4 April. 2020

In March of last year, my wife and I learned that our lives were about to be turned upside down. We had two choices, we thought. We could take the offer her company made and move to Switzerland, or we could turn down the offer and still uproot our lives, because there were not many jobs in NE Wisconsin that were conducive to her expertise. We knew we were potentially giving up a lot, but the decision really came down to: How often in life do you get the chance to take an adventure? So we sold almost everything, put what wouldn’t sell in storage, said goodbye to family and friends, then moved across the world.

We did some research into Switzerland, and learned that it would be hard for me to get the type of job I was accustomed. So our plan was for me to take care of the house and find a school district, or private school and volunteer a couple of days a week. That way when we move back to the US, I could at least say I was trying to do something and not just sitting on my behind for three years. Hopefully, that can still happen. My first job here is to take care of Julie, and to do that I have to be able to stay in Switzerland. As you know, I took the test a couple of weeks ago. Now I am waiting to see if I passed. Once I know the results, I will either devote more time to increasing my German knowledge, or spend more time contacting schools. I was hoping my blog could do two things. The first was to share our adventures with all our family and friends. The second was to share what I learn about the Swiss education system.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 seems to be having a major impact on all our lives. The pandemic has certainly impacted the adventure part of moving to Switzerland. Other than exercise and trips to the grocery, I have not left the apartment for going on three weeks. The isolation experiment is supposed to lift mid April, but I am not so sure about that. School has already been put online for the rest of the year, just like most places in the US. Everything I read and see says the contagion is still spreading, not contracting like you would think it would be. The growth rates are slowing, which is good, but after three weeks of isolation, you would think the number of sick people would start to fall.

Even though I have only spent a handful of days in a classroom, I still consider myself an educator. I think I did everything I could to help the classroom teachers, and the students in my old district to incorporate technology into their school day. I thought, and still think, this is important. You cannot prepare a teenager for life outside of school, unless you teach them the basics of technology. They don’t need to program, but they do need to know how to communicate electronically, obtain information from technology, and how to protect themselves with technology. These three things at the bare minimum.

When I did parent talks, One of the lines I always used was, “It does not matter what your son or daughter is going to do after they leave Winneconne Schools, they will be doing something with a computer. It is our job to get your children to realize that technology is a tool, not just a toy.” Worldwide it seems like crisis education is the new normal. I have been questioning some things in regards to education. Some of it concerns technology, some of it doesn’t.

Grades

My oldest is in his first year of law school, my youngest is a sophomore at UW/Madison. Both schools are now implementing Pass/Fail grading. My daughter tells me it is going to be an option for her. She can choose at the end of the semester to either take the letter grade or take a P.

So my first question is: If grades were so important in December of 2019 why are they not important now?

Both kids tell me they are going to be given the same information. Granted it will now be via a recorded lecture not in person. The students still get the chance to interact with their TA’s and Professors. Not in person, mind you, but via email, and web conferencing. The same thing is happening in K-12 districts all across the country.

So maybe we need to rethink grades. What is more important, that a student get an A or B, or that they learned the material?

Standards

The last few years there has been a lot of talk in the K-12 world about standards. Do we use the Common Core, does a state have their own standard, or does each district get to write what they think the standards should be.

The dirty secret in education is really that all the standards are very similar, it all revolves around what ever standardized test the state is using to measure the student performance (and in some cases teacher). Since practically (heck it might be all of them) every state is using a test written by one of the major education companies, everyone is following the Common Core even if their state hates the Common Core.

Now however, those standards are either gone all together, or at the very least pared down. No one is thinking the students are going to be covering the same amount of material during crisis education.

Which brings me to standardized testing. Every state, that I know of, has canceled standardized testing for this year. Why? If the testing is so darn important keep the schools going longer, and bring the kids back in July for their two weeks worth of testing. Maybe this pandemic will finally get people thinking about all the testing we do in K-12. Is it really that important? Sure some of it identifies students that need extra help, or have already mastered the skill and are ready for more advanced work. I think the teachers already knew that, though.

School instruction

In Switzerland, the Federal Government has already said the pandemic is not lengthening the school year. If you are in 1st grade now, you will be in 2nd grade next fall. If you are scheduled to graduate this spring, you will graduate. This decision was made at basically the same time as the decision to stop in person schooling for the year. I am sure this same decision is being made in the US as well.

So even though students are missing about 1/3 the number of days, they will be doing some learning at home. However, I do not think anyone believes that students will be covering the same amount of material at home, as they would at school. So I am going to make the assumption that students are going to get about 80% of what they would get during a normal school year. It seems to be almost universal, that our schools do not teach enough. Everyone is complaining that cursive has been cut out, that we no longer have home economics or shop classes as mandatory instruction. So in a normal year, do we teach to much, or are we saying that it really doesn’t matter?

What I think is going to happen is that there will be no long term impact on any of these students. Sure there might be one skill or two that was not picked up this year, but by the time the student graduates, either the skill will be learned, or it was not needed; so who cares!

Hopeful Changes

The one thing I really hope is that when things do get back to normal, this changes some things in traditional instruction. I hope it shows our teachers that they can do more by guiding their students through a lesson vs standing up in front of the class room and “telling” them the lesson. I hope it shows our students the need to vet news sources, and not just take as gospel what some talking head on Instagram says. I hope this shows school districts that teachers are professionals and do not need to be micro managed every minute of every day.

Finally I hope this shows our government, at all levels, that connectivity is important. Just like the government decided to get electricity to every mile, they need to do the same with internet connections. You can’t leave this up to the private sector, as there is no financial incentive to get fiber down that road where only five families live. That is what we have done in the past, and this shows that a large segment of our population is forgotten about.

I have ranted and rambled enough for the day. I hope this finds you all safe, and healthy. Take care until next time.

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