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What Big Changes The Pandemic May Bring To School Classrooms

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Summer vacation for most schools is just beginning, but districts around the country are trying to figure out how they will reopen. And there are some big changes coming - things like smaller class sizes, staggered schedules and online learning blending with in-person learning. NPR's Anya Kamenetz has been talking to people who say school districts and parents should take this opportunity to go in even more radical directions. Anya joins us now.

Hey.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what does radical mean in this context?

KAMENETZ: So we're at this point where some really, really big changes are already baked in, right? And at the same time, there is a massive potential budget shortfall in public schools with state...

CHANG: Right.

KAMENETZ: ...And local budgets being what they are, right? So the question is, can you improve learning and also social and emotional outcomes without spending too much money to do it? And one example I found is parent coaching.

CHANG: Parent coaching - OK. Tell us more about that.

KAMENETZ: So this spring, according to the Census Bureau, parents spent already about 13 hours a week assisting their children with this emergency...

CHANG: Wow.

KAMENETZ: ...Remote learning. And this is likely to continue to some extent in the fall because of these learning - blended learning schedules, right? And you know, this is a massive source of inequity because parents have widely ranging amounts of time, energy, education, preparation. So the question is, could we help all parents teach their kids better?

ALEJANDRO GIBES DE GAC: Until we support and equip families in their child's learning journey, we're not going to make meaningful progress toward addressing educational inequity in America.

KAMENETZ: So that's Alejandro Gibes de Gac. He's the founder of Springboard Collaborative, which is a nonprofit that coaches family members - mostly low-income immigrant families - to help children (unintelligible) their reading. And they have found that the students make really great strides even when the parents can't read the text that the child is holding. And so right now in the pandemic, Springboard is partnering with Teach for America so that thousands of their new recruits are going to be working remotely right now to coach parents to in turn become reading coaches for their kids.

CHANG: Wow. OK. So people are trying to figure out ways to support learning going forward. But what about this thing we keep hearing about - the COVID slide? Are there any ideas to help students catch up?

KAMENETZ: Yes. So remember, there was no state standardized testing this year. And so school districts are kind of flying blind. They know that kids are coming back at very different places. But how do you figure out where they are and help them catch up? So I talked to Sal Khan. He's the founder of Khan Academy, which is a free online platform with math and other lessons. As you can imagine, they've had an explosion of use - 80 to 90 million minutes a day on their platform, around 30 million students. Yeah.

And so what's exciting to Khan now is that they're building what they're calling ready-for-grade-level courses. And so they're kind of combining assessment with remediation. So without taking too much time, you can figure out where the kids are and also help them practice the stuff that they missed.

CHANG: OK. So a lot of ideas circulating out there, but are you hearing anything that's actually outside the box?

KAMENETZ: I have, Ailsa. You know, in recent years, about 3% of American children have been home-schooled - a pretty small number. But with the pandemic going on, a recent USA Today/Ipsos poll found 60% of parents say they're likely to continue with home-based learning in some form. And you know, if you think about it, like where my kids are in New York City, they're talking about staggered schedules - maybe one week on, one week off.

So there's the question. What do you do with the kids the rest of the time? And parents are looking at things like micro-schooling - you know, hiring a teacher, having a one-room schoolhouse or teaming up with other families, forming a home school co-op.

I talked to Krystal Dillard. She's the director of Natural Creativity, which is a resource center for home-schooled kids that serves a really diverse community in Philadelphia. And you know, it's a pretty radical approach. So students are self-directed. They design their own learning plans. There's no set curriculum. And she says that during these school shutdowns, she's hearing from more and more new parents who haven't considered this option before. But they've been reaching out to her to say...

KRYSTAL DILLARD: This isn't working. This is not working. And I don't feel that my young person is being served through this virtual learning world that they're sort of being forced into.

KAMENETZ: So circumstances are really making a lot of families think about trying something that's really, really different from what they've done before.

CHANG: That is NPR's Anya Kamenetz.

Thank you, Anya.

KAMENETZ: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.