How districts can get online learning right this fall

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I recently read an article in Vox by two concerned parents. Their fears centered mostly around how to reform education policy to undo the systemic racism that has plagued students of color for decades. Education equity research has shown various ways that students of color are disadvantaged in the education system including being penalized at higher rates for missing school, being punished harshly for minor disciplinary offenses, not being provided with adequate resources for English Language learners, the list goes on. Moreover, COVID-19 has created unique social emotional needs and social traumas that educators and administrators have never seen before.

How can schools go back to “normal” in the new national context? The short answer is schools will never be the same. In a COVID context, education funding must focus on health concerns first- prioritizing the safety of students, staff, and faculty over education equity. The second priority will be providing federal funding for technology.

The silver lining is that access to technology is a great equalizer. Due to COVID-19, millions of dollars are being allocated to provide technology for education purposes- earlier this month Governor Cuomo allocated $94 million to education technology upgrades in New York schools. Mississippi received $139.88 million in federal funding to provide education technology and computers for students in public and charter schools. School districts are getting technology funding, now administrators need to develop a sustainable plan to execute K12 distance learning and ensure success for all students.

What does this plan look like? District leaders need to think beyond asynchronous apps and optional Canvas or Zoom class meetings. The new online education model is a blended model- 1. educators meet with students synchronously or in live virtual classrooms regularly; and, 2. teachers are provided with and continuously trained on how to use 21st century education tools to diagnose education gaps on a large scale.

The fact is equitable online learning doesn’t stop at getting computers in the hands of students. Teachers need ongoing professional development to understand how to use analytical tools. Education technology tools provide teachers with the ability review data for hundreds of students with astonishing specificity. With the help of education technology, teachers can diagnose education gaps to support students individually and as a class to ultimately improve the efficacy of their own teaching and curriculum plans. It is a wonderful cycle of instruction, data collection, analysis, review, and repeat.

Teachers also need training on how to teach online -classroom management and engagement online are drastically different than in the brick and mortar classroom.

With schools beginning to open for SY 2020-2021 in the next few weeks, education leaders are wondering how online learning will be incorporated into the brave new world of COVID education. In a country with 50 states and online education decisions being made at the district levels, the answer is far from clear.

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