Portland’s Public School teachers are getting pushback for their ‘self-taught Friday’ pitch – where high schoolers would complete school work from home while teachers get the next week’s lesson plans together to combat educators’ burn out – as the proposal is negotiated.
Under the bargaining agreement proposed by the Portland Association of Teachers on Monday afternoon, high school teachers would spend half of each Friday offering one-on-one and small group instruction and the other half of the day preparing for the next week. As teachers prepare, students would use reading and instructional material posted online to teach themselves.
Meanwhile, elementary and middle schoolers would go to school two hours late or be sent home two hours early, the union suggested, coinciding the timing with the high schoolers’ remote days so teens could babysit their younger siblings in the process.
Negotiations between the teacher’s union and the district, which also include a reduction of unnecessary staff meetings and a postponement of teacher evaluations until the next school year, are expected to be finalized before the Christmas holiday.
District officials estimate that, in total, the proposal would cut 10 in-person days from elementary and middle schoolers’ academic year and 20 from high schoolers.
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Shawn Bird (left), the Portland School District’s deputy superintendent for instruction, said that ‘converting in-person instruction to asynchronous time may create inequities as we believe direct contact with teachers is the most beneficial for our students.’ But teachers like Steve Lancaster (right) say that teachers are burnt out, and something has to give
Negotiations between the teacher’s union and the district, which also include a reduction of unnecessary staff meetings and a postponement of teacher evaluations until the next school year, are expected to be finalized before the Christmas holiday
Rowan Whitcomb, an educator whose daughter attends the Metropolitan Learning Center in Portland, told DailyMail.com he was ‘completely in support’ of a self-taught Friday. An alternative school, the Metropolitan Learning Center already has half days on Fridays.
‘In looking at the staffing shortages in schools right now I honestly do not believe that removing a day of in-school learning could possibly have a greater negative impact than the lack of substitute teachers, lunch and break supervision, planning time, and support services is having on our children,’ Whitcomb told DailyMail.com.
‘The only reason parents believe that students need more classroom time is because our labor laws claim that adults must work 40 hours a week for no logical reason and public schools are treated like state funded childcare.’
Portland substitute teacher Lara Jones told DailyMail.com that charter and alternative schools – which she said serve as ‘incubators for new best practice models,’ have had success with similar strategies.
‘Metropolitan Learning Center enjoys half-day Fridays for all the lower grades,’ she said. ‘Charters often have half-day options because a specific focus or pedagogy requires staff to plan and provide experiential experiences to students as part of their specific missions.’
But district officials are skeptical that the initiative would be helpful, if not outright detrimental, to students whose educations have suffered from more than 300 days of remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Converting in-person instruction to asynchronous time may create inequities as we believe direct contact with teachers is the most beneficial for our students, particularly since they were in comprehensive distance learning for an extended period of time,’ Shawn Bird, the district’s deputy superintendent for instruction, told Oregon Live.
‘We have said since last March, it is important students have the opportunity for as much in-person instruction as possible.’
‘We look forward to continuing to work with [the teachers union] to address school climate and culture issues, but we don’t believe that having children working without direct access to a teacher is the most viable option to addressing these concerns,’ Bird said.
Pictured is Jefferson High School in the Portland Public School district. Should the district approve the proposal from the teacher’s union, students will work remotely for one day a week starting after the Christmas holiday
Pictured is Lane Middle School. Under the proposal, elementary and middle schoolers would get to school two hours late or be sent home two hours early – the union suggested coinciding the timing with the high schoolers’ remote days so teens could babysit their younger siblings in the process
Negotiations between the teacher’s union and the district (members of both pictured via Zoom) are expected to be finalized before the Christmas holiday
Some parents, too, doubt the wisdom of the strategy.
‘Somehow arguing that solving the problem of 18 months out of school by less school will help is either ignorant or disingenuous,’ Eric Happel, a parent with three students in the district, wrote on Twitter.
‘Arguing that more planning days and helping kids who are behind over zoom on Friday will solve the problem is clearly wrong and would fail.’
Happel is a member of ED300, an advocacy group consisting of 40,000 parents, educators, medical professionals and Oregon residents.
‘All available data demonstrates that students have suffered significant learning loss as a result of school closures during the pandemic, with the losses most extreme among our most vulnerable students,’ the group said in a statement against the proposal.
‘While we recognize there are increased burdens this year due to learning loss and behavioral struggles caused by extensive school closures, the solution to the problems of remote school is not more school.’
Oregon was 49th out of the 50 states for least in-school days during the pandemic, according to ED300.
Not all teachers support the proposal, either.
‘As a teacher this is SO HARD,’ wrote Vanessa Chaves Cochran of the proposal on Facebook. ‘But I can’t agree that asynchronous time for kids is a good idea.’
‘Part of the reason it’s so hard right now is that kids are behind both academically and socially. Sending them home won’t help. It also exacerbates the inequities between those students who have parental help at home and those who don’t.’
Eric Happel, who has three children in the Portland Public School District and is a member of anti-remote learning group ED300, sounded off against the proposal on Twitter
Vanessa Chaves Cochran, who claims to be an instructor in the Portland Public School District, questioned the wisdom of the proposal on Facebook
But, as they readjust to in-person learning and contend both with students who studied through the pandemic and those who have fallen behind in the same classroom, a survey of Portland’s teachers shows an unprecedented exhaustion:
Of 2,861 Portland teachers polled by the union – roughly 77 percent of the city’s educators – a fourth reported that the were consistently working 60-hour weeks. About 70 percent of respondents to the survey reported high or severe stress levels this school year, and 28 percent said those stress levels were impacting their health.
A staggering half of the polled teachers said that they were considering an early retirement, a leave of absence or leaving the profession entirely.
Steve Lancaster, a social sciences teacher at Lincoln High and chair of the union’s bargaining unit, told district negotiators those numbers ‘aren’t sustainable,’ and that something has to give.
‘There needs to be some kind of relief valve somewhere and this provides some of that for educators,’ he said.
He said that the asynchronous day doesn’t necessarily have to be a Friday, and that it would not be ‘a day where students go without a teacher or access to a teacher’:
‘Half of the students’ teachers are available to them in the morning hours, half of the students’ teachers are available to them in the second half of the day,’ he said in a meeting with district officials and union members. ‘They have assignments that they should be working on and checking in with their educators about. Attendance can be taken.’
Most Portland schools have an altered schedule that day – informally called ‘Skinny Friday,’ where students attend all eight of their class periods for 44-minutes instead of just four for 90-minute periods like on the other days of the week.
In negotiations on Monday evening, educators requested data from the district that backs their anecdotal suggesting that class attendance on Fridays is already low.
Students, Bird acknowledged, are burnt out too – students at Roseway Heights Middle School staged a walkout protest earlier this month against what they described as rampant sexual harassment.
In the neighboring Reynolds district, according to Oregon Live, one middle school was shuttered for two weeks to address a slurry of fistfights.
Pictured is Metropolitan Learning Center – Portland teacher Lara Jones told DailyMail.com that the alternative school’s program already factored in half-days. She said charter and alternative schools – which she said serve as ‘incubators for new best practice models,’ have had success with strategies similar to the Portland Association of Teacher’s proposal
‘We’re trying to find solutions to make this year sustainable for our educators and our students,’ said Elizabeth Thiel, the president of the PAT. ‘We don’t want to have emergency closures due to staffing shortages.’
The Portland Public School district has raised concerns that ‘self-taught Fridays’ would shorten the school year beyond legal requirements, forcing the districts to tack on additional days of instruction at the end of the year.
If Friday instruction were to be cancelled starting in January, Oregon Live calculated, nearly 93 hours of class time would be cancelled for high schoolers – 9 percent of the 990 instructional hours required by Oregon state law.
Lancaster argued that, legally, those schools could add the additional time onto the next school year: ‘we can have some conversations about what the impact on th instruction hours would be,’ he said.
‘We can get a calculator and figure that out.’
ED300, an advocacy group against remote learning in Oregon consisting of 40,000 parents, educators, medical professionals and state residents, issued a statement about the proposal
‘Looking into school programs that already (somewhat at least) model the PAT proposal may be one possible way to help conceive of what it may look like… look at working models before dismissing!’
Portland Public Schools were one of the last districts to return part-time to classrooms after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – high schoolers who opted in to optional hybrid learning earlier this year got about 35 hours of total in-person instruction from late April through mid-June, according to Oregon Live.
Meanwhile, in Lake Oswego, students got 108 hours of face-to-face classroom time and the Estacada school district got more than 300.
Union negotiators are also imploring central office administrators in schools to volunteer as teacher’s aides to help them monitor classrooms instead of supervising students during lunch and recess. The district may be able to accommodate this request:
‘Administrators or other employees who volunteer would not be able to perform certain functions in a special education classroom for which they have not been trained, but they would be able to provide general assistance to the teacher,’ he told OregonLive.
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