How does remote learning affect student achievement?
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
As coronavirus infection rates continue to spike and new hot spots emerge, in-person instruction for K-12 schools stands in limbo. When it comes to schools reopening this fall, we hear conflicting opinions and different plans.
Like Los Angeles and San Diego, many U.S. school districts are extending remote classes for the 2020-21 academic year. However, there is a rising concern about the quality of online learning and student achievement.
A recent Wall Street Journal article addressed many American parents' concerns about whether school districts' remote learning practices are widening the education gap. Though a vast majority of parents do not want to send their kids back to school unless there is a vaccine, they are concerned about the quality of education that their kids are getting.
According to one report assessing the rigor of remote-learning instruction, only 20% of K-12 schools meet the standards to ensure proper student development. The urgent switch to remote-learning plans under incredible time constraints led to some retooling and variation in instructions. Though not all districts could respond quickly or provide the same quality of instruction to their students, most, however, stepped up to the job.
The COVID-19 Educational Response Longitudinal Survey (C-ERLS) looked at nationally representative data collected in 12 weeks, comparing districts' variations. Despite the small sample size of 250 regular school districts, the statistics detected substantial and concerning differences.
The survey found that only about 1 in 5 schools meets rigorous academic standards through remote-learning programs. Higher-poverty and low-achieving districts show widening achievement gaps during the pandemic, and the bare minimum remote offerings are of no help.
Schools in wealthier, higher-achieving districts showed more rigorous instructional offerings. They relied on direct teacher-student interactions and some synchronous instructional platforms.
Forty percent of schools in districts that relied on instructional packets showed perfunctory instructional offerings. These districts did not take attendance and did not grade students' work as regularly. Forty percent were in districts with moderate programs that fell somewhere in the middle. These reflect the stark differences in remote-instruction offerings by academic achievement levels, income, and racial disparities.
In another report, published by the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education, researchers found that remote attendance has been abysmal.
Only 27% of school districts required their teachers to record students' participation in remote classes. But these are early days yet, and we have to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. It has caused large-scale disruptions in America's K–12 education system.
School and district leaders have to consider both points of view as they plan to implement sustainable instructional programs for the next school year. Along with practical measures to reopen with remote instruction, they also have to assess student progress since March and implement sustainable instructional programs to make up lost ground. They have to do all these with the continued challenges of significant projected revenue shortfalls and budget tightening.
According to a recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll, most Americans are not ready to send children back to school this fall. With coronavirus infections spreading fast and COVID-19 deaths climbing yet again, there is now a remarkable consensus on school reopening that transcended party lines, geographic boundaries, and demographic divisions. The majority of respondents reject President Trump's new effort to force public schools to reopen.
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