The quick decision to close schools this spring and move to a remote learning model added new challenges for public educators, and with the pending summer break, state school officials say it is important to assess what worked and prepare for a still-undefined return to school in the fall.
“It’s crucial to have conversations now,” says Javaid Siddiqi, president and CEO of the Hunt Institute. “The beneficial elements of being in a classroom are not necessarily measured” in terms of academic learning, but also social-emotional learning, and school leaders should be looking to “prioritize policies that meet the needs of all students.”
Indeed, educators in West Virginia immediately began having conversations about the impact of school site closures on student academics, as well as the accessibility to remote learning in rural districts, says state Superintendent Clayton Burch. He said those conversations made clear that they were “going to have to ensure there is one caring adult reaching out to these students.”
He said school officials worked with teachers to “put to the side the old ideas of student growth and engagement” and balance the academic program with mental and physical well-being of students and teachers in remote areas. Over the summer, Burch says the state plans to work closely with staff and teachers in the field to prepare them for what schools will look like in the fall, as it will likely be a “very different approach” when students return.
In Oklahoma, officials are preparing to provide expanded professional development opportunities over the summer. Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister says reopening schools will be a “much heavier lift” than the decision to close schools and move to remote learning, citing the increased cost involved in cleaning schools and preparing classrooms for social distancing requirements. In addition, CDC guidance for schools includes recommendations that could cost districts much more than previously spent on things like transportation, providing masks for staff and students, and providing deep-cleaning and disinfection.
Hofmeister said the state is moving summer professional development for educators into the cloud. Last year, she says, the state provided onsite PD opportunities for about 7,000 educators throughout the state, and she anticipated a much greater number will access it this year. PD “will be done through the lens of the potential of lots of learning loss” and to bring students back to grade level in many cases, she adds.
Hofmeister also says Oklahoma is using a portion of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136, funds to provide statewide access to an individualized online learning tool that begins with a diagnostic assessment that uses adaptive questions to identify the skill level of students. The program will then align instruction to the child’s individual academic needs. She said it will be specifically used for math and reading for K-12 students. The state ED is purchasing a statewide license so that when schools reopen in the fall—whether remotely, in person, or as a hybrid of the two options—all will have free access.
Missouri State Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven says the shift to remote learning has narrowed the state’s academic standards to focus only on those critical lessons that are building blocks for success in the next grade. Her state will be conducting diagnostic testing on those core skills in order to efficiently address the extended learning slide for many students in the state.
Local efforts have been key in addressing academic and nonacademic needs and support staff in districts and schools have been crucial in her state in providing services. For example, she says, bus drivers have been instrumental in the distribution of school meals and transport of school lunch workers to areas of need. In addition, they have been tasked with delivering internet hot spots to underserved communities.
Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera says the quick pivot from in-person instruction to remote learning has led to a need to “rethink” some of the things that have been required of schools for decades, as they no longer align with technology or education needs. Remote learning has also accelerated the push for individualized learning for all students, he adds, and the increased parent participation in the day-to-day education of their children could lead to better parent involvement and input in education efforts.
Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other Title I issues for ESEA Now, a DA sister publication.