MTA: New regulations are ‘a bean-counting exercise in compliance’

MTA: New regulations are ‘a bean-counting exercise in compliance’

MTA President Merrie Najimy issued the following statement on new time-on-learning regulations following today’s vote by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education:

We strongly oppose today’s 7-to-4 vote by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve new time-on-learning regulations despite opposition from educators and superintendents alike. These regulations wrongly emphasize quantity of instruction over quality, to the detriment of our students.

They are a bean-counting exercise in compliance, not a coherent strategy for ensuring equity and improving students’ mental health.

The rationale offered for these regulations is to address student mental health problems. Student mental health is a serious concern that we all share. From the start of the pandemic, when we worked with DESE to write the first round of March 2020 guidance, we insisted that the highest priority has to be the social, emotional and mental health of students. We’ve been calling for the necessary resources ever since. Unfortunately, these regulations do not address mental health issues at all; they simply require more full-class synchronous instructional time.

If Commissioner Jeffrey Riley had consulted with educators and their unions before proposing these regulations, he would have heard how they would disrupt months of local negotiations and frequently recalibrated plans – plans that are thoughtfully designed to support and educate students. He would have heard educators calling for DESE to advocate for more resources rather than imposing more mandates on resource-poor districts. He also would have learned what these regulations would actually look like in our public schools.

Affected remote districts would have to increase their hours of full-class instruction, which means more Zoom-style meetings. There is a large body of research about how too much screen time is detrimental to young children. Educators also know that too much Zoom time is counterproductive for students of all ages. Students often turn off their cameras as the day goes on, literally disconnecting from the classroom, their teachers and their peers. In addition, more full-class instruction would take time away from existing individual and small-group engagement – the kind of authentic engagement that better connects educators to students who are struggling. We know that students of color, those in low-income communities and students with disabilities are struggling more now than in normal times and have an even greater need for individualized attention. More large-group screen time is not the solution.

Affected hybrid-model districts would have to require more educators to teach students in person and remotely simultaneously, as some are already doing. Under this model, teachers are unable to give their undivided attention to either group. Only a significant increase in staff in these districts would enable them to meet these requirements without requiring them to divide their attention in this way.

We must prioritize in-person education under safe conditions. Right now, internal and external conditions in too many districts don’t make in-person learning possible. Instead of imposing new top-down mandates, the commissioner should be using all of his influence to advocate for the resources needed to make our schools safer so that we can increase in-person learning as the COVID-19 numbers decline, thanks to the vaccine. To make it to the end of the pandemic, we need the commissioner to:

  • Support surveillance testing in all of our schools, not just in a handful of wealthy districts.
  • Advocate for Student Opportunity Act funding and other state resources so that districts can increase staffing and provide adequate counseling and enrichment programs – services that directly impact student mental health.
  • Consult with educators about how to provide quality instruction and connection, and not just track the quantity.