3 things schools need to know about quality remote learning after COVID

Online is no longer any easier than in-person instruction, one administrator says
By: | October 25, 2021

In the months ahead, administrators must figure out how to provide robust remote instruction for students who are infected, in quarantine or at higher risk medically.

K-12 leaders will also have to expand on what worked best during the pandemic to provide students with virtual options even after the pandemic subsides and classrooms are back in person.

One challenge is that many states submitted their plans for ESSER spending prior to this summer’s delta-variant surge when most educators expected a smooth return to in-person instruction, says Christine Pitts, a resident policy fellow at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which is based at the University of Washington, Bothel.

“Some of those plans and policies were already outdated, and they’re not serving the context we are in right now,” says Pitts, a former teacher and administrator who worked for a district earlier in the pandemic. “Now, one of the things districts can do is be really transparent about what they’re able to offer and how it’s accessible.”

Online is no longer easier than in-person

San Antonio ISD this school year launched a virtual K-12 program for 700 homebound students, students with medical vulnerabilities and their siblings, and students who have suffered trauma during the pandemic.

State law bars Texas districts from requiring teachers to teach in-person and online at the same time. San Antonio brought in a third-party provider, Pearson Learning, to provide live, online instruction.

The district also offers tutoring to further support online students. Administrators have allowed about 130 other students to participate in the online program even though they didn’t qualify in one of the pre-established categories, Deputy Superintendent Patti Salzmann says.

While the district intends to continue the program in the spring, many families—even some whose children started the year online—have chosen in-person learning, Salzmann says. “Students who have spent time on campus have said it is safe and we’re going to stay,” she says. “Our position in the district has been we know some students will succeed online but our data overwhelmingly indicates that it is not good for most of our students either academically or social-emotionally.”

And some students have returned to classrooms after realizing that online learning this school year is just as rigorous as in-person instruction. “It is not like it was last year when we were more lenient and generous with grading,” Salzmann says. “We are really going to expect them to demonstrate sufficient evidence of learning.”

Ways to demonstrate mastery

The COVID shift to remote instruction—when parents became their children’s second teachers—has made families more discerning about how students learn best, says Amy McGrath, chief operating officer of Arizona State University’s ASU Preparatory Academy.

ASU Preparatory Academy has seen a sharp increase in demand for its online platform, which district educators can use to build their own hybrid and virtual programs, McGrath says.

“Parents have become savvier since they ran little mini-school out of their homes,” she says. “Parents are going to have expectations for their schools to have flexible options, so it will be very wise of administrators to be thinking about how to spin up different modalities to retain students.”

ASU Prep’s virtual program, which can be offered through local districts, does not require students to sit in front of their computers for several hours a day. Students conduct experiments in their kitchens or yards or conduct interviews with community members.

“There are plenty of ways to demonstrate mastery when you’re not tied to a computer,” McGrath says.

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