MEA Survey: class sizes, testing and more needs to change for school in the fall

Officials recommend students wear face masks

LANSING, Mich. – More than 15,000 Michigan teachers and support staff weighed in, in a new survey from the Michigan Education Association, outlining how the coronavirus pandemic has affected schooling and what they think needs to happen in order to have classes resume in-person in the fall.

Educators said they were still concerned that at every grade level social distancing would be hard to do. The highest was in elementary schools where 97 percent of responders said it would be difficult to keep students socially distant.

READ: Ann Arbor Public Schools: Classes to start on Aug. 31

In addition, 90 percent said schools would need smaller class sizes. 89 percent said standardized testing should be suspended. Nearly two-thirds said there wouldn’t be enough staff for cleaning, food services and busses.

“Can you have every student outside for recess? Kindergarten through sixth grade on the same equipment, doing the same things and be socially distant? That will have to be discussed,” MEA president Paula Herbart said during a zoom press conference on Thursday.

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Any new changes would need new money, something the state superintendent said schools wouldn’t have this year after he announced a $2.4 billion drop in revenue. On top of that nearly a third of educators said they were either leaving or considering leaving the profession. 14 percent said they were unsure of their plans. All of it compounding Michigan’s ballooning teacher shortage.

“If all those people go through with it, hat is a significantly higher turnover than we experience based on the year to year churn,” MEA Dir. of Public Affairs Doug Pratt said on the call.

The MEA is also planning to lobby Congress and Legislative leaders for more funding, particularly through the CARES Act. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stressed the need for more flexibility in what the federal relief money can be spent on, including on education.

“We’re going to need federal dollars to supplement what Michigan cannot provide and so we’ve got an all-out blitz,” Herbart said.

The clock is ticking for many districts which have to finalize their budgets by the end of the month. Without direction from state or federal leaders it could very well leave districts and their students across the state in limbo.

There was also the question of whether students would show backsliding as a result of remote learning. Backsliding or learning loss, as it’s sometimes called, is how much knowledge a student loses, generally over the summer months. In the era of COVID-19, at home distraction and virtual lesson limitations could cause significant losses. It was among some of the top worries cited in the survey although the survey did not address internet access issues in low-income and rural portions of the state.

In an effort to combat that loss, Herbart said school districts could experiment with “looping” teachers, where educators follow students through grades so they know exactly how much or how little a student is grasping the material. There was also a suggestion of staggering class times or blending learning with some in-person and some remote. Both scored high with educators in the survey.

The survey now heads to the Governor’s School Reopening Task Force for review. The state budget deadline is this month.

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