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Wednesday  •  April 22, 2020

Increased Concerns about HCPSS’ Lagging Continuity of Learning Plan

By Steven Keller

As discussed in a previous post, HCPSS’ Continuity of Learning Plan started with some early warning signsNow, Montgomery County School System (MCPS) parents & teachers have indicated that their elementary students are able to receive approximately 30-60 minutes of live-streamed teacher/classroom instruction daily. At this time, HCPSS formally plans on only 15-20 minutes per week of live “check-in” with teachers & classmates for their elementary students.
Let me repeat:
MCPS = 30-60 minutes per DAY

HCPSS = 15-20 minutes per WEEK.


15-20 minutes versus 150-300 minutes per week for live interaction with teachers & classmates. An order of magnitude difference.


Anne Arundel School System apparently also includes 1-2 hours of live interaction between students & their teachers daily.

The current HCPSS plan alternates weekly 15-20 live interaction every other week between their main teacher and math teacher. This means that each month, HCPSS elementary students will have 30-40 minutes of live-streamed time with their main teachers versus 600-1200 minutes that students in other counties.


While HCPSS is relying on 1.5-2 hours of asynchronous activities & pre-recorded videos alone for daily curriculum, other counties are doing comparable 1.5-2 hrs of asynchronous activities & videos in addition to 30-60 minutes per day of live interaction between students & their teachers. The same disparity holds true for comparisons between HCPSS and many other high-quality school systems around the country.

For the case of MCPS, while teachers are not required to provide a set amount of live-streamed time for students & teachers to interact, their policy seems to have kept things flexible and have *empowered* their teachers to choose an appropriate amount of time daily & weekly for live “virtual classroom” and “office hours” interaction.

For MCPS, this is up to 240 minutes daily between asynchronous videos & activities and live-streamed interaction time . None have chosen to provide 240 hours of live-streamed time, since that would be way too much for teachers, students & parents, but teachers & parents that have shared their experience from this school system have indicated that ~30-60 minutes is the typical daily amount of time allotted for the students to be able to interact with their teachers, since teachers are given this flexibility.


How are MCPS, Anne Arundel and other school systems able to provide this flexibility to their teachers while still aligning with FAPE policies yet HCPSS must restrict their teachers to 20 minutes or less weekly?


MCPS had their live classroom orientations for Elementary students on Thursday April 2 and first real session on Friday April 3.  HCPSS is only now having their distance learning orientation for elementary students on April 22, ~3 weeks later than Montgomery County and many other school systems.


Some who have criticized these comparisons claim that the significantly delayed start date by HCPSS is necessary to avoid disastrous rollouts that certain school systems have seen (such as Fairfax County) and that it’s very hard to judge and compare successful results between Distance Learning programs.


While we may not be able to judge exact quality differences for Distance Learning programs between HCPSS & other school systems, the difference is clear both in start date (3+ weeks later than many other school systems) and amount of planned live weekly instruction time (a full order of magnitude less time spent live with teachers & classmates each week). Is there some benefit to significantly less interaction with teachers & classmates that?


For one of the most expensive and supposedly one of the top rated school systems in the country, this is a concerning disparity that clearly stems from executive leadership decisions & oversights made by Superintendent Martirano both before and during this crisis.


Some have claimed that to challenge the leadership decisions that have lead to this Distance Learning disparity between HCPSS and other high-quality school systems is an insult to the extremely passionate & hard working HCPSS teachers & staff. Let me be clear: I personally believe that the teachers and staff have been doing an amazing job throughout this crisis and that they deserve bonuses and absolutely no criticism.


With better top-level leadership, the passion, hard work and sacrifices demonstrated by our dedicated teachers & staff could have been much better and more efficiently channeled towards our students during this extraordinary time. That cannot be overlooked if we are serious about improving and maintaining the long-term excellence of HCPSS, particularly if this crisis extends into the 2020-2021 school year.

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