Reopening Schools: Three Things We’re Learning From Our Mistakes

Special / Uncategorized / August 23, 2020

A wise person learns from their mistakes, a wiser person learns from other people’s mistakes.

 

Can schools really reopen safely during a pandemic? If so, what is required? To reopen schools safely, there are at least three things we need to learn from our mistakes. Dr. Linda Darling Hammond, president of the California State School Board, offers a detailed roadmap.

Watch or Read

Dr. Linda Darling Hammond shared what she’s learned from working on reopening schools in the nation’s largest state, during the Second Wave Summit. The second wave refers to the looming threat of the return of COVID-19 in the fall that may drive another round of school closures and remote learning. It also refers to the second round of contingency planning and preparation we all now need to do to prepare for the uncertainty of whatever is coming next. Watch the full interview or read the transcript below.

 

Watch the Full Interview:.

Second Wave Summit

The Academy of Active Learning Arts and Sciences brought together educators and administrators who embraced the Flipped Learning framework (and those who didn’t) to share, prepare, and plan for the future of education in a post-COVID-19 world.

Source: Academy of Active Learning Arts and Sciences 2018

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Of course, you know that as we’re thinking about going back to school this year, probably the biggest question that’s on everybody’s mind is will it be safe? And the administration of course, is telling us it will be safe. And they’re saying if countries like Denmark and Norway, Hong Kong and Taiwan could re-open schools there, the great USA should be able to do the same. Sounds reasonable. What do we need to understand about that claim, Linda?

Linda Darling Hammond:

Well, first of all, I think we can open school safely, but it’s going to take a lot of work. Places like Norway and Denmark have less than 1 percent of the number of cases that we have in the United States per capita. So our infection rates are about a hundred times higher than those countries, about 500 percent greater than any of the other countries that have schools open. Yeah, we have not yet put together all of the safety features that we need to have schools open in a safe way. We need to be thinking about not only social distancing within the school and the wearing of face coverings for all of the staff, personal protective equipment for kids and teachers; we also need to be thinking about small cohorts within the school that stay together all day long for classes and recess and lunch, et cetera-

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Even in higher grades?

Linda Darling Hammond:

Even in higher grades. So, if you don’t do the cohorting, which many other countries have done, then if one person gets an infection, and they’re running around in a high school and they’re interacting with all kinds of other people, you have to close the whole school. So we’re actually going to need these very personalized, some people call them cohorts or pods. In high school, as you could imagine, four teachers sharing a hundred students as some redesigned schools do, and that becomes a cohort or a pod that stays together and avoids contact with other pods so that you reduce the chances of infection. We have to of course worry about cleaning the buildings and hygiene and all of that kind of thing. All of this costs a lot of money. And meanwhile, we’re having not only a public health crisis but an economic crisis. And so state revenues are severely impacted, and they will be even more impacted in the coming year because of the closure of the economy. States cannot run up deficit budgets. So the federal government needs as the funding for schools and then needs to help put the resources in as other countries have for these additional costs of staff for distancing, protective equipment, cleaning supplies and hygiene and face coverings.,, and all of that.

If you have a lot of COVID in a community, there will be a lot of COVID in schools.

 

Errol St. Clair Smith:

The American Association of Pediatrics said the schools should only open in communities where the infection rate is under control. Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC said that one thing we know for sure if you have a lot of COVID in a community, there will be a lot of COVID in schools. So my question to you is, how can any amount of spending, cleaning, social distancing, masking, or wearing PPE justify opening schools where COVID-19 is obviously out of control?

Linda Darling Hammond:

Yeah. It’s not enough to have all of those accouterments, you need to have a reasonably safe level of the community rate of infection. So, we know how to bring that rate down, we’ve seen it. And what we see in the States that are being rational about this is what we call it in California, the dimmer switch. We begin to reduce activity so that we can get the rate down so that we can then use all of those other tools to keep it down. But if we want to see what will happen, if we don’t pay attention, look at what happened when they opened schools in Israel without adequate attention to all of these features. In South Africa and France, where they immediately had to close schools again within one or two weeks because infection rates soared and how..

Errol St. Clair Smith:

So Linda, how do we solve the conundrum? Because theoretically, I understand what you’re saying, but as you well know, our governor is taking a lot of heat for attempting to get the community to do the things that we need to do, so we can open businesses and open schools. It seems to be beyond our control. What can we do about it?

Linda Darling Hammond:

Well, public awareness is really important, developing sort of a culture around the right kinds of behaviors, mask-wearing, for example, and so on. Each of us has a role to play in that. And we have to help people be aware. I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there. There was a really poignant story in the newspaper recently about a young man, 30 years old, who was dying in a public hospital who said, “Oh, I thought it was a hoax. I guess it’s not a hoax.”

I think some people have to learn the hard way.

 

We’ve got to help people who are getting misinformation and get the right information. Each of us has different people we interact with, and groups we interact with, and places that we can be a voice, and ways in which we can both model and educate. And we’re going to have to do that. Now, I think some people have to learn the hard way, and we’re seeing that in places where people have said, we don’t care, we don’t believe it. Those rates are going up. Those hospitals are over full. People’s relatives are falling ill, and there’s a new awareness growing in some places that wow, we really do have to pay attention. It would be better if people could, as they say, a wise person learns from their mistakes, a wiser person learns from other people’s mistakes. That we would like everyone to be wiser and not have to learn it personally for themselves in heart-wrenching ways. But I do think that that process of learning is going on.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

There’s another very difficult question that I wanted to bring to you. We’re seeing another kind of pandemic. I would call it a pandemic of lack of trust. All month I’ve been speaking with educators from around the world, and certainly here in the country they’re feeling that when the pandemic hit, they were asked to move mountains to continue education and to continue making sure that students could be taught. They did what they needed to do and now, many are fearful and feel that they’re being thrown under the bus, frankly. That their lives are not of concern to our leaders. They’re fearful, they’re frustrated, some are angry and concerned. Who do you say to those folks?

Linda Darling Hammond:

California, just about a week ago, we announced sort of the conditions for opening schools, with the community conditions, and then all of the things that we would need to put in place in schools and created ways by which you could assure that the government’s paying for the things that need to be there, et cetera. And on my Twitter feed, there were many, many messages from teachers saying, thank you, thank you. I feel cared for, I feel safe. I feel like the government is paying attention to what I need to do my job safely and well. And I want that for all teachers and educators across the country. I am not hearing people say, “Oh, I don’t want to teach, I don’t want to be with my kids.” In fact, all across California, we have people begging to get their schools open, even in the counties that right now have to wait a little while until we can get the infection rates down.

Linda Darling Hammond:

So educators want to educate and they have, as you say, of going the extra mile, of many miles to do everything from showing up and talk to kids from outside the window to get them wired up with their internet, to meals, to online, to offline, to the telephone. And so we’ve got to protect people’s wellbeing. There are districts all across the country that are being very thoughtful about how people who have health issues can be among the online teachers. And those who are going to be in classrooms could have the protective surroundings that are needed, and in those States that are not taking that care, all we can do is, as I say, continue to try to educate. It breaks my heart for people to have to leave the teaching profession because they can’t be safe in their work.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Now again, going back to your Forbes piece. You raised the point about places like Israel and South Africa that opened prematurely and then had to close. What do you think is the likelihood that when we open here in the U.S. this fall, many of our schools will once again, have to close because of the second wave?

Linda Darling Hammond:

Yeah. It’s going to be highly variable across the country, but in those places that are not taking all the steps to be sure that the community is at a safe level of infection, that all these features are in place in schools, we are going to see schools closing shortly after they open within a couple of weeks. There’s a two week gestation period for this virus. And it’s like clockwork. If you look around the world, if people open without precautions, and two weeks later they have to close again, or they have outrageous levels of infection.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Another question I wanted to pose to you. I see school leaders are in a conundrum. They are trying to balance the residual trauma that teachers, parents, and students all had from the rapid transition to online learning. They’re trying to balance that with extraordinary levels of uncertainty. And at the same time, they’re trying to project optimism and hope. What advice do you have for school leaders about setting proper expectations with students, teachers, and parents as we head into the next term?

Linda Darling Hammond:

Well, I think you described it well that thoughtful school administrators are really trying to both put in place the conditions that are reassuring for learning and safety to project the hope that people need to continue to engage and work with one another, but also to be properly cautious. And that creates a little level of hyper-vigilance if you will, which I think we appreciate, we appreciate that people who are in charge of making this work are carrying both a level of concern and a lot of both reassurance and actions that are reassuring that allow us to move forward.

Linda Darling Hammond:

And we need to know that these same officials are going to be watching every day and every week to be sure that at the moments where action is needed, for example, when cases arise to be sure that folks go in quarantine and stay home for a couple of weeks and do the things that are needed in that cohort, to be sure that the infection doesn’t spread. We need to be able to be sure that folks are going to be paying attention to that piece of it as well.

We’ve seen that we don’t have to keep kids and teachers together for six or seven hours every day in lockstep in order to do education.

 

Errol. St. Clair Smith:

Many see the disruption caused by the pandemic as an opportunity to do things that reformers have been attempting to do for 100 years. What do you think is now possible as a result of the pandemic that was not possible before?

Linda Darling Hammond:

That is a great question. And we’re actually at the Learning Policy Institute completing something that will come out very soon called Restart and Reinvention, because it is a moment where we can begin to reinvent some of the conditions of schooling. And among those are the facts that we now can rethink the way in which adults and kids are organized to be together beyond the factory model, which was very depersonalized. Now we’re talking about how do we get kids and teachers into cohorts and pods, and have strong relationships and be sure that the connections with the home that have gotten stronger during the pandemic are continued. We’ve seen that we don’t have to keep kids and teachers together for six or seven hours every day in lockstep in order to do education. Now, all of a sudden districts have collaboration time for teachers built-in, sometimes a full day, a week. While kids are learning to be asynchronous and synchronous in the ways in which they learn, we can begin to focus on how do we enable kids to become self-managing learners. That can be a big part, and it has been and will be a big part of the learning process. We should use this opportunity to infuse social and emotional learning. Everybody’s talking about it now, as people recognize that whole people experience trauma, experience all kinds of things that really need attention. So we now see districts infusing social, emotional learning into not only the first two weeks of school but into every lesson. We should really tackle this moment to equalize access to resources for schools across school districts, to curriculum and teaching, close the digital divide. We’re about halfway there in California now, in closing the digital divide. We’re determined to finish that job in the next few months. All of these things that have come up during the pandemic are important now that the public’s paying attention and concerned about them. It’s important to address those and put some of the inequalities behind us, put some of the factory model school designs behind us, and move forward with the kind of education for the 21st century that actually this hybrid blend of technology and in-person and out of school learning might actually stimulate, particularly for older kids who can use their time and can be taught to use their time in ways that give them a lot of agency as well as a lot of tools.

Errol St. Clair Smith:

Love it. Well, thank you again. I know you are mega busy and you’ve got a lot on your plate. We wish you Godspeed. Thank you, not only for being with us today but for all the great work you’ve done in education and continue to do. I really appreciate it, and we’ll be in touch again.

Linda Darling Hammond:

Thank you, Errol, so good to see you.






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Errol St.Clair Smith
I am the Director of Global Development at the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. I joined the education community in 2005, working closely with national education organizations on community outreach and professional development. Over the last decade, I’ve led the development of community platforms for The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE); the Association of Curriculum Developers (ASCD); the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Associations for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), and the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO). I'm honored to have received four Emmy nominations and an Emmy Award for public affairs programming. In 2017 I co-authored Flipped Learning 3.0 with Jon Bergmann. The book was updated based on the AALAS Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning in 2019.




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