- A new report from Regional Educational Laboratory Central examines remote learning plans districts filed with state education agencies in Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, finding significant variation based on connectivity, rurality and district poverty levels.
- According the report, districts with a connectivity rate of at least 70% prior to the pandemic were more likely to propose support for home-based internet access, devices and tech support. Those districts were also more likely to plan additional support — such as mental health assistance — for teachers, students and parents, with 73% of the highly connected districts planning for social-emotional learning and support, compared to 50% of districts with lower connectivity.
- Lower-income districts were more likely to propose supports such as one-on-one meetings between students and teachers, as well as resources for parents to help with remote learning. Sixty-eight percent of nonrural districts proposed providing professional development to teachers, compared to 58% of rural ones, while 68% of nonrural districts proposed remote learning resources for parents, compared to 50% of rural districts.
After a year and half of remote learning and a significant amount of capital invested to make it all possible, new digital tools and parts of the remote learning experience are likely to remain and influence approaches to learning as the education system shifts back to full-time, in-person learning.
“The findings in this report can be useful as states consider how they might make remote and blended learning a more permanent part of K-12 education after the pandemic,” Trudy Cherasaro, director at Marzano Research, which operates REL Central, said in a press release.
According to a RAND Corporation study, some districts have already embraced a long-term strategy to keep remote learning going after the pandemic ends. That study found about 20% of districts polled had either already set up a permanent version of an online school, were planning to do so, or were considering it.
A minority of students and teachers prefer distance learning, though some education experts caution against it, citing the risk of further fragmentation of the education system. Meanwhile, districts that don’t implement online school options could lose students to virtual academies from other areas.
The shift to remote learning is expected to have a long-term impact on the way curricula and learning materials are delivered, according to a national survey of 2,168 teachers by Bay View Analytics. According to the results of the survey, conducted in March, 74% of teacher respondents were in a fully remote or hybrid teaching model at the time, and 58% had no prior online teaching experience. Nearly all respondents used some kind of video instruction during the pandemic.
Still, districts must deal with the digital divide before widespread remote learning can take place. As of spring 2021, 29 million U.S. households with school-age children lack at-home internet access, and 90% of those students qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch.
Some jurisdictions are creatively solving the problem. For example, in Oakland, California, $7.7 million in CARES funding was used to install Wi-Fi points on street lights in areas with the highest concentration of low-income students.