Photo: Nick Otto/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris

While most school districts across the United States are providing students with educational resources, many have not been able to connect all their students to the internet and are still struggling to put attendance and grading policies in place, according to research from the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

“This is no time to lower expectations of students or teachers,” said Steven Wilson, a senior fellow with the center. “Time on task continues to matter enormously. Districts that bargain 2- or 3- or 4-hour days are basically abdicating their responsibility to educate. I really think it is quite shocking and disturbing.”

Researchers from the center, high school history teacher Manuel Rustin and Jeffrey Garrett, the senior director of Leadership Development at the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, discussed the state of education during the coronavirus pandemic in “To the extent feasible: Strategies for success with distance learning,” a webinar hosted by EdSource on Tuesday. More than 1,000 viewers participated in the webinar.

Rustin and Garrett host a YouTube show called All of the Above, the Unstandardized Show About Education.

The researchers reviewed websites and social media channels of 82 large, mostly urban school districts and 18 charter management organizations to determine their progress in rolling out online curriculum and instruction, according to Bree Dusseault, a practioner in-residence at the center.

Some of the study’s findings include:

  • Older students were given more instructional time and more curricular resources.
  • A third of districts are allowing schools to decide how to provide online learning.
  • The majority of student learning continues to fall on parents.
  • Since March 26, the percentage of school districts offering curriculum and progress monitoring increased from 5% to 59%.
  • Attendance tracking is only being done in only 29% of districts and 56% of the charter management groups reviewed.
  • Little information is being provided about how special education students are being served.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is an example of a district that effectively rolled out online learning, according to the research. The district started online learning immediately after school campuses closed and distributed over 100,000 laptops and Wi-Fi-enabled phones to students, Dusseault said. It rolled out an attendance plan in April and began measuring how many students were logged in for daily instruction. School staff contacted the families of students who were not logging in and now the district’s more than 300,000 students have achieved 99% attendance, she said.

The district also set clear expectations for parents, students and teachers, including that lessons would last 45 minutes to one hour a day, that teachers would have three hours of office hours daily that would include online lessons and time to take questions from parents and students. School district officials also have committed to trying to start their school year in late July or early August to help kids get ahead and is planning virtual summer school, Dusseault said.

The researchers offered tips for school districts in preparation for summer school and next school year. Schools should plan to move between remote, in-person and hybrid school models as cases of coronavirus increase and decrease, said Layna McKittrick, a research analyst with the center. Districts should set clear teaching and learning expectations for each scenario, as well as decision making and communication protocols, common assessment platforms and increased training and support for staff, she said. District and charter officials also will need to have new health and safety policies, as well as new ways to track attendance, deliver grades and offer credit recovery.

Schools should pilot some of their ideas over the summer, Dusseault said.

Garrett, of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, agreed with much of what the researchers said, but disagreed with the premise that lowered expectations would hurt students.

“We knew before COVID-19 that there were vast areas of inequities in our profession and we know that this has dramatically exacerbated those inequities,” Garrett said of the move to online learning. “Our first order of business, in my mind, has to be about doing everything we can to level the playing field.”

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