Teachers give School Board an earful about online instruction

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Posted September 25, 2020 | By Brad Rogers, Executive Editor

Two middle school civics teachers told the Marion County School Board Tuesday night that its online instructional platform is failing, and so are most of their students enrolled in MCSPOnline.

Terry Kinder, who last week had an open letter to the School Board addressing the technology problems published in the Gazette, told board members that both teachers and students are failing because they spend so much class time dealing with technology issues.

“I work really hard to try and make my kids understand our content, and I’ve never felt like more of a failure,” said Kinder, who is a civics teacher at Belleview Middle School.

The 2014 Golden Apple nominee said she spends more than half of her 110-minute classes addressing technology issues. The result, she said, is that 50 percent of her online student are currently failing – and that is after she has had make-up days to help the students catch up with work they have missed. She said in a normal school year, about four of her students fail.

“This method is not working for my students,” she lamented, adding that her online classes move “at half the pace of in-person classes.”

Kinder suggested the board place an IT support person in each school, although she acknowledged it was “a big ask.” As for the existing tech support line that the school system provides to students and parents, she said, “Our students and their parents do not find the tech support line as helpful as you think. I know this because they tell me in my meetings, usually with a few explicit terms thrown in.”

School Board Chairman the Rev. Eric Cummings kept Kinder at the podium while he addressed her concerns. He explained that he had spent a number of days sitting on the student side of the computer as well as several more days observing from the teachers’ side.

“I’m telling you, I’ve done this for three or four days and it’s very frustrating,” he said.

Cummings said he watched one teacher try to teach students a worksheet with five or six questions and it took 40 minutes because of the repeated technology issues. Sometimes, he added, the program would kick a student out, and they either could not get back online or simply did not sign back on.

A second Belleview Middle civics teacher, Cheryl Lindstrom, spoke to the board after Linder. Lindstrom addressed the problems MCPSOnline poses to testing because teachers have no way of seeing all their students or what they are doing at home while being tested.

Lindstrom echoed Kinder’s assessment that teachers spend “the majority of our time” dealing with the technology issues or online textbook issues, but her bigger point was that all county assessment tests should be suspended until school returns to normal.

“Secure online testing is an oxymoron,” she said, adding that a teacher does not know what other devices a student is accessing while being tested. “It’s not a secure platform … All of this is absurd. How can we do this? The data won’t be valid.”

“I wonder why we are doing any county testing in a pandemic. What data do you need? A baseline for where students are? How much learning was lost (at the end of last year)? Teachers already know.”

Cummings was vocal about the need to get teachers support and relief.

“I promise you, I am hearing the same concerns at other schools,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Diane Gullett she is “not satisfied we have solved all the issues” and said she was planning to establish a task force of teachers and IT personnel to get the kinks out of the platform. She asked Kinder to serve on that committee.

Board members praised Kinder and Lindstrom for “being brave” and appearing before them to express their concerns saying they cannot address problems in the schools if teachers will not step forward.

“You being here is helping us create the new pathway forward,” board member Nancy Thrower said.

Board member Kelly King said she found Kinder’s 50 percent failure rate “alarming,” to which Kinder replied, “It’s alarming to me, too. I cry daily.”

In addition to the task force, Gullett said she planned to do a survey of teachers to get their suggestions for fixing the problems. Cummings quickly jumped in and told the superintendent he did not want the survey to be online – because teachers, he said, would not be as candid – and asked that suggestion boxes be set up in each school where teachers could submit written suggestions anonymously, if they want.

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