Between a rock and a hard place

We sidestep presidential politics for the time being and move back to state and local politics. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) came down with a major decision this week that could potentially impact your children one way or another. They have given districts permission to compel virtual students that are failing to come back to school.

I will simply say that if your kid is one of those failing at home it it time to get off your duff and do some parenting. Of course, I’m guessing most of you are not in that boat. So, what this means is that your son or daughter’s classes will have a few more kids in them.

As an educator, this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we have had a huge issue with students doing the yo-yo bit. They come sometimes and then they stop coming. When we contact parents they tell us they have tried nothing and are all out of ideas. They don’t know how to compel the students to do the work.

So, getting them here at school is a net positive in terms of academic performance. It is easier to stand over Johnny to force him to do the work when you can physically stand over him. When it is at the business end of a Zoom call or Google Meets call it just isn’t as effective. Obviously, compelling them to be here also cuts down on the yo-yoing back and forth.

Statewide education experts will tell you that failure rates have exploded this year. Yet, they won’t tell you why. The reason is that there are multiple reasons why and we have a sizeable population in brick and mortar students that are also failing. So, getting these students back in the physical classroom will help some, but it won’t be the panacea that people think it will be.

The downside (or other half of the sword) is that the more students in the room the more likely we will have outbreaks of the virus. Positives are already up nationwide. Daily deaths have cleared the 1000 mark and estimates are that it will approach 2000 before the end of the calendar year. So, academic performance may go up, but safety will take a hit.

This is the push and pull of a pandemic. We know that students need emotional attachment. We know they need interpersonal interaction. One of the reasons they are not doing as well is that things are not back to normal. Some of the activities (say Homecoming, games, pep rallies, club meetings, field trips) that kept students engaged are not there. Teachers are having a more difficult time working in small groups with students, circulating the room, or giving the younger ones the occasional hug or high five. That could explain the failure rate.

So, the choice is to try to reinstall as much as that as possible or continue to play it safe and close to the vest. As someone that aims to connect with students at least on a personal level, I see the challenges on both sides of this debate. I have comorbidities, so getting sick is not really a good option. Yet, I’m not as effective as I used to be.

So, this is where national leadership comes in. National leadership turns into state leadership which then turns into local leadership. Notice that the TEA didn’t say those students had to come back. They said districts had the right to compel them to come back. In other words, they are leaving it up to the local districts to be the bad guy. It’s shucking responsibility at its very finest. That kind of message and execution comes from the very top.

Our particular campus performs better academically than most because of the unique nature of our campus. I’m guessing such an order would maybe increase class loads by one or two students per class period. That’s not a huge deal. Other campuses might see more than that. A standard elementary school class might see an additional three or four students.

That can have a dramatic impact on social distancing protocols in the classroom. Those additional students will impact how traffic flows in the hallways and how students are seated at lunch. What happens if one of them gets sick? What happens if one of them makes one of us sick? Moreover, what happens if a parent steadfastly refuses to cooperate? These are all tough decisions and it seems like the modus operandi is to pass that decision down to the lowest rung on the totem pole.

Author: sbarzilla

I have written three books about baseball including The Hall of Fame Index. I also write for thefantatasyfix.com. You can follow me on twitter @sbarzilla.

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