Michigan school districts face challenges of virtual learning during pandemic

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Posted at 2:41 PM, Jul 12, 2020

In Michigan, school districts are required to come up with three learning plans, including an all virtual option that is accessible to all students and supports learning for all students. That is no small feat.

Virtual learning requires different tools and technology than in-person instruction, so how do you ensure consistency of quality? It’s a challenge many districts are facing with just six weeks left until the start of the school year.

“What we want to do is create a standard of excellence for all kids,” says Bob Monroe, assistant superintendent of Utica Schools.

To help achieve that district wide, they are using Odessyware virtual curriculum powered by Edgenuity.

“We have a suite of digital curricula that we want to provide and help support our Utica school teachers,” Monroe said.

That includes a variety of online tools like instructional videos and online assessments.

“We also want to provide some wrap around services within this model, not just instruction teaching and learning, but also providing some advocacy, some mentorship,” he said.

Academic coaches would be made available to virtually tutor. That sounds like a good plan, but the Utica Education Association President Liza Parkinson says Utica teachers weren’t consulted.

“In our opinion, the gold standard is a teacher created curriculum that aligns with what we are doing in our in person classrooms,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson says virtual curriculums just don’t measure up.

“I’m watching what my daughter is doing in summer school, she’s using Edgenuity right now and I find it to be substandard, my colleagues using Edgenuity in summer school also find it to be substandard ” Parkinson said.

According to the Edgenuity website, Summer School curriculum is different from the Core Curriculum. Monroe says the virtual Core Curriculum will include blended learning options for teachers to help students learning at different levels and different paces. Monroe also says he expects Utica teachers will add their own expertise to expand on the virtual curriculum.

With six weeks to go and 1,400 teachers in the Utica School district, Monroe wants to provide support.

“To make sure that our teachers have the tools that they can deliver instruction to the home,” Monroe said.

Parkinson says Utica teachers haven’t seen this curriculum, which is a problem. In addition, she just doesn’t think it’s a good investment. While many districts in the state, like Roseville Schools, also use Edgenuity, Parkinson points to Rochester where teachers are creating their own virtual tools.

“Instead of investing in something that we don’t own that isn’t ours, why wouldn’t we invest in something that is ours, that we can keep and enhance and make better as we move forward,” Parkinson said. She says 100 teachers in Utica Community Schools have volunteered their time to create personalized virtual instruction tools.

Monroe says he will be speaking with Parkinson and working with teachers, but it’s a race against time.

“We are building the plane while we are in the air and because of that, we are pushed to making decisions quickly. But in typical Utica fashion, we are trying to bring a large district, all our constituents along with us,” Monroe said.

Districts in Michigan still don’t have a budget from the state and they don’t know exactly how many students will be enrolled in virtual classes. It’s a challenge to create certainty in uncertain times.

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