NEA poll: Lower online class attendance, equity among educators’ top concerns

Dive Brief:

  • A poll surveying 1,936 National Education Association members shows the complexity of teaching students with disabilities, providing the same level of education to all students, and higher absenteeism rates are among the top concerns for educators during distance learning. 
  • These concerns are more pronounced in high-poverty schools, where educators report lower class attendance, believe distance learning will be less effective for their students, and prioritize closing the digital divide.
  • The results show as the percentage of students on free and reduced-priced lunches increases, so does the reported absenteeism rate. 

Dive Insight:

Educators also said they thought the following to be very “serious” or “very serious” problems in their schools: 

  • No, or not enough, social-emotional supports for their students.
  • Difficulty offering individualized education for students.
  • Inability of families to support children in their learning.
  • Lack of reliable internet.
  • Fair assessments/evaluations of all students.

Other findings included in the poll suggest an increased teacher workload, with a majority of special education teachers saying their plate is fuller than before the pandemic. 

These findings come as education leaders are weighing the option of reopening buildings against different factors including health risks if schools open and widening equity gaps if they remain closed.

On one hand, the pandemic has shed a light on existing holes in the education system, including a lack of broadband access or ability to afford it in some areas, as well as socioeconomic and racial differences in access to other supports. 

And as closures extend, many educators also worry about the students that have seemingly dropped off the grid since learning went remote. Lara Center, elementary school library aide in the metropolitan Denver area and local union president in Colorado, called the idea of not returning to brick-and-mortar schools “unthinkable” for many students who have an unstable home life. 

On the other hand, if schools and other public places reopen too early without the necessary precautions in place, health experts warn against a second wave of coronavirus cases. Added to that is the possibility teacher unions could strike if leaders push to open schools sooner than they think suitable. 

And reopening school buildings with the necessary precautions in place means detailed planning around social distancing and health screenings, practices many districts don’t currently have the resources to maintain. 

As administrators weigh their options, district leaders have voiced the importance of including stakeholders in the conversation, such as parents, students, teachers, principals and others involved in the decision-making process. 

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