Schools, unions leave parents in dark

Shot of a man using his laptop while sitting with his son

Online learning plans up in air

A week before some California districts start school, many parents remain in the dark about what online learning will look like as teachers unions and districts negotiate instruction plans — in some cases behind closed doors.

Major points of contention include the length of teacher workdays and the amount of live instruction teachers should provide students — decisions the state left up to each district.

In Los Angeles Unified, for example, the district wants teachers to work 7.5 hours a day, while the union has proposed a shorter workday for flexibility and planning purposes. And in Oakland Unified, labor leaders are calling for a maximum of two hours of daily live instruction, but district officials are pushing for more.

The result is likely to be a patchwork of uneven and inconsistent policies across the state that education experts say will leave the most vulnerable students behind.

“The state really does have a responsibility here to set some minimums. … It’s concerning that some districts are doing so much more and others are limiting.”

Ted Lempert, president of research and advocacy organization Children Now

San Diego Unified, for example, recently announced a tentative district-union agreement that calls for up to three hours of daily live instruction and full teacher workdays, while nearby Sweetwater Union High School district will offer between 1.5 and 2.25 hours of daily live instruction.

But some experts caution that too much live instruction will lead to “Zoom gloom,” hampering students’ ability to retain information.

“If you are sitting there with a group of 30 other people listening to one person talk, you can imagine how long you can pay attention. I do not want my children to be asked to pay attention on Zoom for five hours with a break for lunch.”

Alix Gallagher, a researcher at Stanford’s Policy Analysis for California Education

The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 509,162 confirmed coronavirus cases and 9,356 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters is tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

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