Chicago Public Schools students are back in the classroom this week. The virtual classroom, that is. Students will continue remote learning for the fall quarter, which runs through early November.
The district first considered a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning before changing course, causing frustration for some CPS parents.
“I felt that we were in the dark, and I can’t direct any of that frustration toward the teachers or the principal or the school because they were waiting for guidance,” said CPS parent Sara Washington-Russell. “I wish they would have had the remote learning plan completely ironed out, or at least well-defined enough to give parents a sense of … expectations.”
CPS CEO Janice Jackson says as difficult as it can be, the COVID-19 pandemic calls for embracing uncertainty. Nonetheless, the possibility for at least some remote learning was always on the table, she said.
“We said from the beginning that we wanted hybrid, which would be a combination of in-person instruction and remote instruction. From the beginning, we’ve been talking about remote instruction,” said Jackson, who noted that the first day at CPS was smoother than in some other school districts. “There are always going to be hiccups and things that you deal with on the first day of school. That is some of the normalcy that we expect from a first day opening, but we were not met with the outages, the glitches, the hacking, and all the other things that some of our peers unfortunately had to contend with, and I would argue that was because of the effective planning that went into place at both the school level but also at the district and city level.”
Remote learning is set to continue through the fall quarter, which ends Nov. 5. Jackson said it’s not yet clear if students will be able to return to classrooms for the winter quarter or have to continue learning remotely. But one thing is certain, she said: the district will be guided by science.
“Everyone knows my position on this as an educator: nothing replaces in-person instruction. Yesterday when I was at schools talking to the teachers who were in their classrooms teaching their students from their classrooms, all of them were excited to see their students and excited about the start of the school year, but everybody is longing for a return. But that return will happen when it’s safe to do so,” Jackson said.
Jackson also touted the results from the 2020 graduating class, the first required to complete district’s “Learn. Plan. Succeed.” program. First announced in 2017, it requires students to have a post-graduation plan for schooling, job training, work, the military, or a so-called gap year. It also gave students checklists for planning and updates on their GPA and test scores.
According to early data CPS released to WTTW News, 97.5% of 12th graders submitted a plan, and more than 80% of those students were accepted to a two- or four-year college. CPS says that 0.44% of 12th graders submitted a waiver and 2.1% submitted neither a plan nor a waiver.
“There was some controversy (when the plan was announced) where people thought that would be a barrier to graduation, but in fact we’ve seen more students graduate and far more students are informed and equipped for life after high school,” Jackson said. “I think doing that during a pandemic really speaks to the dedication of our staff, especially our counselors at the schools, that we saw a record number of students graduate and a record number of students graduate with a concrete post-secondary plan.”