Nine months after shutting down public schools, a survey of Los Angeles public school teachers showed their overwhelmingly dim view of distance learning: low student engagement that is only getting worse, deteriorating grades and a lack of resources to help their students’ crisis circumstances.
Ninety-four percent of those surveyed said low student engagement was a barrier to remote learning. The vast majority of teachers say their students lack quiet spaces, adequate technology and high-speed internet and do not have schoolwork help from an adult.
The survey of 502 full-time teachers in L.A Unified and the charters schools within the district was commissioned by Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles, a teacher-led organization, and USC’s Rossier School of Education. It was conducted by phone and online by the Gotham Research Group, a research and consulting firm.
Teachers said vulnerable schoolchildren — students from low-income families, those who are homeless or learning English, and students with disabilities — are experiencing the highest levels of learning loss and poor grades.
“The pandemic has created barriers for all students, but we know that some are disproportionately impacted,” said Jeimee Estrada-Miller, executive director of the teacher-led group. “It has wreaked havoc for all, but it is dramatically threatening the future of particular low-income students” and other marginalized groups.
More than half of all teachers surveyed said the lack of access to high-speed internet presented a “very serious” challenge, increasing to two-thirds for those with students primarily from low-income households.
“Internet access, in a context in which we have distance learning, is not just a need. I think it should be a right of every public education student,” said Patricia Burch, professor of education at USC.
Teachers also reported that their schools were failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable students. Only 10% reported that their schools regularly met the needs of homeless students, and only 34% reported that their schools “often” support students from low-income households. Of those who did receive guidance on teaching vulnerable students, 28% rated the instruction as “very useful.”
Teachers also cited a lack of guidance from school leaders on discussing race with students. After the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, which sparked protests in L.A. and across the country, 36% of teachers said they received guidance or material on race relations from school or district leaders.
Burch said she found the lack of curricular support for these conversations troubling. “As we know, it’s something that students, our LAUSD students, bring into the classroom when they sit down at a computer.”
Most teachers are also asking for training in technology and emotional-social support for their students.
“We know from working with teachers, they don’t want to spend more time on tech, but this is a huge barrier, so more time needs to be spent on closing the digital divide and digital gaps that exist for students,” Estrada-Miller said.
The vast majority of teachers, 75%, support a mask mandate for staff and students when schools finally reopen. Nearly two-thirds favor smaller classes to accommodate social distancing, while only about a third rated a COVID-19 vaccine as a priority to feeling safe to return to classrooms.