House Ways & Means, Education Subcommittee
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Chairman Alonzo Washington – Opening Remarks
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed how we administer education across the state of Maryland. The 900,000+ students in our state have had to adapt to a vastly different learning environment that has posed many obstacles. Our special education students and English language learners have especially struggled to adapt. The goal of this briefing is to get a better understanding of the challenges and successes of virtual learning and teaching so far in the State of Maryland.
Mondi Kumbula-Fraser, Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity & Excellence
- Formed by Identity, Inc. and the NAACP Montgomery County
- The Coalition is an advocacy organization established to close the achievement gap by addressing inequities in education for underserved black, brown and low income children
- Five advocacy asks from the Coalition:
- Increase access to rigorous academic courses; improve college readiness for black, brown and low-income children
- Increase in number of effective and diverse teachers
- Increase in number of effective and diverse principals
- Accelerated learning to reverse learning loss due to pandemic and address pre-existing opportunity gaps
- Culturally and linguistically appropriate engagement to overcome environmental barriers and elevate underserved community voice
- Black and brown families have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are at higher risk of infection, death, income loss, job loss, food insecurity, housing oss, lack of technology access, lack of wi fi and more
- It is difficult for children to learn if they are hungry, homeless, lost a parent and/or taking on adult responsibilities (i.e. working full time, caring for younger siblings, facilitating virtual learning for younger siblings)
- Prior to the pandemic, pre-existing barriers to educational equity prevented underserved black, brown and low-income children from reaching their true potential; those pre-existing inequities only have been exacerbated and disparities widened by pandemic and virtual learning.
- Study was completed to assess the impact of virtual learning on black, brown and low-income children. Findings:
- As a result of the pandemic and virtual learning, many black, Brown and low-income students have experienced severe isolation, negative impacts on mental health and social and emotional well-being. Students need the more regular contact and support from adults in educational systems like teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, etc.
- Some underserved students and parents have challenges in figuring out expectations, deadlines, requirements, and technology. Some families have requested more frequent communication and communications in different languages.
- Underserved families often cited a need for better access to technology and access to wifi to navigate virtual learning. Also, families need more frequent and varied food distribution times for working parents.
- How can we accomplish these goals?
- Establish and maintain low cost educational learning hubs.
- Intensive one-to-one academic support every day, all year to students who have suffered the most learning loss.
- Extend instructional time by extending the school year, the school week and/or the school day for students with the most learning oss.
- Help high school seniors to enroll in college or connect to their next steps.
- Provide parents with information and understanding to assist students.
- Advocacy for Culturally Appropriate Engagement
- Train and evaluate all district and school leaders of hiring for equity as well as supporting and retaining culturally appropriate staff.
- Utilize existing culturally and linguistically competent staff, including black and brown staff, to better engage underserved students and families.
- Ensure consistent two-way communication system between school system and families in multiple languages and use different modes of communication, since not everyone has an email address
- Require each school to develop a culturally appropriate parent engagement plan which meaningfully includes families of color, low-income families and families that speak a language other than English.
Dr. Allison Socol, Policy Director for P12 Policy
The Education Trust in a national nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families.
- Over half of Maryland’s students are Black and Latino, and yet far fewer Black and Latino students are prepared for success compared to their white peers.
- White students are more than twice as likely to meet or exceed expectations on 4th grade reading and Algebra I than both Black and Latino students, and this gap is bigger among higher income students.
- Black and Latino students are less likely to enroll in college within one year of graduation than their White peers. The gap is larger among higher income students.
- Maryland gives Black and Latino students the least of the resources and opportunities that matter most.
- Most districts in Maryland do not receive the money the state says they need, and districts with the most students of color are shortchanged the most
- Racial disparities in academic preparation begin before kindergarten. The state’s PreK programs serve too few students and must improve its quality.
- Students in schools with high percentages of students of color are twice as likely to have a first year teacher as students in schools with low percentages of students of color.
- The educators in Maryland’s schools do not reflect the diversity of its students and families.
- Black and Latino students are underrepresented in advanced coursework.
- In Maryland, Black students are four times as likely to be suspended out of school or expelled as White students.
- There is a risk that inequitable opportunities to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate longstanding educational inequities in Maryland.
- Currently, all 24 school districts have all or some students learning virtually and many are reassessing plans for hybrid or in-person learning due to an uptick in COVID cases.
- The digital divide is a major challenge. These students need access to reliable internet.
- Strong relationships with caring adults are key to keeping students engaged and attending school, including virtual school.
- What can state leaders do?
- Leveraging bulk purchasing power and partnering with businesses and internet providers to provide laptops/tablets and expanded internet service to students and teachers, especially in high-poverty communities.
- Providing grants, with federal and state funds, to high-need districts to increase their capacity to facilitate virtual learning.
- Requiring districts to collect consistent data about the learning model (remote, hybrid, in-person) employed, student attendance and engagement, and teacher attendance throughout the 2020-2021 school year and beyond, and to regularly report this data publicly.
- Prioritizing allocating federal stimulus funds to evidence-backed programs that aim to accelerate learning and address unfinished instruction (e.g., intensive tutoring, summer programs) in high-need districts and schools.
- Providing funding and guidance for districts to deliver professional development to teachers and school leaders on virtual teaching, as well as provide mental health supports for educators as they recover, and work to support students’ academic academic, social and emotional recovery from the pandemic.
Delegate Alonzo Washington: On your slide about the advocacy of cultural engagement, can you point to an LEA or a local school system that is doing this well in your opinion. The slide just talks about training schools and school district leaders on diversity hiring as well as supporting and retaining this staff. Who does it the best?
Mondi Kumbula-Fraser: Well, I am in Montgomery County so I cannot really speak to who is doing it well. I can talk about areas where there is a need for improvement. It is interesting because everyone has their own lived experiences, so you never think about what happens in other places. One of the things that we certainly do recommend is to put together some type of parent-engagement plan, making sure that you are including people who are of different colors who also are low income; so that you really are hearing their voices and we are really getting a chance to let then weigh in on what happens so that they are feeling engaged. Often they feel marginalized in the decisions that the school districts make.
Delegate Alonso Washington: Ms. Socol, you mentioned learning loss. What is the best measure to measure learning loss in a student and how should we make sure that we are doing it consistently across our different school systems?
Dr. Allison Socol: Diagnostic assessments are critical for understanding where students are. They are critical for teachers to know what to teach; for school leaders and parents. We push for consistent state-wide assessments because it allows the state to see which districts are more in need of additional support to make sure that students catch up.
Delegate Stephanie Smith: Ms. Socol, there was a bar graph that you noted that black and brown high schoolers were sometimes entering college at lower rates one year after the conclusion of high school. Do you have any anecdotal or any insight into, people are receiving both 4-year and 2-year collegiate experiences largely online and that could be creating a situation where people may wonder ‘do I want to spend that much money moving forward to begin college’? I wonder if this is going to change desires around college affordability or access because of this moment?
Dr. Allison Socol: So I don’t have Maryland specific data but there was a report that came out from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in October which showed that, contrary to what everyone thought, we would see a decline in enrollment in 4-year institutions because many people would choose or be forced to choose a junior institution which are often more affordable. Now what we are seeing is a huge decrease in enrollment in community colleges nationally by 23%. I think that speaks to an ability of students to provide for financial aid especially for families who are disproportionately impacted by the health and financial impacts of the pandemic. There is a lack of options right now for taking advantage of a community college education.
Delegate Stephanie Smith: That is very interesting because I know that is overall data because the average community college student is 29-years old and there are a lot of other variables that make them very different from the person who just graduated high school so I guess it would be interesting if you could just tease out that data. Just getting out of high school versus someone who just lost a job, has kids, and is older. The only other question I have for you is you were talking about professional development training around the virtual education because many people did not get trained to teach in that manner. In terms of the best practices around that how were they developed. Were they developed with a sensitivity to providing education to lower-income students, to some of the students that face some of the challenges that we tend to associate with high need schools. Delivering education is one thing but delivering it in a context or sensitivity to those other things, I’m just wondering if the best practices were developed with that population in mind.
Dr. Allison Socol: I am hesitant to use the phrase ‘best practices’ because they usually come from years of experience and we have never been in this type of situation before. So we tend to look towards things that are working because we are currently building the plane as we are flying it. Yes, I would say that in an ideal situation teacher would – the lowest hanging fruit would be that teachers could use whatever learning platforms the districts have available. At this point, given how long the schools have been teaching virtually, we hope that the districts have gotten to that point but that’s not necessarily the case. The next step would be supporting teachers and finding ways to differentiate instruction. How do you use a virtual learning platform? How do you structure your time to ensure that the students who are most in need of one-on-one or small group support either academically or because that is how you can ensure that they stay engaged or continue to participate. How do you structure that time and how do you reach those students?
Delegate April Rose: One of the slides mentioned teacher participation and I know overall, beyond certain populations, we have a lot of kids who do not have access to the internet in Carroll County also and we are having a real problem with a lot of our kids falling behind also whether they be in low-income or not, overall it is a real challenge. So when you were talking about collecting information about teacher participation, here in our county we are having an issue with teachers who didn’t want to come back when we went to the hybrid, you know everyone is trying to figure this out and I understand when you said ‘we’re figuring this out as we are flying the plane, we couldn’t even bring back high school students until last week and then here we are today going back to nobody in school. Can you please speak to how important it is, because we have had to hire lots and lots of substitutes who are not trained teachers, can you just speak to how important it is to have our actual trained teachers not taking leave and teaching our kids be it virtual or not virtual. I just have a great concern that we are losing so much time with our students and I fear, how long is it going to take for us to recover from this, across the board, throughout the entire state. We, our committee, always talk about how much we want everyone on the same playing field. Can you please speak to that?
Dr. Allison Socol: When I mentioned teacher attendance data that there is actually data that shows that not all teachers have access to reliable internet especially in rural communities and that teachers are having to juggle their own childcare challenges and are caring for other family members and that this particularly impacts people of color because they have been disproportionately impacted by everything related to the pandemic. What we want to see districts do is to find out what are the challenges that the teachers are facing, lifting up the voices of the teachers so that districts are better able to support their educators and better able to structure virtual or hybrid learning in a way that makes teachers feel supported and ready to come to work to help students learn.
Delegate April Rose: I would be interested in the data because we did have a large number (300) teachers put in for leave and I don’t know that they are all in that particular situation. I would like to get that data because if there are situations in which we can support them, that would be great but we need to get our teachers back in the classroom because we need our kids to be taught across the board however that looks and my concern is that, I’m sure that everyone here is very aware, there have been campaigns could kind of do a ‘sick out’ and we have demands that need to be met. I have great respect for the teaching community and I have great respect for all of them but we are in a situation where we have kids that need to be taught, we have been dealing with this since March and if we are now going back to full virtual then we need to bring these teachers back and they need to be teaching in whatever that looks and whatever supports we can give them. I am also concerned with our special needs kids. We are in a real bad situation so in whatever ways we can encourage teachers to come back and teach, we need to make sure this does not turn into some kind of battle. I have great concerns with what we have lost and how we can make that up.
Delegate Eric Ebersole: Responding to some of the comments that I just heard, the equivalent to saying teachers need to come back to work the same way that health officials do is a false equivalent because a school is not near as controlled as it is in a hospital or a doctor setting. You really have to honor the teachers and their safety. I worry that, in an effort to get teachers back, that we are hiring substitutes just to get face-to-face. I would love to get on a balance, qualified teachers must be teaching online versus someone who is just filling a gap, they are not really qualified and don’t have the training. So, we really have to watch our balance of just getting someone in front of our students.
Dr. Socol, in your one slide about ensuring that students are connected and engaged you talk about collecting consistent data. It says in there, for example, student attendance – well we can gauge that. But when you talk about student engagement, the one thing to hold onto is that our teachers have not been trained to really have eyes on students online to tell if they are engaged or not and that is something Dr. Kumbula-Fraser talked about too, is the teacher’s ability to observe students. I worry that we won’t get good data but I’m also worried that we will get over consumed with gathering that data. I’m helping a grandchild online these days and I’m realizing how precious the teaching moments are, even more so than they were in person when I can actually get a 5-year old to settle down and listen to a math lesson. My question is how do you envision that data collection online and do you have an idea of how you would do it reliably and without losing the teaching that exists?
Dr. Allison Socol: The folks who have the expertise (Attendance Works) in this area are not here but if you are interested I strongly suggest you reach out to them. When I last spoke to them they were talking about how to measure more than whether a student clicked. They are talking about submitted assignments , participation in certain activities, the taking of assessments, just something more than if the student just opened a window. It is a very difficult balance that we don’t want to overburden our educators and we want to leave time for teaching but without information about whether students are actually engaged in learning or just logging on is often difficult for teachers to figure out.
Panel on Virtual Teaching and Best Practices
Dr. Monica Simonsen, University of Maryland Global Campus, Director of the Masters of Art in Teaching
- More than 30% (16 million) students in the US live in homes that don’t have stable internet connections in the home. That number jumps to 42% for people of color and 50% for low-income families.
- Students with learning disabilities ADHD and functioning issues often struggle to toggle back and forth between tabs and to manage their time.
- Students with social and emotional needs are missing out on critical routines and interactions.
- English language learners may be increasingly isolated from language partners
- Another thing that is often overlooked is the impacts of the families and their expectations and beliefs around work and education. There is actually a relationship between parental job loss and school performance in their children
- Researchers developed some projection models to try to project the impact on student achievement from prolonged closures. They drew on research that we already have that shows the significant summer slide that occurs annually for students and other disruptions like Hurricane Katrina. The study which was published in October provides some sobering projections about the profound learning loss rates. It is worth noting that the rates in this study do not take into account that we are locking down again due to the spiking COVID cases.
- What we are seeing now is the disparity of educational opportunity is impacting the schools’ abilities to respond to COVID and to transition back to in-person at all. Returning to in-person learning is made more difficult when your community has rundown school buildings with low air quality and overcrowded classes to begin with. Future funding forecasts must take into account that enrollment is down this year as families have either made the decision to home school or to delay kindergarten enrollment or perhaps were not even able to enroll their students because the enrollment was online and they have limited access to internet services. Baltimore County, for example, is now more than 400 students enrolled from last year.
- We should really be preparing for a spike in registration when schools reopen and adjust the funding formulas accordingly.
- We have to limit these broadband deserts. We need to make sure that all students have access to broadband internet. It is really important to acknowledge that we have teachers that are working from their cars outside of school buildings because they don’t have reliable internet access.
- We have to invest in widespread compensatory tutoring that has already been mentioned today to ensure that students who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID slide have targeted intervention.
- We should be using principles of Universal Design Learning (UDL) to design learning experiences that proactively meet the needs of all learners. To do so though, we have to invest in substantial and comprehensive training and ongoing coaching and supports. It is not one-and-done.
- As a teacher educator, I am interested in the learning experiences of our pre-service teachers who’s own learning experiences have been disrupted. Many of my interns have not had the opportunity to observe in multiple schools, across multiple semesters, culminating in that full-time internship working alongside their mentor teachers. So we are going to be graduating this year teachers that have very few in-building class experiences. We are going to need to focus on stronger induction and coaching services.
- Best practices: We are currently supporting the development of professional learning communities, so general and special educators, coming together to identify the research based best practices related to online instruction, what that looks like for students with disabilities, how to cull those resources and to develop an online toolkit for Maryland educators.
- If we invest in a learning management system with a user dashboard, it would have all of the analytic data that we see necessary during these times. It allows you to actually look for red flags. That data can actually be collected intentionally if we choose the correct packages.
- Rather than rushing back to the way we have always done things, this is a really important time to realize that the status quo is not working for all of our learners.
- Support initiatives to expand broadband internet
- Invest in compensatory programming
- Learn from “what works”
- Build on local expertise, including IHEs
- Universal Design for Learning
- Support initiatives that facilitate collaborative learning
- Invest in “Disruption Innovation”
- Staffing implications (i.e. Looping)
- Impact on school calendar and summer options
- Leverage technology to address existing challenges
Ryan Schaff, Notre Dame of Maryland
Background is in digital aged learning, game-based learning and education reform.
- Current system of education was developed in the late 1900s, over 125 years ago
- COVID hit and showed that this would not work moving forward and educators began to shift their teaching methods but they were trying to fit the old method into our current time. This did not work.
- Distance learning should not be forced to try and replace the instructional focus of face-to-face learning. Online learning can be very successful when the proper art of teaching and learning are employed. 80-85% of learning now consists of factual recall. This can be done with worksheets.
- A great deal of information we learn we lose. What remains built in to our cognition are the skills and processes that we retain and use in the higher level thinking tasks.
- Intrapersonal skills
- Interpersonal skills – Understanding external situations and being able to communicate with others
- Problem-solving skills – learning a structured mental process that allows you to independently solve complex problems in real time
- Collaboration skills – working together to accomplish a common purpose
- Information-analysis skills – We don’t want learners who simply consume and regurgitate information without questioning and analyzing the reliability of what they just learned
- Information-presentation skills – knowing how to use knowledge to effectively communicate that knowledge to others
- Creativity skills – how you communicate new ideas
- Global citizenship skills – develop highly ethical moral citizens who conduct themselves appropriately in both real-world and digital settings
- Access to high speed internet is required for digital learning
Dr. Ebony Terrell Schockley, University of Maryland College Park
I designed our digital learning tools course that many of our teacher education students take and I would note that all of our teacher candidates compose a portfolio that supports experiences and the development of skills to develop their own learners in critical thinking, design and creativity, and collaborative problem solving.
- Avatars to engage students
- Simulations that recreate the learning dynamic
- Case studies – examples of the lived experiences of others
- Micro-teaching – Interns review a recording of a teaching session and use that to receive constructive feedback from peers
- Professional Development Networks – In the initial stages. Focused on remote teaching for teachers.
- Mentor Teacher Academy – Collaborative design for implementing the skills that in-service teachers will need to advance.
- Partnerships are critical
- Help us understand what the issues are. PK-12 Schools, IHEs, Families, and businesses
- Fiscal in nature – hot spots, hardware, public libraries have limited hours now.
- Promising practices
- Visual scaffolding – helps direct attention to important material
- Focus on faculty-student relationships
- Interactive pedagogy and andragogy
- Targeted rigorous culturally responsive instruction
- Alternate high and low intensity activities
- Ongoing solicited feedback
- Learner-controlled interaction with media
- Self-regulated, personalized learning
- Mechanisms that promote reflection
- What can we do moving forward?
- Increasing the use of digitized methods
- Recruit & prepare educators to meet new workforce needs.
- Futuristic pedagogies – i.e. Augmented Reality
- Expand M-learning
- Challenges/Solutions to virtual learning
- Access to resources for PK-12 learners/PK-12 & IHE Partnerships
- Navigating virtual environments/Virtual teaching certification
- Socio-emotional health/Socio-emotional support – teletherapy
- Intern placements & IHE Access/Remote observation & supervision
Delegate Michelle Guyton: I would love to look at broadband access in the near future because we are not seeing progress, at least in my district since school closed. So kids and teachers are not accessing it. My question is for Dr. Simonson. I was really excited to hear about the virtual tool kit that you are developing for MSDE regarding special education during virtual learning. That is an area that I work in a lot and I have heard a lot of concerns from parents. How does that relate to teacher preparation particularly between now and when we go back because we know that we are going to have to evaluate remediation or compensatory services and I am wondering when that should be done. Whether it should be done virtually or whether it needs to happen after kids are back in the classroom. I hear that debate a lot. Do you have a recommendation on that and can you tell us how new teachers and teachers who were teaching years before the pandemic are being prepared to go back into the classroom that’s going to require a whole lot more remediation of all students and also for behavioral issues that we know are on their way that they may not have seen before?
Dr. Monica Simonsen: In terms of when to assess, at the risk of upsetting Delegate Ebersole who is not wanting to waste teaching time, I believe that we can start collecting data now. In order to really know how a student is going to perform in an actual classroom, we have to have a situational assessment in the classroom but we have some formative data along the way so we can say ‘ok, we know that students are not attending classes; we know that they are failing their classes; we know that they are not submitting assignments or that they are not performing well and start to develop some intermediate interventions now. I think it has to be a tiered approach.
The other question is how we are preparing pre-services teachers. Dr. Shockley gave a number of examples of how it is that we are leveraging technology to try and simulate, as best as possible, the learning environment. As someone who has taught online for a decade, I really believe that there are some things that I can do better online than I can do in person. So we are going to do our very best to prepare the teachers to go into the classroom but none of us know what it is going to be like. We are likely going to inherit all of these other compounded issues so I think it has to be a significant investment in long-term coaching and induction for those teachers. We can’t place and pray. So really thinking about the PD and not just a bunch of workshops, coaching programs, mentoring programs, co-teaching models where you’re not the only person in the classroom because suddenly you have a whole host of issues that you aren’t prepared for. I think, as we have said several times, this is an opportunity to really rethink things. For those students who have been disproportionately affected or have been impacted drastically, if we are ready to go into a school building this summer, we need to figure out how to make that happen in some cases. We can have some targeted tutoring ahead of time. Don’t wait for the arbitrary after Labor Day deadline.
Delegate Alonso Washington: I would say, for the record, that the Kerwin Bill that we passed a couple of years ago does provide funding to LEAs for direct tutoring for students and multiple are, some of our LEAs are using it correctly and some of the are not but it is important that we provide targeted tutoring for struggling students. Dr. Schockley I have a question for you. One of my friends is a principal in Baltimore County and he is also a graduate of the University of Maryland Teaching School. He came back to the school and actually spoke to some of the students there and one of the things he spoke about was, and one of the things he told me behind closed doors, was there were not a lot of people who looked like him and I, you know African American folks. So, I wanted to know from you, and you spoke to training teachers on competency and linguistics and stuff so we would know how to connect with them, how do you attract students to the teaching profession in your opinion and how do we retain them in the school so that they graduate and become a teacher.
Dr. Ebony Terrell Schockley: There are a couple of studies underway. One is happening on campus right now where we are actually asking students ‘would you become a teacher?’; ‘why would you become a teacher?’ ‘why would you become a teacher?’ to really understand right now this generation, the students that are on campus right now. The diversity question is very important. We have restructured our scholarship allocation model to include first generation college students which we find really diversifies our pool and really reduces some of the barriers that our students face. We also launched what is called a middle college program with a large school district. In that school district, students can move into teaching after earning an AAT degree. So, given the diversity of that district, that is another way that we are broadening our teacher candidate pool to be more reflective of the PK-12 population in the state. There are also lots of myths about what it means to be a teacher and so putting the right people in front of the students is really important and we have done that with the resources that we have pooled for recruitment to talk to students about the realities of teaching. When we offer them the realities we do find that, based on the feedback that we receive from our alumni network, that those strategies really help them in the long haul. In terms of the barriers, there are just lots of myths about teacher salaries or what it means/takes to be a teacher so we have been up front and real and talked about all of the benefits. We believe it is the best profession in the world and we advertise it in that way.
Delegate Alonso Washington: Can you tell me what jurisdiction is that middle college in?
Dr. Ebony Terrell Schockley: The middle college program, there are media reports coming out about it, and it is a pipeline program, you know a grow your own program, that a school district and the University of Maryland College Park…
Delegate Alonzo Washington: What is that school district?
Dr. Ebony Terrell Schockley: Prince George’s County Public Schools. It is a pipeline (grow your own) program where high school students earn an AAT degree and then they come in as Juniors to the University of Maryland College Park.
Dr. Simonsen: One of the other barriers for opening up the teaching profession for anyone, in particularly for students who have come from disinvested communities themselves, is the cost for sure but certainly you can take a lot of your classes part-time but then when you get to that full-time teaching internship, you’re actually being asked to take time off from work. It is really a financial hardship. So I do think that while we are talking to this committee, it would be remiss of us that we should probably, especially now that our teaching workforce is shrinking, we really need to talk about investing in scholarships to help people in their internship possibilities.
Delegate Alonzo Washington: I totally agree. We have a teaching scholarship at the state that we created and I think that it doesn’t do enough to attract students of color and first generation college students into the teaching profession and I think that we should change that.
Ms. Janna Parker
People of color, specifically black and brown families, have a greater risk of falling behind in education during this pandemic because pre-existing inequities in education have been further exacerbated by the other issues brought on and magnified by COVID-19. Education is the bedrock of and foundation of our society and when one part of our community falls by the wayside in regards to receiving quality education, that works to erode the stability and growth within our community and the state of Maryland. As a proud resident of Prince George’s County, a county that is majority people of color, and a former educator, I wanted to ensure that protections are taken for black and brown individuals within my county and throughout the state as it relates to their education. The presentations that you heard earlier, during your meeting, thoroughly discussed the very important points that I hope the subcommittee utilizes within their work. In alignment with those recommendations, my testimony today echoes their sentiments. I would encourage you to find ways to provide electronics to high poverty communities and work with internet companies to provide vast communications for those communities, require specific related data collection in regards to educational practices and analytics, consider giving funds directly to school systems for additional supports, providing funds for continuous training of students, parents and teachers as it relates to managing technology and cultural competency as it relates to an education, ensuring that there are monies available for intensive one-on-one academic supports, as well as how to appropriately extend the school year to make up for academic loss. Providing in depth support for high schoolers who are transitioning out of the school system, as well as provide more areas and layers of communication between families and school systems. I am requesting that this subcommittee consider those and other recommendations that you heard while creating policy and legislation that will affect the future of your younger constituents immediately and the rest of our great state of Maryland in the future.
Mr. Nathan Stone
I am a parent and a teacher in Wicomico County. First, from a teacher’s side I would like to say that in 2020 every single teacher in the state is a first year teacher. We are all learning how to teach from scratch. I have personally learned eight new online educational platforms. In addition to fitting state testing and curriculum requirements into the new county timelines, I’ve had to become proficient enough where I can not only use the websites, I can teach my students how to use it from their end as well. Students may be able to navigate social media but they have very little knowledge of educational platforms. The amount of grading and time grading student work has absolutely exploded because we can’t rely on a nod or body language anymore from students or a quick student check in. Teachers have had to pay out of pocket expenses on office chairs, desks, extra monitors, headsets, cameras, printers and scanners, online platform subscriptions and better internet to turn their homes into workable classrooms. Teachers all over the state have done this without tax breaks or stimulus checks. I can also speak from a parents’ side. Keeping up with my own childrens’ grades can take an enormous amount of time because, yes they do miss assignments because they have issues with attention spans of course but also because of lagging internet, spotty audio, teachers making mistakes in how they post assignments. Some miss because they have family doctor’s appointments and younger students can’t be left alone at home. Most parents cannot work from home. Parents have to take their kids word that when they are doing their online work, they are actually doing it. Many families do not have access to reliable internet which has been discussed here or don’t have the capacity to carry 4 or 5 devices at one time or even have enough devices in the house that are available. I had a student log into class on their phone while their parent was driving to Boston to visit their sick mother and they apologized profusely that they couldn’t participate in the day’s lesson. Many students and families are fighting like mad, going into debt, making long term sacrifices to keep their kids online in school during this absolutely grueling pandemic. Formative school years are difficult enough without throwing all of these challenges at kids. And please do not think for one second that I think we should go back to school in person. I don’t even think we should go back to hybrid. While we all yearn for normal, there is nothing normal about opening schools up and then closing them down over and over again disrupting what schedules kids have in place and forcing parents to scramble work out hours and childcare plans. There is nothing normal about having to quarantine in your own home for two weeks because someone at school might have been exposed to the virus. There is nothing normal about teachers coming into schools to literally risk their lives and their families lives to provide IEP accommodations or to provide assistance for our lowest performing students. There is nothing normal about the teacher who is sometimes the only constant figure in some of our kids’ lives getting sick and dying. This is not a normal time and we as teachers are being asked to provide that rock of normalcy and stability not only for our own families and kids but for parents and students all across our neighborhoods and communities statewide. I think I speak for most educators when I say it would be amazing if our elected officials would publicly recognize our hard work and sacrifice we are making, and parents, on a daily basis instead of referring to us as lazy and not wanting to do our jobs.
Dialo Sessions: A lot of my comments will revolve around the digital divide and will support some of the things that have already been said. The first one is I am in support of universal broadband because the internet has passed the tipping point of being a critical resource point in the lives of Americans. We need to be able to freely access the internet like we do roads and highways and the internet must be robust so that user participation is not interrupted as you heard. Second, public space is often used but they can have restrictions for students that want to pursue certain interests that they have because they want to because of filters at public schools, at public libraries and also if I go to a café or a Starbucks, people may be sniffing out my wifi or my information. There are certain advantages to having a home broadband first of which is the opportunity to participate in a formal learning experience which goes along with the whole COVID situation and how, some students couldn’t participate and we had to do what Dr. Shack mentioned and is something that we shouldn’t do which is send out a bunch of packets and worksheets. The opportunity to participate in online learning experiences because we know, the internet does have a lot of bad information but it has a lot more, in my opinion, information that people can use to build their own skills. Then, I’m borrowing some information from this book called “The Digital Edge: How Black and Latino youth navigate the digital divide’, and the researchers here found a couple of interesting things that teens are more likely to develop richer forms of online social capital when they have access to broadband in the home and they are also more likely to become content producers rather than merely consumers which we do a lot of. Consuming is part of it but it is so far skewed to the side of consuming everything that people give us that we lose out on this idea that kids and teachers can be creators. Then the final point is access to resources such as YouTube where you can learn new things and, second, more knowledgeable others meaning that people that have skills that you don’t have or can’t access within your community, the internet can offer this information.
Mr. Ricardo Manderson: I am a community member from Baltimore City. I’d like to speak for the need for increased funding and counseling services for schools. Nationally, everyone knows that there is an increase in depression among kids since the beginning of COVID. In June, the CDC reported that young people were the hardest group of any during the COVID crisis and suicide has been reported to have increased by 11%. The troubling thing about this is most of the young people had already been on the trajectory for rising suicide rates every year. Since 2007 that’s been the leading cause of death for young people next to accidents among people ages 10-24. In Baltimore we already had issues with mental health. We already had traumatic environments where kids were witnessing murders and such and were in need of services that went beyond the typical school environment. Recently, there was a WBFF (Fox 45) report that noted a young lady who lives in a community bordering mine. The kid’s mom was murdered and her school is closed down and now she is in an environment where she no longer has a teacher or a counselor that she had in her school and she is going to a learning center and doesn’t have the supports necessary so she is struggling. Numerous children across this city and state are dealing with family members that have died because of COVID. In Baltimore, of course, there are murders but in other parts of the state everyone is dealing with these same crises. Children are dealing with financial concerns such as evictions and issues with food insecurities. These kids have all of these compounding issues that are affecting their ability to learn. The counselor that normally works at my own daughter’s school, in her gifted class, hasn’t reached out this year where they did reach out last year. That is the type of stuff that is due to funding. COVID has exacerbated issues for children in Baltimore. The need now is much greater than before, more counselors are needed and as issues go beyond already identified problems of violence and poverty. We have to incorporate the fact that these kids are not isolated. Basically, I would like that you make sure that there is funding for mental health issues in schools and also override the Governor’s veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future which would create historic investments for behavioral health services and those wrap around services needed and don’t allow cuts to the state budget on this issue.
Mr. Timothy Stock: I will focus on the ways in which virtual learning has not been a success for our children. Our commitment to public education is strong, however, our family has been exhausted by the demands of maintaining two jobs while acting as part-time instructors. We have every possible advantage in our home. We have income. We have reliable internet. We have enough comfortable working space. If we were to lack any of those things we would not be able to participate in virtual learning as currently practiced. These comments are in the context of a family that has every possible advantage that one could have in the current global crisis. Many children in this district do not share these advantages. The first and most heart-rending gap that virtual education represents is a lack of social development and an inability to recreate the social aspects of learning. Our children, who are in the fourth and the second grade, learn most from their peers and the social process of engagement. Instruction is at the heart of this which is an art that our teaching professionals practice but is also part of discovery of the life and the contributions that our children make to others’ development. This is particularly pronounced with our youngest son who is 7-years old. Despite making his academic targets, his motivation to participate in online education is incredibly low and his desire to attend in-person school grows more pressing with every passing week. I hope that the future of a remote reopening plan can have the goal of targeted reopening for younger grades especially pre-k and up to second grade as the highest priority. Even one day a week of in-school instruction could have a positive and multiplying effect. These are future learners who’s experience of school is increasingly one of isolation, frustration and endlessly confusing interfaces and logins. Which leads me to my second point. The technology based learning is neither socially or developmentally appropriate for children of a young age. A focus on paying attention and cameras on can only lead to burnout and frustration. As parents we feel very isolated and placed in a position of enforcing a model of learning for our children that is not always effective but always generates frustration. A good virtual learning environment would focus on well-being, flexibility, breaks, multiple pathways to attendance, even to the roll of modifying attendance and funding metrics and a pause in standardized testing and assessment. Assessment tools or attendance tracking, if imbedded in technology or with instructional justification, could be useful but if they have the purpose of jerry-rigging the current crisis into an inadequate funding scheme, then the focus should not be focused on the accountability of the families, students and teachers but on the priorities and flexibility of school policy and administration. Our learners need to eat well, have a predictable schedule that balances a minimum of Zoom time with a maximum of flexibility, provide support but focus on a safe return to school that is targeted and sustainable and greater thought, planning and energy into off-site learning centers and access to the internet. What virtual learning has taught me is that we have a long way to go to fully integrate our schools into our community. I disagree with the focus on attendance, compliance and assessment in the regular school environment. In the current environment, we have seen a mass of disengagement and a large gap between the schoolhouse and the community it serves. Please consider a student-focused approach with targeted, sustainable reopening, flexibility and satisfying work requirements according to a wide range of schedules and the imperative to meet families and students where they are.