Overcoming your Public’s Reasons Not to Return


When schools open to a hybrid learning model this Fall, many parents report that their children will not be returning. It is incumbent upon schools to not only provide a superior learning environment, but to be able to communicate that value to parents. In this episode of the Learning Counsel’s Dawn of New Strategies discussions, two leading California districts discuss their strategies for retaining their students during this time of pandemic recovery.

According to LeiLani Cauthen, CEO and Publisher at the Learning Counsel, “You'll see in the news media that there are a lot of parents who are afraid and are saying they don't want to come back. And then there are also a lot of parents who desperately want normal back. In the predicted op-out percentages from some surveys we have seen, around 40 percent of parents are saying they're likely to take up homeschool at some point. So here's the credibility behind some of that. Most of the companies in this space, digital curriculum, digital libraries of various things, have picked up substantial market share. A lot of them have picked up a million seats, 2 million seats practically overnight. The consumer market side has seen unbelievable growth. So, parents have been shopping and they're finding best in class. And they're saying to themselves, if they're that homeschooling type of parent, ‘I could put this together myself.’ There's also a tremendous amount of advertising by the online charter schools happening right now. And they're trying to lure away as many parents as they possibly can. So, these are the conundrums. Also, many parents are frustrated with how remote learning was done in some places. So there's a fear of loss of learning all the way around.

“My suggestion is start where you can and do what you can. Don't try to swallow it all at the same time. So, in terms of promoting your campus, there are the five areas the Learning Council has identified that are critical. Probably 65 to 70 percent of schools are still going to attempt the same model they've always have, which is a whole-group model. And so, you have to look at the technologies that allow you to socially distance on campus. And then the hands-on projects, PBL, that's a really attractive thing to draw back your homeschoolers to say, ‘I'm a parent, I'm not going to buy a $7,000 robot. I'm not going to buy those expensive microscopes That are plugged into laptops or telescopes and all the other science equipment. I need to send my kid to a place where he or she can be exposed to the things that I can't afford to do.’ And those things need to be marketed right now by schools.”

Dr. Michelle Rodriguez, Superintendent at Pajaro Valley Unified School District in California said, “We have really narrowed the number of applications, which we are supporting at a district level so that we can use it efficiently, effectively, and we can track progress of students. We were identified as one of five in the nation to be a pilot for the MAP Accelerator through Khan Academy. For mathematics, we are using ST Math. So, spatial, temporal, math as well through Mind Institute. The reason why those two are both important is that they have great dashboards for us to track redundancy of learning, which is important to me. And we're able to see progress towards grade level standards. In language arts, we use a combination of Footsteps to Brilliance, which is a community-wide program in English and Spanish and available to every single resident in our zip code. So we span five cities. So that is meant more for our younger students. And then we use Lexia Power Up and Achieve 3000 for the high school level for practice. We're able to really track the usage and be able to see what our students are using, how they're using it and how they're applying that learning through the use of Google Classroom.”

According to Cheryl Jordan, Superintendent at Milpitas Unified School District in California, “We had 96 percent of our elementary students engaged on average each week and 93 percent of our high school students. So that left about 550 students who were not regularly engaged during the week. What was holding that student back from being engaged? Those classes where they had the higher percentage of students engaged are the classrooms where teachers really took time to do asynchronous learning, meaning that they had their class with them for regular meetings live and connected with them in that way. Also, they did a lot of project-based learning and in some cases, even cross-grade or cross-curricular project-based learning opportunities so we're looking at how we could engage learners with learners and learners with teachers.”

Dr. Michelle Rodriguez said Pajaro Valley Unified School District is releasing their contingency plan, and a K-12 virtual academy is part of the package. “When I think about why parents want their children either to come or they're fearful of having their children come, there's a couple of things are a challenge to replicate within the virtual space. I do believe in personalized learning and also believe in 24/7 learning. There are four things that are a challenge to replicate. One is the relationship building. When we surveyed our parents, our students, our staff district-wide, no matter what type of stakeholder you are, their biggest challenge that they said that they had was feelings of isolation. The second one I think is in terms of authentically assessing children. So of course, our online platforms can assess children, but I think that there are many, many things that a test or a program cannot effectively evaluate. I think all of these things that I'm talking about are amplified when we're talking about our smallest of children that are five, six, seven years old. Third is regarding targeted instruction specifically in the area of foundational literacy. We did continue to do foundational literacy, small group instruction. We use steps for that, and it's a mastery-based program. But what we found is it's extremely challenging to provide corrective feedback to children virtually. And then from an older standpoint, we have what we call signature pathways here, which are linked to our college and career technical education. And whether it's agricultural science, where they're actually working with animals that are on our premises and the children, it's our biotech labs, those are hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of technology that we have within those classrooms and those labs or those outdoor structures that we could not replicate at home.”

Watch the video

Watch this fascinating discussion about communicating the value of in-place education. These districts have a lot to say about keeping their students, and you’ll want to gain insight for your own school or district.

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