Dive Brief:

  • Districts are seeking creative solutions to problems emerging from the coronavirus pandemic’s fallout, and a new report from Chiefs for Change, a network of top state and district education leaders, details members’ greatest concerns, including technology, distance learning, support for high school seniors and economic impact.
  • In an op-edSan Antonio Independent School District Superintendent and Chiefs for Change Board Chair Pedro Martinez recently called on lawmakers to work with telecommunications firms to broaden Wi-Fi access to all American homes. And in Florida, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said expenses are mounting while tax revenues are likely to plummet, suggesting schools need more federal help.
  • Distance learning also won’t replace time spent in the classroom for most, said Mississippi State Superintendent Carey Wright, who noted the crisis is exacerbating pre-existing inequities.

Dive Insight:

As of April 16, half the states in the country have closed schools for the rest of the year. Regions’ issues vary, from lack of online connection to lack of financial resources.

States with schools closed through the end of the year also face the challenge of easing seniors toward their diplomas without the pomp and circumstance graduating classes typically enjoy. In some districts, school ended just weeks into seniors’ final semesters. In some states, these students are expected to complete their work remotely, while others are allowing those on track to graduate on time to receive their diplomas without doing additional work.

Not only will the class of 2020 miss rites of passage like graduation ceremonies and proms, but many are now wavering on whether they will attend college in the fall as mass layoffs leave families economically uncertain.

U.S. Department of Education guidance in late March urged districts to switch to online learning. However, that approach doesn’t work if students can’t get online. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 14% of students lack home internet access.

The Homework Gap Fund Act, introduced by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), has been pitched as a solution to immediately close that connectivity gap. Many areas nationwide also don’t have cellular towers, rendering hot spots useless. Some districts are sending paper materials home to students who don’t have access to the internet through cellular or home service.

For those students who are connected, the challenge becomes that of providing professional development for teachers and easing students (and their parents) into a quasi-homeschooling model. Districts must delicately balance the delivery of new material and making sure kids don’t fall behind due to trouble adjusting. Pennsylvania’s Parkland School District Superintendent Richard Sniscak said his district’s plan still has many moving parts, and the district will continue to jump through hoops as necessary to meet the needs of all students.

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