I Can’t Shield My Daughter From Both Coronavirus AND Edmentum – Our District’s Crappy On-line Learning Platform

Being a parent during a global pandemic means having to make difficult decisions.

The most pressing of which seems to be: from which Coronavirus spawned horror should I shield my child?

As schools slowly reopened in my neck of the woods, it was basically a choice between in-person instruction or remote learning.

Do I allow my child the benefits of a living, breathing teacher but risk the COVID-19 incubator of a physical classroom environment – or do I keep her safe at home but parked in front of a computer all day?

It’s not an easy call.

On the one hand, in-person learning is nearly always more effective than distance learning.

On the other hand, I don’t want her to get sick or become a Typhoid Mary bringing the disease into our house and infecting the rest of the family.

In any sane country, I wouldn’t have to make such a choice. Where infection rates are moderate to high, schools should be closed and all instruction virtual.

But American governance in 2020 is not nearly so rational.

In the absence of strong, sane leadership, each school district is its own fiefdom marching to the beat of its own discordant drum.

Even in Western Pennsylvania, my neighborhood school is leaving it up to parents whether to potentially endanger their children or not.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We could refuse to take chances. We could keep all students online and that would increase our academic options.

After all, there is more than one way to do remote learning.

We could ask the district’s classroom teachers to design instruction tailor made to their students but merely delivered online.

Or we could use a prepackaged platform to deliver that instruction.

To me, it’s obvious which is better.

One maximizes academic outcomes by making the virtual experience as much like the in-person experience as possible with multiple daily interactions between teachers and students. The other delegates the responsibility of educating to a corporation with minimal social interaction between students and educators.

The teacher led option is the way to go, but it only works at most districts if they give up the myth that they can make in-person instruction feasible during a pandemic that has already infected more than 7 million people in this country and killed 200,000 and counting.

In districts like mine where community leaders and even some school directors are committed to keeping the buildings open so that they can justify keeping open restaurants, bars and other establishments, there is a disincentive to even allow this third option. If the public chooses it, the local economy might suffer.

So they’re committed to giving people a choice – just not THAT choice.

If they can only choose between canned cyber curriculum or fresh but dangerous in-person models, they’re betting parents will choose the latter.

And in many cases they are. But a significant number are not.

In the McKeesport Area School District (MASD), where I’ve lived most of my life, nearly a third of the parents have chosen distance learning for their children instead of a half day hybrid model. One would think that would free up enough classroom teachers to offer synchronous, authentic instruction. Students could have lessons from a certified district employee with years of experience instructing children of that age, grade and subject matter. Kids and teachers could develop trusting and caring relationships and work together to create the best possible learning environment.

Some local districts are actually doing that.

But not McKeesport.

Instead the district is using its existent on-line credit recovery program for all virtual students.

The platform is Calvert Learning, a product of the ed tech giant Edmentum.

This multi-million dollar global company (it was sold for $143 million in 2010) is best known for creating Study Island and other standardized test prep based learning platforms.

The problem is it was never meant to be used as the sole provider of coursework for thousands of students in a single district.

In fact, the specific Edmentum product being used by MASD – Calvert Learning – was originally intended for home school students.

It was created for K-8th grade, but when added to Edmentum’s Coursework platform, the company claims to be able to offer credit recovery – I mean academic classes – for K-12 and beyond.

As a parent who has spent countless hours helping his daughter navigate it, let me tell you – it’s a mess.

The instruction and assignments it provides are developmentally inappropriate, assesses things it hasn’t taught, and are filled with grammatical and spelling errors. Moreover, the pace it prescribes violates the guidelines Edmentum gives to parents about how much time students should spend on-line.

According to “A Parent Guide: Supporting Your Child During Virtual Learning,” provided by Edmentum, cyber students should limit their time online. Elementary students should spend not more than 1-2 hours a day, middle school students 2-3 hours, and high school students 3-4 hours.

My 6th grade daughter typically spends 7-8 hours a day just to barely get things done – and that’s not counting 2-3 hours on the weekends.

I’ve seen her struggle through passages that are written far above her reading level.

For example, she completed a unit on characterization where she was required to read O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief.”

I know the story well, because as a middle school teacher, I’ve taught it to my 7th grade students from time-to-time. However, the version I’ve used is not the original that O. Henry wrote. It is brought down to the level of a middle schooler and unnecessary attitudes of the time are downplayed.

In the original, one of the characters, Sam, uses big words to show how smart he is. The version I use still has him do that but reduces its frequency so that middle schoolers can understand him. After all, 6th graders shouldn’t have to wrestle with “philoprogenitiveness,” “chawbacon” and “whiskerando” just to grasp a pretty basic plot.

Moreover, the story was published in 1907. The original text throws out numerous instances of casual racism against Native Americans that serve no point in the story. Does my daughter really need to be subjected to dehumanizing native peoples as mere “red skins” just to get a lesson on characterization?

Clearly this unit was not developed with child psychologists, practicing middle school Language Arts teachers or even people of color in the room.

If that weren’t bad enough, the questions are full of grammatical errors and typos.

One question about homophones asks students to consider this sentence:

“Select the correct answer.

Is the boxed word used correctly?

I’d like a PEACE of pie for desert?”

Students were asked if “PEACE” is correct – Yes or No. They should know that PIECE is actually the right word.

However, the question made no mention of the misuse of “desert” when the authors clearly meant “dessert.”

That’s the kind of thing that really confuses a student trying to make her way through a program all by herself.

On many assessments, she is asked things that were never taught in the section that was meant to be assessed. I know this is status quo on standardized tests, but is it fair to ask this of a child navigating an online program without even a living teacher to offer support and guidance?

In a social studies assessment on Neolithic peoples, many of the questions had nothing to do with the subject matter. They asked students to infer something based on a passage and none of the multiple choices were entirely correct. You had to pick the option that was least incorrect.

This is some crappy academics being pawned off on parents and students.

And it’s not cheap.

MASD paid $146,302.25 for 40 licenses to Calvert, Exact Path K-5, Courseware for 6-12 and other online services. When hundreds of additional parents asked for their students to be put on the cyber program, the district purchased 500 more licenses from Calvert for a bundled rate of $112,500. That’s $225 per license. Normally they are $450 per license.

Imagine if we put our tax dollars and our teachers to educating these students instead of seeding our responsibility to a corporation for hire.

And we could do it, too.

I work at Steel Valley School District.

Unlike MASD, we began the year with a 100% virtual program for all students. We conduct fully synchronous classes online designed entirely by the classroom teachers. And we post materials on Google Classroom so that students who miss the live Zoom meetings can watch videos of the lesson and do the work.

I’m not saying it hasn’t been difficult or that it’s without problems. Nor is such an endeavor better than in-person learning in a safe environment.

But the teacher-led remote model is the best that can be provided under the circumstances.

Districts that throw students to the whims of corporate educators for hire are shirking their duties.

They should face the realities of the world we live in.

If Coronavirus infections are significant in your county, you should not be offering in-person schooling. You should be offering the best remote option available – and that’s the teacher-led cyber option.

If only my home district knew it.

Meanwhile, my daughter has to struggle through with the cold comfort that at least she won’t get sick jumping through the hoops her school board is too partisan to eliminate for her.

I’m right next to her at the dining room table feeling guilty for putting her through this.

But what else could I do?

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I’ve also written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

30 thoughts on “I Can’t Shield My Daughter From Both Coronavirus AND Edmentum – Our District’s Crappy On-line Learning Platform

  1. If I was still a parent instead of a grandfather who is 75, I wouldn’t worry about what my child was missing from the classroom. I would shut of the TV, and pull the plug on the computers, smart phones, et al.

    Then I’d bring in all stacks of National Geiogrpachi, Smithsonian Magazine, and books that are all boxed and stored away. I have already read them, decades worth, but cannot stand to throw away any of them.

    I’d point at them and tell my child, for every hour you read, you earn five minutes online and since I will be reading, too, we will keep track together on a chart.

    If you complain or rebel or try to debate me, then you will have to read two hours to earn five minutes. online.

    There would be a moment of silence, and then I’d say. “I almost forgot. You have to earn an hour of internet time before you can log on.”

    The key to a lifelong learner is a high literacy level and a love of reading. Why not take advantage of all this quality time with your children and read together. In other words, break away from your addiction to the internet and return to paper printed magazines, newspapers and books.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Parents should not have to check it every day to discover if an outbreak is underway. Administration should continue to provide this data with parents as things happen so parents can make informed decisions about continuing to send their children to in-person classes or not. (Many parents have their children enrolled in the district cyber program instead.) […]


  3. What they call Edmentum is really a steaming pile of hot garbage. It should be an embarrassment to people in public education to be using such a flawed program. Here in Southern Indiana we are using Edmentum and its Math, Language Arts and Reading programs in addition to Study Island and another couple of programs called Brain Pop and Studies Weekly. All of which are a horrid way to teach kids via online learning and distance education. The programs online are often flawed with not only confusing and incorrect answers and reasoning but also riddled with spelling errors. Even worse is that one of the Social Studies programs called Studies Weekly give out a test that doesn’t even cover the subject material that was mentioned in the previous readings. Therefore, you have a test that is not entirely based on what the subject matter that was covered. In what sane world does this kind of garbage pass as being a educational aid for children in elementary school age 10?

    Edmentum is chock full of errors and misspelled words to the point that I have to laugh and point out to my previous A grade 4th grader in spelling that these words are totally wrong. Not to mention these programs are not in many cases suitable for teaching a 4th grader to begin with or they are using poorly substituted teaching and curriculum. Somehow this disaster meets the recommendations and requirements of the Indiana Department of Education of which our local school corporation regularly gets C and D grades from the state for such education that they are supposedly providing. Edmentum might as well be a big fat F because the program and online system is a total joke wrapped in a farce. In this case, its harming the children and youth of this nation by having such lousy quality standards in addition to grade school errors written into the online curriculum by adults that should know better.

    One has to wonder what is going on in the heads of education officials, corporation superintendents, principals and teachers that are putting this pile of human manufactured fecal matter out there for impressionable children to use without reviewing the stupidity of their entire system. Not only that but our local corporation in its lack of wisdom didn’t send out school books so the children could learn outside of this flawed and deeply disgusting system called Edmentum along with Study Island, Brain Poop aka Brain Pop and other flawed third rate online systems. It’s pathetic and its cheapening the educational experience of the youth.


  4. 100% agree that this program is horrible. I am a newly retired teacher and when Covid hit, i decided to homeschool my granddaughter. They gave her a laptop and told us to log in to edmentum. It was such a nightmare. The lessons were way above her age appropriate levels, The subjects were not consistantly linked. They each had different sources and ways to execute the work, plus submitting it. It was so bad, i figured my granddaughter would be better off trying to go to school this fall with her mask on! But lo and behold, her mother told me that their program is edmentum! Great. More tears to come. At least she will begin making friends since they just moved here a year ago and couldn’t meet anyone. Social interaction, even from 6 ft with masks is a big deal to a little girl. I’m praying that edmentum is just a Covid educational band-aide here in Southern Indiana.


  5. any suggestions for a home school curriculum for people that are stuck with choosing between fully in-person school with no mask requirement and the fully virtual option that uses edmentum? Looks like we’re going to have to do this ourselves.


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