MTA President Merrie Najimy and Vice President Max Page issued the following memo on April 28, 2020:
As many of you know, late on Friday evening DESE released a new set of guidance on remote learning titled Strengthening Our Remote Learning Experience.
Unlike for the first round of guidance, this time around the MTA was not asked to sign on to the guidance, nor have we endorsed it. The biggest change is that DESE is now asking districts to cover new content that is focused “on those standards that are the most critical prerequisites for student success in the next grade.” This is a complicated issue that raises ongoing equity concerns about how teaching new content will impact students who are not able to engage effectively — or at all — with online learning.
Support for MTA Members
At the MTA, we are increasing our efforts to find out from members what is working, what isn’t, and what additional support educators need from their districts and their union. To that end:
- We held a Facebook Live event on the topic of remote learning on Sunday evening and will be holding more on this issue.
- We are developing a member survey on the issue that we will distribute soon.
- MTA’s Division of Training and Professional Learning is developing a slate of virtual programs for members, including webinars on a variety of topics and online opportunities to earn Special Education and English Learner PDPs.
- Members are encouraged to share their stories about online learning and member outreach to the community on our website at https://massteacher.org/coronastories.
- We encourage local leaders and individual members to exchange ideas on this issue in one of our education communities. We now have three communities: one for all members, one for higher education members, and one for presidents. If you haven’t joined the presidents’ group yet, you can do so by creating an account at myNEA360.org. Once you receive an email confirmation, log in and search for “MTA Local Presidents.” Join by clicking on the button (+ Ask to join).
An overarching concern about the document is that it has not been informed by educators’ actual experiences. We are hearing from more and more members that remote instruction is extremely challenging for students, families and educators alike. New guidance is only welcome if it makes the experience easier and more meaningful — not if it adds to the overload that so many are feeling.
This line in the guidance is critically important: “We want to again emphasize that the recommendations in this document are guidance, and we appreciate the important role that local context must play in remote learning programs.” In other words, this guidance contains recommendations, not mandates. In that spirit, we encourage local education unions and districts to consider this guidance and, especially, their own experiences to date, in deciding whether and how to change what they are already doing to meet the needs of their students. We cannot lose sight of the fact that learning cannot take place if our students’ social and emotional needs are not being met.
In other news, this morning, April 28, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education took a positive step by voting to waive the MCAS-based competency determination requirement for this year’s seniors, as the MTA has advocated. The department will set up a process under which students who have met local requirements, including passing courses related to the subjects and standards measured by those MCAS tests, will be given a diploma. This will enable about 1,000 students who otherwise would be given a meaningless “certificate of attainment” to receive an actual diploma.
That’s a silver lining, but the challenges ahead of us are still huge. One thing this shutdown has proven is that in-person human interaction at both the preK-through-12 and higher education levels is a critically important part of the education experience. Online learning just isn’t the same — and it isn’t as good. It has also proven that even under extremely difficult circumstances, our members rise to the occasion, doing their very best to meet their students’ needs under adverse conditions. Thank you for all you do.
We encourage local education unions and districts to consider this guidance and, especially, their own experiences, in deciding whether and how to change what they are already doing to meet the needs of their students.
Download Newest DESE Guidance
The following is the text of the April 24, 2020 update from Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley & the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education:
Updated Remote Learning Guidance
Dear Superintendents, Charter School Leaders, Assistant Superintendents, Principals, and Collaborative Leaders,
On Tuesday, April 21, when Governor Baker announced that schools would remain closed through the end of the academic year, I said that we would issue additional guidance on remote learning. That guidance is attached to this email.
It builds on the initial guidance released on March 26, with a deeper focus on two areas:
- Further defining the recommended elements of a quality remote learning program, including a focus on teaching the content standards most critical for student success in the next grade level, and
- Encouraging districts to move all students towards successful engagement in remote learning, with a focus on addressing fundamental needs.
While we are not expecting teachers to cover all grade level standards this year, we are now asking you to go further than before. We think a focus on the prerequisite standards most critical to student success in the next school year, coupled with increased attention to student engagement, will best support our students’ learning.
Jeffrey C. Riley
These are all Microsoft Word documents.