DDN EXAMINATION: Online school still confusing, but expected to be better than last spring

Emerson Academy third-grade teacher Michelle Saunders has a live session with her students through her laptop computer on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020 in Dayton.
Emerson Academy third-grade teacher Michelle Saunders has a live session with her students through her laptop computer on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020 in Dayton.

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

All 40 public school districts in the Dayton area will offer some online education this fall — 10 of them fully online for all students, and the other 30 giving families a choice between remote learning and some level of in-person school.

But a Dayton Daily News examination found those online models vary significantly from school to school and even grade to grade, so there will be a big learning curve as school resumes under coronavirus limitations.

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This newspaper interviewed local educators, talked to parents and examined the plans schools have put out for their online options. What we found is that after a summer of planning, schools are promising (and parents expect) that the online models will be better than spring’s built-on-the-fly systems.

“Let me (say) unequivocally that learning is going to look very different in the coming months than what you saw last spring,” Kettering Superintendent Scott Inskeep wrote in a note to families. “Our teachers will be … providing meaningful and impactful instruction to their students. Our teachers are excited and ready.”

Having motivated and technologically trained teachers is a big part of the equation, but a recent Education Week survey of more than 1,000 teachers and school leaders shows it’s not the only issue.

The educators surveyed said their top concerns from spring were not primarily about teacher training or technology access. They were more on key student issues — “Students not logging in/interacting” at 66%, “Students have a lot more trouble focusing on work at home” at 62% and “Difficult to tell whether students are learning or if they need more help” at 59%.

Parent feelings mixed

Not all parents understand the schools’ online approaches, and that’s not a great sign for some of the 10-year-olds who will be the ones logging in.

Huber Heights Superintendent Mario Basora did a 70-minute Facebook live presentation Wednesday, and the district was bombarded with 563 questions and comments, many of which were answered by school staff.

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Huber Heights has a complex plan where all students start online then return to in-person learning on a staggered basis by grade level (grades K-3 in September, older students in two waves in October).

The district posted a heavily detailed, 24-page plan July 29. Three weeks later, some families hadn’t seen the basic issues that were answered three weeks earlier (yes, your family can choose to stay online longer). Meanwhile other eagle-eye families were finding the holes in the district’s plan on Page 11 or 23 (an email-only school contact won’t help us if our family is having internet trouble).

Kettering schools’ recent public forum had a striking example of how divergent opinions can be about in-person vs. online school, even among professionals. Of the 40 speakers, two who went back-to-back were a child psychiatrist (arguing that serious health risks necessitate an online approach) and a school psychologist (arguing that online school was riskier because of mental health and academic obstacles).

Global Impact STEM Academy students pick up their school supplies and computer Wednesday at a drive-thru at the school so they can start the first month of school online. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Global Impact STEM Academy students pick up their school supplies and computer Wednesday at a drive-thru at the school so they can start the first month of school online. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Parents were all over the map as well. Many called for a return to in-person school for academic reasons, for mental health reasons, or because they think the COVID-19 health risks are overblown.

Scott Byer, a Kettering teacher and father of three students, was one of multiple speakers to go the other way, urging the district to rely on the advice of local Public Health officials and start the year online.

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Katie Richard fell in the middle, urging schools to offer some in-person schooling for children in the earliest grades and for high-need special education students whose “needs cannot be met through a computer.”

“I have a fifth-grader who can do online school. It isn’t ideal, she won’t learn as much as she would in the classroom, but we can make it work,” Richard said. “I also have a kindergartner. … For him, online school was a nightmare. He cannot sit through half-hour zoom sessions. He cannot sit at a computer for hours on end doing learning activities.”

Jenna Walch of Dayton was hopeful in comments to her school board last month.

“Remote learning got better after the first few weeks this past spring as students and parents figured out Google Classroom and teachers could see what works or doesn’t work for remote learning,” she said.

Very little consensus

One of the challenges schools face is a horde of angry parents no matter which model they choose. Disagreements over COVID-19 have been the one constant this summer, whether the subject is masks, health worries, or reopening schools and businesses.

Mad River Schools went so far in their informational message this week to plead for patience from families.

“Along the line of respectful communication, please refrain from derogatory or inappropriate comments.” district officials said.

Schools are adjusting to a host of educational programs and platforms that may have been foreign to families 12 months ago — Canvas and VLA and Schools PLP and Lincoln Learning … in addition to staples like Google Classroom that many schools have used in recent years.

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Shannon Cox, superintendent of the Montgomery County Educational Service Center, said her agency vetted a variety of options to help local schools make good choices.

The hard part is that different options specialize in different things. Cox said Apex Learning has high-quality Advanced Placement courses, while Graduation Alliance was designed to help at-risk students. For years, Lincoln Learning was one of the few options in the elementary grades, but the reshaped Schools PLP now offers a “pretty robust” elementary program for their price, she said.

And beyond the programs themselves, schools have some control of how they use them, including whether local teachers or third-party teachers are the first point of contact.

Other school approaches

While public schools are offering online options, most private schools lean heavily in-person, as some families hesitate to pay thousands of dollars in tuition for online school.

Carroll High School did create a new position of remote learning coordinator this summer. School officials say the coordinator will serve as a liaison between in-school teachers and those families choosing online school for their kids.

Many charter schools in Dayton are starting the year online, and Emerson Academy Principal Landon Brown acknowledged the challenges that presents. He said one issue for all schools is diagnosing where students stand academically after a spring and summer where “some kids did absolutely nothing”, and getting them proper interventions.

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Handling those issues can be difficult over Zoom or a phone call. When schools had to virtually connect with kids in mid-March, those teachers had spent the first three quarters of 2019-20 establishing relationships with the families. This fall, new teachers who have never met this year’s kids or families will try to build that trust through a computer screen.

And the academic side is tough, too.

“Our parents are great supporters, but several have told me, Mr. Brown, I am not a teacher. How do I help my kid?” Brown said. “We know our math proficiency is going to suffer. No. 2 is making sure our kids stay motivated to stay online.”

And Brown raised a third issue — when all of a student’s work is done remotely, how do schools know which answers are a result of student learning and knowledge, and which came from their parent or from texting a friend?

Still adjusting daily

Dayton Public Schools is building a single online site where families can click links for tech support, their student’s daily schedule, online textbook access, attendance and grade reporting, contact information and more.

And schools are trying hard to anticipate problems.

Fairborn is explaining to parents that elementary students are on the Lincoln Learning platform while high schoolers are using the Edmentum interface. Franklin schools say upfront that the focus on core courses means electives are not offered.

Kettering schools, which are starting fully online, say they’ll make exceptions for in-person small groups where needed so special education and career tech students get the hands-on help they need.

While some may see online school as simple as a student waking up, rolling over and turning on their laptop, other families are scrambling to figure out how their first-grader will attend a 9:30 a.m. live session with their teacher while both parents are at work.

“It’s not just a digital online curriculum,” said Cox of the county ESC. “It’s about access to teachers, access to content, access to connectivity. It’s important to understand the whole picture.”

Back To School

Let the Dayton Daily News be your guide to the new school year and all of the challenges districts face in this coronavirus pandemic. Visit daytondailynews.com/back-to-school to see your school’s plans and other stories related to the new school year.

Schools doing fully in-person education five days a week

Legacy Christian: Aug. 13 start

Chaminade Julienne HS: Aug. 18-21 start **

Dayton Christian: Aug. 19 start

Fenwick HS: Aug. 19 start

Miami Valley School: Aug. 19 start **

Alter HS: Aug. 19-21 start **

** requests to be fully online go to school principal for review

Schools offering a choice of 100% in-person or 100% online

Lebanon: Aug. 17 start

Brookville: Aug. 19 start

Carroll HS: Aug. 19-21 start

Troy Christian: Aug. 20 start

Vandalia-Butler: Aug. 24 start

Greenon: Aug. 24 start

Xenia: Aug. 24 start

Greeneview: Aug. 25 start

Covington: Aug. 25 start

Newton: Aug. 25 start

Bethel: Aug. 25 start

Tipp City: Aug. 31 start

Eaton: Aug. 31-Sept. 1 start

Fairborn: Sept. 8 start

Piqua: Sept. 8 start

Bradford: Sept. 8 start

Milton-Union: Sept. 8 start

Miamisburg: Sept. 8 start

Franklin: Sept. 8 start

Carlisle: Sept. 8 start

Wayne Local: Sept. 8 start

Springboro: Sept. 8-11 start

Schools going fully online for at least the first quarter

North Dayton School of Discovery: Aug. 10 start

Pathway School of Discovery: Aug. 12 start

Emerson Academy: Aug. 12 start

Dayton Leadership Academy: Aug. 17 start

Horizon Science Academies: Aug. 17 start

Centerville: Aug. 24 start

Trotwood: Aug. 24 start

DECA and DECA Prep schools: Aug. 24 start

West Carrollton: Aug. 24-31 start

Tecumseh: Aug. 26 start

Yellow Springs: Aug. 27 start

Northmont: Sept. 1 start

Kettering: Sept. 8 start

Dayton: Sept. 8 start

Northridge: Sept. 8 start

Jefferson Twp.: Sept. 8 start

Imagine Klepinger: Sept. 8 start

Schools starting online, with possible changes within a few weeks

Miami Valley CTC: Aug. 13-14 start, first three weeks fully online, then 2-day-in, 3-day-ouy hybrid model

Dayton Regional STEM School: Aug. 19-20 start; all students fully online, to be reviewed in September

Huber Heights: Aug. 27, first two weeks fully online, then staggered return by grade level (with option to stay fully online)

Schools with choice between 100% online or adjustable plans based on health alert map levels

Beavercreek: Aug. 24-25 start, adjustable in-person model is currently set for full five days per week.

Oakwood: Aug. 24 start, adjustable in-person model likely to start with half-day school, five days a week.

Cedar Cliff: Aug. 26 start, adjustable in-person model is currently set for full five days per week.

Miami East: Aug. 26-27 start; adjustable in-person model is currently set for full five days per week.

Troy: Sept. 8 start, adjustable in-person model is currently set for full five days per week.

Schools where students will have a mix of online and in-person classes

Spring Valley Academy: Aug. 17 start; hybrid model with students in-person 2-3 days per week and online the other days.

Bellbrook: Aug. 17-18 start, choice of fully online or in-person school; in-person model starts at two days per week then shifts to five days a week Sept. 8

Warren Co. Career Center: Aug. 17-21 start; first three weeks are hybrid model with students in-person 1 day and online the other four days.

Upper Valley Career Center: Aug. 20-21 start; hybrid model with students in-person 2-3 days per week and online the other days.

Greene Co. Career Center: Aug. 25-26 start, hybrid model with students in-person 2-3 days per week and online the other days.

New Lebanon: Aug. 31 start, had choice of fully online school or a hybrid with 2 days per week in-person and the rest online.

Valley View: Sept. 8-9 start, had choice of fully online school or a hybrid with 1-2 days per week in-person and the rest online.

Mad River: Sept. 8-9 start, had choice of fully online school or a hybrid with 2-3 days per week in-person and the rest online.

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