3 ways your remaining ESSER funds will drive digital learning

K12 leaders should strongly consider using remaining ESSER funds to enhance digital learning solutions to meet students where they are.
Louis Algaze
Louis Algazehttps://www.flvs.net/
Louis Algaze is president and CEO of Florida Virtual School and FlexPoint Education Cloud.

I’ve seen the positive impact digital learning can have on students’ lives. As the president and CEO of FlexPoint Education Cloud and Florida Virtual School, I can tell you that our students earned Advanced Placement scores that are 5.6 percentage points higher than the global average and we increased our graduation rate by 2.6 percentage points to 92.6% last school year. The data underscores their success.

Plus, with 72% of parents considering new schools for their children this school year and homeschooling becoming America’s fastest-growing form of education, it’s clear that families are looking for alternative forms of instruction.

Which is why, as the deadline to obligate remaining Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds quickly approaches on Sept. 30, school and district leaders must use remaining funds to add or enhance digital learning solutions to meet students where they’re at in their learning journey.

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To help education leaders decide how to obligate their remaining funds, I’ve put together three ways they can use the remaining funds to create or enhance online and blended learning programs.

1. Integrate digital courses

If school and district leaders directly offer innovative learning options, they can provide families with the flexibility and retain funding. Instead of families seeking out homeschooling, private school or other options, they can stay in their zoned school to meet all their educational needs.

One way to do that is by using the remaining ESSER III funds to incorporate comprehensive and engaging digital courses. To highlight how digital courses impact student learning, I want to talk about Union Public Schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We’ve worked with them for over a decade to enhance their online school—Union Virtual Learning Academy.

When we began working together, their school leadership team wanted to adapt to the digital era so they added elements to match students’ experiences in the real world. They settled on using blended learning, mixing online courses with in-person teaching. By the 2021-22 school year, half of the high school seniors in the district had taken a blended learning class, with a passing rate of 93%.

By introducing digital courses and virtual components, the academy evolved in parallel with the way students were experiencing the digital world around them. This allowed virtual teachers and staff to relate to their students more while giving them valuable learning opportunities that they’ll continue to experience throughout their college or work journey.

2. Provide professional development

Effective teacher professional development can significantly improve student achievement, with studies reporting teachers who receive meaningful professional development can boost their student’s achievement by 21 percentile points. Utilizing remaining ESSER III funds to add more professional development and training opportunities for staff is crucial for fostering teacher confidence and connecting in the online learning environment.

Over the past 20 years, we’ve discovered that students in the online classroom want the same things as those in brick-and-mortar classrooms. Students want to feel connected to their teachers and classmates and when that feeling increases, so does their engagement. I recommend training your teachers on how to implement best practices in online learning so they can create fun and engaging activities.

3. Hire online teachers and counselors

Over the past several years, various research reports have highlighted major hurdles for K12 education, with one of the most prominent being teacher shortages.

While meeting with school and district leaders nationwide, I’ve heard of challenges such as hiring for specialized subjects like world languages or electives and dealing with unexpected teacher absences throughout the school year.

To address immediate staffing needs, I recommend using your remaining ESSER III funds to partner with a supportive virtual school. Their accredited teachers and personalized support can complement the efforts of your current teachers who are already making a valuable impact on student learning and growth.

Outline a plan

To meet the Sept. 30 deadline, educators should begin planning resources required for student, family and teacher success. School and district leaders have various options to use remaining funds to drive digital learning excellence—whether they’re just starting to consider an online or blended school or enhancing existing options.

The key takeaway: digital learning is the future. By using funds on edtech and digital learning solutions school administrators can focus on what truly matters—the success of their students.

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