Districts struggle to find balance in online instruction

Dive Brief:

  • With 85% of schools offering some type of online learning this fall, most districts are upping the stakes from spring approaches that relied on prerecorded lessons accessible at any time, opting now for live online lessons with students expected to spend the equivalent of a regular school day at their computers, Chalkbeat reports.
  • Tougher standards for the fall were implemented largely because many students fell behind last spring and more families now have access to Wi-Fi and devices, but some parents and educators say remote learning has gone from not enough during spring to too much now.
  • A Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) analysis of 100 districts’ reopening plans shows 87% require some type of live online instruction, but only a third required remote interaction with students in the spring. Parents demanded more live teacher instruction, but some families say expecting students to sit in front of a computer for the entire school day goes too far.

Dive Insight:

As districts continue struggling to find the right balance between too much and not enough online learning, there seems to be little agreement at the state level. Illinois encourages schools to assign no more than 90 minutes of work a day for younger students, while high school students can be expected to complete 45 minutes a day per subject. Kansas, meanwhile, expects K-1 students to only spend about 45 minutes in front of the screen each day, while high school students should work for about three hours a day. Other states, such as Massachusetts, leave broad room for interpretation by calling for instruction that is productive and has meaning.

Meanwhile, some rural areas still struggle with lack of online connection. Students in districts like California’s Bonsall Unified School District, Vallecitos School District and Borrego Springs Unified School District were still not connected to the internet in August, with the start of school just weeks away. And even in the San Diego area, local superintendents say slow response from the state and difficulty finding devices has hampered efforts to connect kids.

In March, schools began shutting down without solid remote learning plans, and that renewed the push to close the connectivity gap in remote rural areas. A proposal in the U.S. House of Representatives would direct $2 billion into Wi-Fi hotspots for school and library use. But some rural locations are also so remote, they lack local infrastructure for broadband service or even nearby cell towers for school-provided hotspots to be tethered to.

To circumvent the problem of too much screen time, some districts are creating in-person learning pods for lower-income families and for students who come from more high-risk groups. Indianapolis Public Schools used money earmarked for in-person expenses to launch learning hub sites for special needs and homeless students. Transportation is provided to the hubs and meals are provided. The hubs are staffed with a nurse, social worker and support staff who follow personal protection practices.

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