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Distance Learning for K-12: Can it be done with equity for all kids?

Distance Learning for K-12: Can it be done with equity for all kids?
August 06
16:24 2020

Vidya Sethuraman
India Post News Service

California’s two largest school districts announced that schools will not open for any in-person instruction when the academic year starts in August, and that students will continue to learn remotely.  Most school districts across the country will rely on distance learning or hybrid models at the beginning of the school year, providing a challenge to educators and parents. As some families seek creative solutions –learning pods, tutors- what can be done to make sure that vulnerable and low-income students who have limited options do not fall further behind was discussed by the experts at the EMS conference on July 31

In California, where schools in two-thirds of the state have been barred from reopening in person for now, state guidelines call for a school to close for at least 14 days if more than 5 percent of its students, faculty and staff test positive over a two-week period.

Pedro Noguera, Dean, USC Rossier School of Education said the pandemic has exposed inequalities in our society and certainly in education. It is impossible to reopen the economy without opening the schools. This has forced the school districts to work on a plan to open without guidance from the Government. Most of the students lack a digital device, which is needed for online learning. Most schools weren’t prepared for what happened and they didn’t give sufficient training to the teachers to handle the distance learning. Without proper guidance, schools are left on their own and this will lead to a crisis in education. 

Shaun R. Harper, Executive Director USC Race and Equity Center discussed racial equity initiatives in higher education. He urged lawmakers to take steps to make sure resuming campus learning does not worsen disparate impacts the coronavirus pandemic has had on communities of color. He called on the House higher education subcommittee to earmark money for colleges to protect front-line campus workers such as custodians and food service workers who are disproportionately Black and Latino. Among a number of other issues he raised, Harper also urged Congress to ensure that students and staff from minority groups have enough access to mental health services. “Students and workers from these groups are likelier than are their white classmates and colleagues to have lost a family member, friend or someone in their community,” he said. “This then means that students of color and employees of color are much more susceptible to prolonged sadness and depression.”

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Professor of Education, Psychology and Neuroscience at the Brain and Creativity Institute and Rossier School of Education, USC spoke on the mental health of kids. “With online classes, students may experience challenges as it relates to increased screen time,” said Mary and they may experience ineffective time management, feelings of isolation due to limited socialization in-person, minimized awareness and understanding of others created by in-person dialogues.”

Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, thinks the federal incentive to reopen through funding mechanisms “is not working.” But, if a school is forced to reopen before conditions are deemed safe and teachers choose to strike, there’s “not much that a superintendent can do” other than make the conditions as safe as possible upon return, he said. A third of school districts, he said, have already announced they will reopen virtually, and starving those districts of funding could mean going virtual for the entire school year. He said his organization has asked Congress to spend $200 billion to bridge the digital divide, ensuring that students have laptops and quality access to the Internet. Increased costs for getting students back to learning work out to $490 per child, he said.

Eddie Valero, who serves on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, spoke of two measures in the California state Legislature which would require communications companies to provide high-capacity broadband to all residents.

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