A Novel Plan to Keep On Learning

Mar 16, 2020

Starting today, some 700,000 students in the shuttered Los Angeles public schools will get their schooling via television thanks to a novel collaboration between the region’s three public television stations and the L.A. Unified School District.

Not only are the partners broadcasting educational content, they are each coordinating the programs they broadcast to target specific age groups that will be homebound due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

  • PBS SoCal will air programming for preschoolers through grade 2 from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • KLCS — which is owned by the school district — will offer content for grades 3 through 8 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • KCET plans to offer daytime high school programming for 9th to 12th graders.
  • Additional learning resources will be offered on the stations’ websites.

Moreover, the pubcasters plan to put the programming on satellite for other public broadcasters to use. Kudos to this initiative for being ahead of the curve in terms of anticipating a problem and quickly devising a solution. The district announced its plans to close the schools on Friday.

In no small part, their solution dips deep into the well of educational resources created by PBSLearningMedia.org that are familiar to thousands of math, science and history teachers.

It would behoove parents to dip into the same well for meaningful things to do with their at-home kids in coming weeks. From arts and science to engineering and technology, the site offers lots of immersive videos, quizzes and interactive exercises.

Many schools that have halted classes for now are counting on online learning to continue instruction. Even Zoom, the seamless video conferencing tool, has offered its services for free for K-12 classes, Forbes reported on Friday.

Why the focus on learning modules broadcast on television rather than using web-based learning?

You can’t use online learning or video conferencing if you don't have Internet access.  A quarter of families in the L.A. school district don’t have good-enough broadband access for online studies, and only half the families have computers or tablets to access an online curriculum, the district said in its Thursday announcement.

“We want to continue to provide the best possible education for our students, even in the event of a significant number of school closures for an extended period of time,” L.A. Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner said. “So we asked PBS to work with us with a simple goal: We know what good looks like; let’s find a way to share it with our students.”

 “We started with what’s good — what standards-based instruction looks like. We didn’t start with what’s good TV,” Beutner told the Los Angeles Times.

In announcing the initiative, the partners said they will pull materials from KCET’s library. Many of the programs already include a syllabus or framework for academic study.

Among the early lineup of shows are: “Peg + Cat” for pre-K students; “Cyberchase” for grades 3 through 5; “NOVA” for grades 6 through 8, and the Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War for high school.

“As cornerstone institutions in our community, PBS SoCal and KCET have a mission to connect communities, so we’re already talking to stations throughout the state, and even across the country, to follow our model,” Andrew Russell, president and CEO of KCET and PBS SoCal, said in the partnership announcement.

Los Angeles Unified is the nation’s second-largest school district, spanning more than 700 square miles, the district said. About 80% of students come from families living in poverty, More than 17,000 students are homeless.

Also joining this collaboration is PBS station KQED in San Francisco, which is developing digital resources that align with state teaching standards and will include online training hosted by KQED for teachers.

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