Grace from Georgia’s K-12 system; Grades from University System

The stress from the school shutdown is not limited to parents of young children. Thousands of college students returned to mom and dad when Georgia campuses closed.
The stress from the school shutdown is not limited to parents of young children. Thousands of college students returned to mom and dad when Georgia campuses closed.

When COVID-19 history is written, higher ed in Georgia may look rigid and unyielding

Parents in Georgia teaching their kids at home appear ready for a mental health day — or perhaps a mental health month.

For more than four weeks, they’ve helped their children keep up with schoolwork at the kitchen table, the front porch or the back deck. They’ve juggled their own work-at-home demands, capricious Wi-Fi, and jittery youngsters — a balancing act made all the more arduous after Georgia delivered a technicolor spring late last week that beckoned everyone outdoors.

Most parents have kept a sense of humor during pandemic school, joking about how to expel a difficult student and whether video games or Legos counted as PE. Memes abound about lessons on fractions designed around filling wine glasses, and parents complain on Twitter that their toughest hurdle is not finding toilet paper but teaching elementary school math.

The stress is not limited to parents of young children. Thousands of college students returned to mom and dad when Georgia campuses closed.

Facebook groups for public college parents contain worried posts about anxious students, some of whom are navigating a dozen different online platforms each day to track class lectures, videos, assignments, group discussions and tests. (Those complaints escalated last week as college professors began piling on the work and assessments in preparation for soon-to-start finals.)

Amid this chaos and uncertainty, the state Department of Education and State School Superintendent Richard Woods deserve credit for recognizing the challenges rather than compounding them.

In a message Friday to K-12 parents, Woods said, “Those who have said the model being implemented here is not traditional distance learning or homeschooling but crisis learning are exactly right. My message to school districts – which I shared directly with district superintendents earlier this week – is that our focus during this time should be on compassion over compliance.”

Woods sees the obstacles, citing Georgia children “who have no internet access, no digital devices, or may be sharing a single device among multiple children. They may have little food to eat. Some high school students are picking up extra hours at work. Other children, heartbreakingly, are in abusive home environments and have lost the refuge of the traditional school day.”

The focus during this time, said Woods, “should not be on test scores, accountability or percentiles. Our marker for success should be that our children got through this time healthy, safe, and nurtured. It is not a time to be rigid or inflexible – it is a time to extend grace to each other.”

Unfortunately for college students, Chancellor Steve Wrigley, the Board of Regents and the University System of Georgia have not called for grace, but grades, ignoring the pleas from thousands of voices via petitions, calls and emails for a pass/fail option for students whose studies have been upended by the rocky transition to online learning.

Former DeKalb District Attorney J. Tom Morgan is among the college professors now required to teach via computer; he had to switch a law class at Western Carolina University to online in seven days. When undergraduates struggled on a recent exam, Morgan realized recorded virtual lectures miss the critical classroom interactions and the cues from students that alert professors to where they need to dive deeper.

“I gave my first exam based totally on online instruction and the results highlighted my own inadequacies as an online instructor,” he said. “There were areas on the exam that usually the vast majority of the students answer correctly, but instead this time were only answered correctly by a few. I know that if I had taught this area of law in the classroom, I would have known by the students’ answers to my questions I needed to spend more time explaining this material.”

(A new issue brewing for colleges: Parents unhappy with the quality of distance learning are wondering whether their college students can take a gap year if face-to-face classes don’t resume in the fall.)

The USG Faculty Council met virtually Friday with Chancellor Wrigley and Chief Academic Officer Tristan Denley who reaffirmed USG will not revisit its decision about pass/fail.

In its refusal, the University System is disregarding resolutions such as the one passed by the Kennesaw State University faculty senate last week calling for a satisfactory/unsatisfactory option for students. (USG also received a letter signed by 17 college student government presidents seeking opt-in pass/fail.)

In its resolution, the KSU faculty senate said, “The sudden shift to remote learning did not and could not allow for adequate preparation for faculty to teach developed online courses … unexpected technological problems and resource issues, from poor internet connections to faculty and students who lacked the appropriate technology, created difficulties conducting classes.”

Organizing as USG Students 4 Grade Reform, two dozen student leaders of public colleges across Georgia held a Zoom video conference call last week where they shared their frustration with the USG’s refusal to consider creating a pass/fail option, as almost all U.S. campuses have done, including the Universities of North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida, MIT, Duke, Emory, Agnes Scott, Princeton and Harvard.

"We have heard from thousands of students and faculty who have been completing their school work in fast-food restaurant parking lots, waking up at 3:30 a.m. to attend lectures, or returning to households affected by destabilizing forces like domestic violence or adverse mental health. We have heard from students who have been forced to break the state's shelter-in-place order to complete their assignments due to a lack of internet access,' said USG Students 4 Grade Reform organizer Ciera Thomas. "The Regents' continued enforcement of a system designed for an entirely different instructional method isn't just ignorant — it's unethical."

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