For Many Schools, It’s Back to Distance Learning. Let’s Make It Better.
Schools have been under enormous pressure this summer to reopen as soon as possible—from families, from data showing the learning students lost this spring, even from the White House. And system leaders have been working tirelessly to solve the dizzying array of logistical challenges to open school buildings safely.
Unfortunately, it’s now clear that our national failure to get COVID-19 under control means most students will still be attending school virtually for the foreseeable future. Most of the nation’s largest school systems have decided to keep buildings closed entirely to start the year, while others are planning a combination of in-person and at-home instruction. Even more are sure to shift back to distance learning as cases pop up in schools that reopen.
Faced with this new reality, school systems are scrambling to update their distance learning plans from backups or last resorts to the core part of students’ school experience this year. They have a lot of work to do in very little time, since we know many students—especially students of color and those from low-income families—had poor experiences during the first wave of distance learning this spring.
But it’s not too late to improve the quality of at-home instruction for the year ahead and give as many students as possible the opportunities they need to stay on track academically. School systems should focus on two big priorities: making the most of the instructional time they have with students—regardless of what form it takes—and authentic communication with school communities, so that current and future plans reflect a clear understanding of students’ and families’ experiences and needs.
What does this mean in practice? On the instructional front, systems should:
And to build stronger connections with students and families, systems should:
COVID-19 is unlike anything school systems have faced. Teachers, school leaders, and system leaders deserve grace and empathy as they make one hard choice after another. We owe it to them—and to students—to focus on the things that matter most in the months ahead. Every extra opportunity students get to do grade-level work this fall, however imperfect, gives them a better chance to end up on track for success when the pandemic finally passes. The work to ensure students get more of those opportunities, especially from distance learning, needs to start now.
Want more tips for creating strong experiences for students during unprecedented times? Check out the free resources on our COVID-19 School Response Toolkit.