Tag Archives: hybrid education

The Pandemic School Policy Power Differential

I recently realized that the delineation between remote, in-person, and hybrid instruction doesn’t always mean the same thing to parents, teachers, media, and the general public. I don’t know if that’s why a significant power imbalance never got much notice–well. Not notice as such. It got a lot of notice.

Take a look at this table of different instruction models by Edweek, from a November 2020 survey:

hybridmodmain

This is a survey of school districts, and if you add up similar models, 49% offer full-time instruction, 29% offer part-time in=person, and 17% offer remote only.

Notice I say “part-time in-person” when most would simply say “hybrid”. I used to as well–but the “hybrid” definition varies based on whether the focus is on parents or teachers.

Parents define school model based on where their kids are during class-time. Teachers define school model based on where all kids are during class-time.

So using the above table, parents who opted for full-time remote instruction would experience all except the third as full-time remote instruction. Parents who were offered the choice of in-person instruction and accepted it would describe the first and third as full-time, the second and fifth as “hybrid” because their kids were at home some days, at school others.

For a teacher, “hybrid” means they are teaching online and in-person simultaneously: “Roomies” and “Zoomies”. Teachers working in the first, second, and fifth structures would say they were teaching in “hybrid”, even though all the parents in those situations would describe the education as full-time (either remote or in-person).

This could explain why Martin West et al did a survey at roughly the same time and found very different numbers–or seemed to:

Our data reveal that more than half of U.S. students are receiving instruction entirely remotely this school year, while 28% of students receive instruction that is fully in person. Of the 19% of students in hybrid models, in-person instruction varies from one to five days a week.

Was one survey just wrong? Unlikely. Edweek’s  surveys are generally reliable. Martin West’s team surveys are the gold standard, as far as I’m concerned.

I think they’re both correct, but tracking different issues. Edweek is looking at what schools offer. West is looking at what parents accept. The West researchers make this clear later in the article:

As for the range of available choices, the parents of only 41% of students report that their child’s school offers a fully in-person option, suggesting that more than two-thirds of students who were presented that option took it. The parents of 48% of students say that their child has a hybrid option, and the parents of 77% say that their child can attend fully online.

The Edweek graph doesn’t make this as explicit, because different rows are counted in more than one category. All but one of the described options includes full-time remote–and it wouldn’t surprise me if at least of those 100% in-person districts didn’t offer remote. While it’s not mentioned, most schools offering part-time inperson classes had Schedule A, B, and C, with A and B as the alternating schedules and C (or R) as full-time remote.

So once the Edweek values are totalled to include all options available to parents, the comparison looks more like this:

Option Edweek West et. al
Fulltime 49% (34+15) 41%
Hybrid 29% (20+9) 48
Remote 85% (100-15) 77%

Much closer, if not perfect. (Edweek is tracking districts while West is tracking parents, so it’s an imperfect comparison anyway.)

So overwhelmingly, parents had the option to remote instruction if they wanted, but far fewer parents had access to any kind of in-person instruction.

Remember, parents themselves were the primary drivers in determining whether school districts offered in-person instruction (hybrid or full-time being determined by the governor’s choice to follow CDC strictures). So a district decision was primarily influenced by parental majority.

But parents with the minority preference got wildly different treatment depending on which option won.

In rare cases, districts discontinued remote because so few students wanted it and were doing badly to boot; all of these districts seem to be in Texas (e.g., Blanco Independent District). But even when a district refused to continue offering remote, the parents  were supported–allowed to go to another district, hooked up with a virtual charter. Still, schools refusing to accommodate remote instruction were very much the exception.

This is supported by the West survey:

The parents of 84% and 89% of those being taught in the in-person and hybrid models, respectively, say they have a choice in the matter, but parents of only 60% of the fully remote children say they have an option for their children to receive instruction in a different way.

In contrast, parents who wanted in-person schooling in a remote-only district were generally ignored. Overwhelmingly, these parents were in blue states where the governor had insisted on following CDC guidelines, making part-time in-person with full-time remote available the only in-person option.

Why the disparate treatment? Why were parents wanting given remote catered to, while parents wanting in-person were ignored?

Well, for starters, the particular form of hybrid that the CDC regulations required is uniquely horrible.  Michael Pershan’s excellent article does the best at explaining why this form of instruction is terrible for teachers.  I recently described the additional complications that principals faced when their school offered any form of in-person instruction, whether hybrid or full-time.

The West survey and others show that parents didn’t noticeably prefer hybrid to remote.

Many central Florida schools had under half their students showing up for in-person instruction. The teachers’ lives sound miserable, but manageable, and many districts paid teachers more for hybrid. Most importantly, parents were given equal treatment.  But remember, Florida schools were 100% in-person, so even if only fifteen students came to class every day, it’s enough of a classroom experience to be worth it.

That scenario wasn’t the case in many other districts in blue states. The students were forced into alternate day scenario if the state was complying with CDC guidelines.  Moreover, far fewer  parents in these non-white districts were interested in in-person instruction–far fewer, even, than the numbers voting for it.

For example, my district’s survey showed about a third of parents wanted in-person instruction in a late winter survey.

(So first of all, if you are like me and think in-person instruction should have been the norm from the beginning, take a second to stop and think about that. Two-thirds of the parents of a very large district, with all the information they had about the low risk levels for young people, having been stuck in remote for months, voted for continued remote instruction. Realize that my district, close to 90% non-white, is typical of other majority non-white districts and then consider how many majority non-white districts there are. Then perhaps you will think twice about “blame” for remote education.)

When the district asked for signups to get schedules started, just ten percent signed up. That’s maybe 2-3 students per class.   Those are numbers that reasonably cause districts to decide it’s not worth the effort to move out of hybrid, even if it was unfair to the tiny number of parents who wanted it.

So there were reasons why districts didn’t support parents who wanted in-person instruction in high majority remote districts. It’s still unfair. It’s still disparate treatment.

But here’s the part that’s puzzling me: I don’t recall a single parent, much less parent organization, point out this inequity and ask for redress.

Here’s what I mean:

Virginia tracked its counties, which correspond almost exactly to districts, and their education model as of late September 2020. I’ve marked two counties that offered full-time instruction from the beginning of the school year, and two who were almost entirely remote through at least January 2021;.  VASchoolsRemote

Tazewell and Hanover are labeled full-time, but both counties allowed parents to opt for full-time remote education in their local school–oh, hey, see the note at the bottom of the map? All VA districts offered family a remote option. Loudon and Fairfax were full-time remote. There is no note on the bottom of the map saying that all VA districts offered family an in-person option.

But I don’t remember a single Fairfax or Loudon parent asking why they weren’t given the same consideration as the remote parents in Tazewell and Hanover.

Why did no Fairfax or Loudon parent sue the districts and demand equal treatment? Where were their lawyer representatives on Tucker arguing that parents in the minority should both get their choice of instruction? Where were parents with placards saying “GIVE US EQUAL RIGHTS!”

This seems the logical strategy. It might not have worked, but it’s….American.

These parents didn’t suffer in silence, of course. But their strategy was stupid!  They insisted on in-person instruction as logical, “following the science”. They demanded open schools as the only response.  They didn’t appeal for equal rights, they demanded their schools submit.  They argued that their need was oppression, a clear-cut case of government misuse of power. These parents insisted they were acting not just for their own needs but representing countless black and Hispanic children who were being devastated by closed schools and remote instruction.

But in fact, the schools were responding to the demands of the majority–among whom were most of the black and Hispanic children the in-person parents claimed to speak for. (Asians, too, but you know, they’re always left out of the discussion.)

Thousands of Twitter debates with these angry folks has convinced me they were all utterly clueless of their minority status. They didn’t see themselves as a minority. They couldn’t even conceive of the idea. Even today, most people talking about “closed schools and the damage done to our poorest children” are still ignorant of the irony: huge majorities of non-white kids had parents who wanted remote and got their wish.

Surveys repeatedly reveal that 70% or more of parents are satisfied with their schools’ responses to the pandemic. The Understanding America survey is one of a number of surveys showing that just 15% of parents wanted in-person instruction that their schools didn’t offer.

Fifteen percent.

A very loud fifteen percent.

A very white fifteen percent.

A very loud, very white fifteen percent that are, to this day, unaware they weren’t outraged on behalf of an oppressed majority.

This ignorance cost them any hope of victory. I don’t know if an equal treatment argument would have prevailed in court, but at least it would have been an argument that made sense. A quest for equity might have yielded some solutions. Maybe the district could have had one or two in-person schools and assigned willing teachers. (Sure, that would have incurred union pushback, but think of that argument: “the union is blocking willing teachers from supporting a  minority!” Much more effective than blaming unions for all closed schools, since the decisionmakers knew otherwise.)

But they couldn’t see past their bubbles. Most of the parents whose kids were trapped in remote live in highly diverse areas–but enclaved enough that they only think white. Everyone they knew–Republicans, even!–agreed with them. So instead of asking for equal rights, they screamed about government oppression.

Keep in mind: I wanted these parents to win. And yet I found their willful ignorance appalling. So ultimately, despite the power differential, I find it hard to be sympathetic.

Except… the other side was just as bad! Progressives (and here I include teacher union leadership) were dogmatic and obnoxious. Only MAGA delusionals could possibly want in-person instruction. Reasonable, responsible, intelligent parents would understand in-person instruction was too unsafe for at risk individuals. Selfish parents who don’t value the well-being of the community are unworthy of support.

Of course, most of the arguments in the media were between white people–white parents and white progressives opposing them. The non-white parents whose preferences were keeping schools closed didn’t often participate in these debates. No need to. They had what they wanted. Like most public debate, the battle to get out of remote instruction was conducted white on white.

Make of that what you will.