The reason for this post is because of the continued use of the phrase “in school” in publicly posted discussions. The use of this phrase has caused contention among many parents when it used to mean “in a school building”. Most parents supporting virtual options would respond to this statement by saying their kids have been in school.
The use of the phrase “in school” is a topic that school board member, Brad Boyer, addressed at one of the school board meetings this past Fall. His statement regarding the phrase “in school” and its used by another school board member echoed the thoughts of many parents and kids within the HSE district.
In addition to again being used this week in comments on a Facebook page I run that talks about HSE school related topics, the phrase “get our kids in school” has also continued to be used by a board member to mean get the kids into the school buildings. As Boyer had commented, and I’ll echo here, the use of “in school” in this manner implies that kids learning virtually (that are not in a school building) are not in school. That is not correct. Virtual kids are being educated: Virtual kids are in school. They just aren’t in a school building.
To be clear and fair, most people indicate that there should be a choice for being virtual or in person. The issue being raised here is the use of the phrasing of “in school”. Leaders within the district use a number of phrases, and it is important for people, especially those on a school board to use those phrases correctly.
Here is my take on some of the phrases and how they should be used. These are very short definitions, so they are not perfect, but this should highlight the differences:
“In school” – The education of kids by teachers regardless of the medium or platform being used.
“In-person” – The education of kids by teachers within a physical school building where teachers and students are both present.
“Virtual” – The real-time (synchronous or asynchronous) education using technology to connect teachers and students for teaching and lessons. Kids are remote (virtual).
“eLearning” – A school day that is not real-time where kids are provided with a lessons that they generally accomplish on their own (asynchronously). Lessons tend to be given a number of days to be completed. Typically used for snow days and teacher professional development days.
“Remote learning” – A school day that is done completely asynchronously with lessons provided by the teacher.
Synchronous learning – Teaching is happening with the teacher and students interacting in real-time via technology or because they are in-person. Technology used within HSE schools for synchronous learning tends to be Zoom meetings.
Asynchronous learning – Teacher(s) provides lesson plans or videos that students do independently (separate from teacher/class). This can be standard lessons or videos.
“100% in-person” – The ability for kids to attend in-person school on a normal (or somewhat normal) class schedule. This does not mean 100% of kids are in the school building, as virtual may still be an option. It does mean that all kids that want to be -in-person are in the buildings at the same time.
Hybrid – The allowance of in-person for part of the school week. Hybrid often includes having only a portion of the in-person students attending at a time. Students will then generally do virtual or remote learning the remaining part of the week.
Statements such as “the best education for students is in a classroom with their teacher” are generalizations that are not always accurate. More importantly, this statement doesn’t address the value of a teacher teaching virtually to kids compared to a substitute working with kids in-person.
For some kids, being in the building is the best solution for getting them the best education. For other kids, the best solution is virtual. For some, being in the buildings could be detrimental to their mental well-being due to concerns about COVID-19.
A Few Misnomers Worthy of a Comment or Two
As stated, a single statement such as “the best education for students is in a classroom with their teacher” is a generalization that can’t be applied to 21,500+ kids in a district like HSE. More importantly, this statement doesn’t address the value of a teacher teaching virtually to kids compared to a substitute working with kids in-person.
It has also been said that student at Hamilton Southeaster Schools are falling behind other schools because the kids haven’t been “in school”. Recently parents were stating that kids have lost a year of education and thus should be pulled from school. The thing about statements like these is that they can be substantiated or refuted. At the December 9th, 2020 school board meeting, Dr. Bourff presented NWEA testing scores. The scores showed that the impact to learning was minor and in the case of Reading and cohoring scores, the number have almost all gone up – not down. As such, to state that there is any notable brain drain is not supported by the testing scores.
Could this change in the future? Possibly, but currently the data doesn’t support the loss of learning at HSE.
Similarly, at the December 9th meeting, Panorama data was presented. That data too showed that the interaction between our teachers and students was improving – not getting worse – in almost every case. That data is on the HSE Schools BoardDoc site.
Another misnomer worth commenting on is that of our teachers and administration refusing to do in-person education because of fear of Covid-19. This also is not the case. The issue that HSE faces is the lack of staffing. In a good year, finding and retaining substitute teachers to cover when teachers are out of the classroom is tough. This school year there simply hasn’t been enough substitute teachers to cover the open classrooms. Even using administrators and having teachers cover during open periods has not been enough. It was this lack of appropriate staffing that caused the district to close down – not a fear of Covid-19.
Of course, a lack of staffing always raises the issue of “pay teachers more” or pay subs more. It is beyond the scope of this article to cover these issues in this post; however, I have covered them on Facebook. In short, HSE sub pay is competitive. Adding a few dollars isn’t going to resolve the issue because the sub shortage issue is happening across the county and across the country. Additionally, paying teachers more is not going to have a short term impact. Even if it could, based on a recent report from the Indiana Department of Education, the pay for teachers at HSE is on average $68,298, which is the highest average teacher salary for a district in Indiana. While there are districts with higher starting and higher maximum salaries, HSE teachers – on average – make the most in the state of Indiana.
In conclusion, the kids at Hamilton Southeastern are “in school” just not in the buildings. It will be determined later this month if the push and training of new substitutes will be enough to cover the gaps an allow for some in-person education to occur. While kids are not in the building, the data is showing that (overall) the kids are still learning. It is important that as we continue to discussion this important topic that people, especially those in decision making positions, use the correct terminology in what they are stating. It is more important that they avoid repeating erroneous facts and focus on what has been substantiated and shown to be true. By doing this, we can hopefully get back to a new normal sooner rather than later.
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