The pandemic could have unlocked distance education. This is not the case (Notice)
In a rush to get back to normal and put last year’s distance learning debacles in the rearview mirror, states and school systems have dismissed a potential pandemic breakthrough: the ability to move quickly and seamlessly. to distance learning whenever they need it.
Earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, school and system leaders hoped sick days and snowy days could soon be a thing of the past. If future weather events or epidemics forced children to stay at home, schools could easily switch to distance learning.
âWe have a flexible model where students can learn synchronously at home or at school,â a district manager told researchers.. âWe will continue to expand this process to make learning anywhere a reality. “
But as we move from a summer of California wildfires and devastating hurricanes to a school year disrupted by quarantines and staff shortages, âlearning anywhereâ seems too futuristic. The significant possibilities offered by the pandemic experience to help schools overcome disruption beyond COVID-19 are not being met.
In our research on the 2021-2022 reopening in states and school systems across the country, we find that, sadly, anywhere learning is not the reality for most students.
Take, for example, how districts manage learning during quarantines. In our review of a mix of 100 large and urban school districts, we find that students exposed to the virus could be asked to quarantine themselves from two days to 14 or more days. The amount of instruction these students can expect to receive is the same everywhere, but for most students the amount of synchronous instruction time would be limited.
Of the districts we monitor, 71 say they plan to support learning for students who need to be quarantined. Nineteen districts, or less than 2 out of 5, ensure that students will have real-time contact with a teacher. The continued disruption promised by these numbers threatens to exacerbate the pandemic’s toll on student learning and emotional well-being.
Parents shouldn’t have to put up with their kids being sent home for days or weeks with nothing but packages of paper and the hope that they can pick up where they left off once they left. back in the physical classroom. Teachers already facing burnout shouldn’t have to revive last year’s practice of live streaming their classrooms to students at home. Most educators also didn’t think it worked well for student learning.
Enrollment caps, summer enrollment deadlines and staff shortages have excluded families from online schools.
At the start of the 2021-2022 school year, only 55% of the large or urban districts we monitor offered a distance option to all students. Eight states – some red, some blue – have contributed to this problem with policies limiting the types of distance learning offered by many districts in the past school year. Certain policies, such as New Jersey’s ban on virtual learning options except for the student quarantine, were enacted earlier this year, when parents’ frustrations over school closures boiled over, but before the Delta variant posed new threats to the community. even more frightening health.
Even in places where online learning is not legally restricted, enrollment caps, summer enrollment deadlines and staff shortages have excluded families from online schools.
When school started, the Unified School District of Sacramento City in California only had enough teachers for a quarter. of its registered virtual learners. Hawaii Department of Education was forced to turn to out-of-state teachers to meet the increased demand for its online option, lengthening its waiting list. In fact, hundreds of families are on virtual school waiting lists in cities across the country, including Minneapolis.; Savannah, Georgia.; and Charlotte, North Carolina
Parents interested in distance learning may also find that their choices are all or nothing: they can either remove their child from their traditional school to enroll in an online option all year round, or they can stay in one. brick and mortar building and hope for the best.
To make sick days or snowy days truly a thing of the past, traditional schools will need more flexible options that will allow students to seamlessly move from the classroom to the cloud. Some organizations are creating such options, allowing schools to better meet the needs of students and families.
ASU Prep Digital, a K-12 program affiliated with Arizona State University, helps a network of charter schools in Cleveland provide every student who needs to quarantine two hours a day of live, one-on-one instruction leader or small group of a teacher, as well as a set of homework that ensures they will always be on track when they return to class. ASU’s online program is rolling out similar quarantine learning partnerships with other school districts across the country.
Distance learning is not the only need. Pandemic pods and learning centers demonstrated the power of small, individualized spaces where community organizations – whose staff are often trusted by students and families in their neighborhood – to help students discover a sense of belonging and connect them with essential services such as mentoring or mental health support.
States should help school districts put in place systems that keep students safe, learning and connected year round.
They should repeal the rules that prevent school systems from offering online learning options to families who need them. They should use federal COVID-19 relief funding to help school systems develop better approaches for e-learning providers and work with community groups to support students outside of school walls. And they should make sure all parents have online learning options, like statewide online schools, if their local districts don’t offer them.
These investments will pay off in the long run. Interruptions in learning, whether due to illness, natural disasters, extreme weather conditions, or other reasons, will continue this year and possibly into the future. As one district leader told us, the crucial question facing district leaders is, “How can we build a system that can withstand these disruptions?” “
The need for an education system capable of ensuring the safety and learning of students, no matter what, has never been more urgent given the high likelihood of continued disruption. It has also never been more achievable, if the decision makers act now.