learning for close to two decades. K12's 100,000+ students include lots of ELLs and IEPs and special education and F&RL. It could make sense to get their input as you frame up virtual and blended solutions, including how to provide counseling, engage with families, and deal effectively with populations that have specific needs. K12 is far from perfect, but they have been doing virtual and blended learning for a long time, so they can probably help FCPS avoid some pitfalls.

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