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Borrello, Goodell Reaffirm Support On Education

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, and Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, have sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo reaffirming their strong support for teacher-based classroom education and expressing concern over the governor’s call to “reimagine” education based on a greater reliance on computers and distance learning.

Cuomo announced a partnership with Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft computer systems, to advance this technology-based initiative.

“While such a partnership may help multi-billionaire Bill Gates earn even more money at the expense of New York taxpayers, it is not necessarily good for our students,” Borrello said. “Online learning simply does not compare to the quality of the education provided directly to students by highly capable and dedicated teachers and staff. Technology is a valuable educational tool, but it is best used as a supplement and not a replacement for in-person teaching.”

It’s been about two weeks since the governor announced during one of his daily COVID-19 briefings his intention to partner with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a blueprint to reimagine education. Questions Cuomo wants answers to include how technology can be used to provide more opportunities to students no matter where they are; how shared education can be provided among schools and colleges using technology; how technology can reduce educational inequality, including English as a new language students; how technology can be used to meet educational needs of students with disabilities; how educators can be given more tools to use technology; how technology can break down barriers to schools, colleges and universities to provide greater access to high quality education no matter where the student lives; and how classroom technology, like immersive cloud virtual classrooms learning, can be deployed to recreate larger class or lecture hall environments in different locations?

“Nothing beats the learning that occurs when great teachers provide personal attention and guidance to their students,” Goodell said. “Personal attention is especially important for special needs students. Intensive teaching and instruction is critical for any meaningful learning or educational progress to occur. Many parents of special needs students are seeing their children’s hard-won educational and social gains falter as their prolonged absence from school continues. For these students, it is essential that they return to personalized instruction as soon as possible.”

Goodell and Borrello noted the problem some rural districts have with access to adequate broadband technology, lack of computer distribution n some school districts and the difficulties of trades, advanced manufacturing, music, art and physical education teachers who need physical access to students.

“The teachers and administrators I’ve spoken with are gravely concerned about the negative impact of the shutdown on students’ educational progress and retention. Ambitious lesson plans and new concepts had to be shelved as schools were forced to adapt quickly to a remote learning program,” Borrello said.

Borrello noted that research on the effectiveness of online learning at the K-12 grade levels has consistently found it is less effective in furthering student learning and success. The gap is even more pronounced among lower-performing students, who do significantly worse in online courses than in a traditional classroom setting. The legislators also underscored the dangers of a continuing shutdown on at-risk students.

“Superintendents across my district have reported that once schools were closed, some children effectively ‘dropped off the map’ and were unreachable by email, phone or other means,” Borrello said. “For these children, their education effectively stopped at that point and concerns about their safety and welfare increased. The reality is that school is the safest place in the lives of many young people.”

They stressed the important socialization role that schools perform which “promotes the importance of being an active part of a community.” They also noted that rural districts are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to online learning as the lack of devices in many smaller rural school districts as well as the lack of broadband access in the homes of many students are stumbling blocks to online lessons and assignments.

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