Yesterday, my local school district hosted a virtual “Community Chat on the Reopening of Schools” for parents. 

Aside from a June survey, this “chat” is the school district’s only formal outreach to parents on the subject of reopening schools. Sadly, this leaves the school district very little time to consider the wishes of parents or the innovative ideas those parents might bring to the table. Perhaps that’s the point.

The delay in outreach was clear when the Superintendent admitted he had no idea parents had been hiring tutors to supplement their children’s learning during the shut down. He said:

“I didn’t know that we had, um, families out there having these learning circles and they’re paying people to do classes. Families shouldn’t have to do that, right?”

This is why it’s critical to have regular conversations with parents early on—not in late July, when new information only complicates the already rolling planning process. 

Yet, the Superintendent was correct when he said families shouldn’t have to pay for tutors and teachers. Instead, the school district should be paying by providing vouchers to parents to supplement the cost of this teaching assistance—especially for parents who live at or under the poverty line and likely have little job flexibility, parents who want to keep their kids home due to fears of Covid-19 exposure, and for parents of special needs kids or gifted kids. 

These days, parents aren’t hiring tutors because they’re type-A overachievers who want their kids to get into Harvard. Parents are hiring tutors simply to help their kids stay at grade level and learn a minimum amount under extremely difficult circumstances. Why should this only be an option for middle class and rich parents?

Perhaps the clearest example of why parent input is so important came when, during the online chat, the Superintendent, without a hint of self awareness, explained that his son’s teachers did a great job communicating with him during the shut down. Parents watching might have wondered: Does it occur to him that these teachers know he’s the Superintendent–their boss? 

Most other parents weren’t so lucky on the communications front and had to get by figuring things out on their own (which I detailed in this article). 

And the communications problems didn’t stop once school was out. When grades were sent out by regular mail in July, parents received a blank report card with no grades and no commentary from the teachers. Nothing! Not even short notes of encouragement from teachers in the comment section of the report card. No “keep up the hard work,” or “I know you tried really hard and I’m proud of you!” Teachers couldn’t even muster up a simple “good job,” which would have gone a long way to make kids feel like they’d accomplished something under very difficult circumstances. And for a school district that prides itself on being environmentally aware, it is irresponsible to send thousands of blank paper-based report cards home to families. What’s the point? 

Most parents feel like their kids are struggling with online-only schooling and would benefit from some form of in-person instruction, smaller-group learning environments (both online and in-person), actual teacher-led instruction instead of online videos, and low-tech options that limit screen time. Kids also need structure, schedules, and to be graded so that they have goals and accountability. 

Many of the parents I’ve spoken to tell me that their kids just simply gave up when they learned they weren’t being graded (as most teachers informed them early on). Tutors can provide goal-oriented instruction. They can grade worksheets in real time or do screen sharing, which is a great online strategy that feels more personalized. If necessary, tutors can offer in-person, though still socially distant instruction for kids that do better in that format. And tutors, who are paid by the parent, will obviously communicate better with the person paying them! 

These are all issues my city’s school district should have considered early on. But they didn’t. And it will harm kids.