Philadelphia Is Delaying Online Teaching for 7 Weeks. It Doesn't Have to.


On Friday, March 13, the college District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, announced it might close its schools to protect citizens in the novel coronavirus. A number of other districts closed round the same time. Many districts quickly mobilized to provide instruction online, however, many have struggled, citing equity issues.

Philadelphia is one of the largest examples. On the evening of Tuesday, March 17, each day . 5 after schools closed, two top district officials sent principals a memo proclaiming that, \”To ensure equity, remote instruction should not be presented to students, including through the internet, technology at home, by phone, or else.\” The memo attracted national coverage and criticism, together with a Twitter campaign titled #TeachOurKids.

Philadelphia's superintendent, William Hite, has since clarified and updated district policy several times, while insisting that Philadelphia's teachers cannot teach until all students can connect to the internet. Since schools closed on March, the only real education the district has provided includes \”optional Learning Guides (K-12)-offered for personal use\” and \”aligned to areas previously taught to students during this school year.\” The learning guides will not pay for new topics, and supervision is left to \”parents and caregivers.\” Teachers do not distribute or grade the training guides. They are offered as online PDFs, but printouts can be picked up at distribution sites.

On Thursday, March 26, the district approved an agenda to distribute as much as 50,000 laptops to students, or 40 % from the 124,000 students enrolled in district-managed schools. These purchases were subsidized with a $5 million donation through the CEO of Comcast, whose headquarters have been in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia School Partnership, also backed by private philanthropy, is purchasing another 15,000 laptops for college students in charter and parochial schools.

Distribution of laptops is anticipated to be more or less complete by in a few days, and students will log into Google Classroom on April 20. But even so, students will be still expected to work independently. Teachers will not start grading assignments until May 4-seven full weeks after schools closed. (One of those weeks was spring break.) The final scheduled school day is June 12, and the district currently has no plans to from the missed weeks by extending the college year.

News stories explaining Philadelphia's remote learning policy have repeatedly cited district data seeming to exhibit that about half its students lack internet access. But most data contradict time. The US Census Bureau's 2021 American Community Survey estimated that 80 % of homes in the Philadelphia school district were built with a internet broadband subscription, and 88 percent had a number of kinds of computer. Around the district's own survey of oldsters in 2021, 91 percent of respondents answered \”yes\” when asked, \”Do you have internet at home?\”

Estimates for Philadelphia aren't too much off national figures. A 2021 Pew survey discovered that 85 % of US households with school-age children had high-speed internet, including 65 percent of homes with school-age children and incomes under $30,000. In the School District of Philadelphia, median family income was $55,000 in 2021, and poor families have since 2011 been entitled to Comcast's Internet Essentials program, that provides high-speed broadband for $9.95 monthly and a computer for under $150. Comcast presenting 8 weeks of Internet Essentials for free, which would get students with the end from the school year.

So where did the district get the idea that half of students lack access? The claim that keeps getting repeated on television reports is the fact that \”only 45% of scholars in grades three through five accessed the web from the computer in your own home, in contrast to 56% in grades six through eight, and 58% for high school students.\” But where did those numbers originate from?

The source may be the district's 2021-19 survey of students which asked: \”How would you get on the internet?\” Students could choose among nine answers:

○ I don't continue the internet

○ In a library

○ Inside my school

○ At a community center

○ In a local computer lab

○ In an after school program

○ A computer at home

○ A smartphone or tablet

○ Other

The question is ambiguous. It does not directly address the question of access. The question asks how students typically got on the internet under ordinary circumstances. It doesn't ask how they could access the internet when they needed to-for example, throughout the present quarantine.

Across all grade levels, 51 percent of students checked the box indicating they sometimes got on the web from a computer in your own home. But it is unclear what that means. It doesn't mean what news reports imply-that only 51 percent of scholars had access to some home computer attached to the internet. Although students could check as many boxes as they desired to, with nine options there isn't any be certain that a student who used a home computer once in a while, or could when they required to, would make sure that box.

In addition, 70 percent of scholars checked the box indicating that they sometimes accessed the internet from a smartphone or tablet. It seems likely that certain or these two devices would be accessible in your own home, but it is hard to be sure. In addition, there's a huge difference between accessing the web from a tablet, which meets the district's requirements for remote learning, and accessing it from the smartphone, which would make remote instruction more difficult.

Because students could check more than one box, and because tablets and smartphones were lumped together, it is not clear out of this question how many students had use of home internet through a computer or tablet, because the district's remote learning policy requires. But it could easily be close to the 80 or 90 percent that other data sources suggest.

The student survey included as well an issue, that has not been publicized, asking \”How often would you search on the internet?\” 79 percent of students answered that they did so \”every day\” (63 percent) or \”almost every day\” (16 percent).

The district survey had further problems. The student response rate was 71 percent, and also the parent response rate was only 23 percent. By contrast, the American Community Survey has a 2021 response rate of 92 percent.

On balance, it seems likely that about 80 to 90 percent of Philadelphia students had home access to the internet when schools closed on March 16. The district is constantly on the deny those student instruction on equity grounds. For that majority of students, it seems the primary barrier to accessing online instruction isn't technology, but district policy.

It's unclear that denying instruction to most people are actually an equitable policy. The district's perception of equity appears to focus narrowly on equity within the district. But Philadelphians do not live in a bubble. When Philadelphia's students leave school, they will have to compete for jobs and college admissions with students from Philadelphia's suburbs and other cities. Many of those districts are beginning to provide online instruction without Philadelphia's qualms.

As long as Philadelphia denies its students online instruction, they'll get behind students using their company districts. What's equitable about this?

Philadelphia didn't have to stop its schools from offering online instruction in March. It could have allowed 80 to 90 percent of students to access instruction online, and taken care of the equity issues for the remaining 10 to 20 percent as it went. It could still do this. There isn't any compelling justification for withholding online teaching until May. And also the district should make up for lost time by extending the college year with the state limit of June 30.

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