Based on parents’ responses to the district’s survey on East Lansing Public Schools’ continuity-of-learning experience, many families are hoping for improvements if the district must use remote learning in the coming school year.
ELi obtained the survey results through the Freedom of Information Act, and you can view them here. (The coversheet was created by ELi’s team.)
The survey showed that the majority of East Lansing High School students – over 75 percent – spent 10 hours a week or less on academics, with 40 percent allocating 0-5 hours a week to academics.
Only parents of high school students were asked to estimate the amount of time spent on studies, but qualitative responses from parents of elementary and middle school students suggest that many of those students spent on average about 2-8 hours per week on schoolwork.
High school results strongly suggest grades matter to motivation
The qualitative comments from high school parents suggest the lack of grades resulted in a real motivational problem for high school students.
At last Monday’s board meeting, two mothers, Kim Henderson and Alissa McCoy spoke during public comment, asking the board to reconsider its position on not awarding letter grades – a point of contention among high school parents and even among members of the ELPS School Board, as ELi has reported.
Henderson stated she had conducted an online survey among 170 high school parents, most of whom did not support the no-grade policy.
McCoy, whose son is a rising senior, said that her son had been working hard to raise his GPA to earn scholarships, but his GPA will not reflect that effort, potentially making him ineligible. Some board members responded that they would personally write letters of recommendation to try to help students who are losing scholarship eligibility through the no-grade policy.
In the qualitative comments on the survey, many parents reported that their high schoolers lacked the motivation to complete their work since they were not awarded grades. The only exceptions seem to have been with Advanced Placement (AP) classes. According to some parents, the looming exams that can help students earn college credit in high school provided motivation.
One parent said the policy was unfair to the teachers, who “worked very hard to communicate and set up online only to have few students participate.” The parent believed that grades could have been awarded “in a fair and equitable way.”
That said, the no-grade policy did have the support of several families. Several parents mentioned that due to illness or familial obligations, it would have been difficult to for their students to devote adequate time to their studies.
A handful of parents also supported the district’s equity goals in not awarding grades. One parent wrote that “an equitable learning environment” was not possible “while students are spread out into their many different home situations.” Despite student’s lack of motivation, that parent endorsed the district’s decision.
How much work should be expected?
The survey shows that parents are eager to see their children do more work and spend less time navigating multiple platforms to find their work.
Remembering passwords, locating assignments, downloading them, and uploading responses was one of the greatest challenges. ELPS administrators have already begun working to address this problem.
Many elementary and middle school parents noted that their children tended to complete their work for the entire week by midweek, if not by Monday afternoon. While some parents found themselves being disrupted while working from home by questions on schoolwork, others believed more schoolwork would keep their kids busy while parents worked.
Parents of younger students sometimes attempted a hybrid approach, having paper packets supplement online learning, but the online content did not always align with the printed activities and worksheets.
Anecdotal evidence suggests children took work more seriously from teachers than from parents.
Some families want to see recommendations for supplemental learning for the summer and additional work for quick workers, to keep them busy and learning more.
Those most troubled by the work being sent home were parents of English language learners and of students with Individualized Education Programs and 504 plans, since most assignments did not fit the students’ needs and learning styles.
Is Zoom fatigue real?
The majority of parents rated Zoom classes either “very helpful” or “somewhat helpful,” but the percentage of parents satisfied with Zoom meetings fell as students got older.
Forty-nine percent of elementary school parents found Zoom “very helpful” and 41 “somewhat helpful,” but only 25 percent of ELHS parents ranked Zoom “very helpful and 37 percent “somewhat helpful.”
More contact time between teachers and students has been requested by parents if students continue distance learning. Parents of younger students felt Zoom facilitated sociability, but middle school children were more likely to feel overwhelmed by Zoom, feeling awkward appearing on camera and providing a glimpse into their homes.
On the whole, parents preferred teachers’ Zoom lessons to being directed to YouTube or Khan Academy videos.
Some parents would like to see a more regimented schedule for course meetings, spending 30 minutes each day on each subject or devoting each day to 3 hours of intensive work on one subject. Parents are also hoping to see the use of individualized feedback, breakout rooms, small group discussions, and group projects, which are part of the usual curriculum.
Whose job is it anyway?
Parents’ comments regularly praised teachers, whether thanking the entire team or specific individuals, but the responses included isolated instances of teachers said to not be sending any work along.
Families also believe that certain elements of distance learning could be improved to permit learning at home while parents work. They would like to see work for the week released before Monday morning and to receive guidance on how parents should be involved in learning and a technology how-to guide.
Parents at the middle school level also felt they had not received proper information about paper packets. These parents had turned down the delivered packet option but later found themselves printing countless worksheets.
Several responders also mentioned that they hoped that ELPS would take them up on their sincere offers to provide technology and support to permit all students have access to all forms of learning.
The full School Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 22. The Policy Committee of the board meets today, Monday, June 15, starting at 3:30 pm. Find information about how to listen and comment at the meeting here.