NEW YORK - Students who opt to return to city schools in-person part time will no longer be guaranteed live instruction on the days they’re learning remotely from home, a last-minute shift aimed at helping alleviate a massive staffing shortage faced by public schools trying to roll out so-called “blended learning.”
But the change is likely to frustrate some families. Some students in more crowded schools already will only be able to attend in person once a week. Without live instruction on their remote days, they could spend four days a week without any real-time interaction with their teachers.
Blended learning means students attend school in person and remotely on alternating days in order to shrink class sizes for safety. The Education Department had initially promised that on their remote days, those blended students would receive a minimum number of minutes of “synchronous instruction," teaching where students and teachers are interacting in real time, such as via video chat in Google Classroom or on Zoom.
But on Tuesday night, just hours before students are set to log on and meet their teachers remotely for the first time, the DOE issued new guidance offering principals “flexibility” in providing synchronous instruction to blended students, and removing the requirements to offer any number of minutes of live teaching to them.
Students enrolled in fully remote instruction will still receive the minimum amount of live instruction outlined earlier this summer.
The change comes as principals were scrambling to find enough staff so that one teacher could be with the segment of blended learning students attending in person while another could offer live teaching online to those at home. While the city has promised 2,000 extra teachers, principals have said it isn’t close to enough.
No longer requiring live instruction for blended learning students on their remote days means schools won’t need to find a second teacher to provide it, though the department says their goal is to ramp up staffing to allow that in the future.
“We continue to emphasize flexibility and patience while putting health and safety first and this week we took an important step committing to an additional 2,000 staff members in schools. As we continue to add staff to buildings that need it, synchronous learning for remote students in schools will increase in frequency and our goal is to do this as quickly as possible. Blended students will continue to have the benefit of live, full day, in-person instruction each week,” DOE spokeswoman Danielle Filson said.
Schools that do have enough staff to offer live instruction to blended students on their remote days can do so. They can also offer the equivalent amount of minutes originally planned over the course of a week, rather than spread out across each day students are remote.
The city says blended learning students will still be provided with instruction on their days working from home, and that even if it is asynchronous, it will still be rigorous. But the city had touted its plans to provide more live instruction as an improvement over the remote learning put in place in a hurry last March, which many parents found sorely lacking. It remains to be seen whether the change will push some parents to abandon blended learning, and its back-and-forth schedules, in favor of the more steady fully remote learning plan and its daily live instruction.
During de Blasio's daily press briefing Wednesday, Chancellor Richard Carranza addressed concerns by applauding the DOE for providing teachers and families continuous updates on policy changes.
"We're being transparant," Carranza said. "You're almost darned if you do and darned if you don't."