Is distance learning working?
Now that the first grading period is over in almost all schools around the nation, the verdict on distance learning is revealing itself and it’s not good. Districts in states throughout the country are reporting failure rates for students that far exceed their previous norms. Educators and parents believe it’s because distance learning, for most kids, simply isn’t working.
Accountability Isn’t Virtual
Educators attribute the increase in falling grades to students’ failure to turn in assignments or even show up to the virtual classroom. Attendance has become a bit of a grey area as well. Many students log in but, may never turn on their camera so their teacher has no idea if they are actually present.
Unlike in-person school, it’s harder for teachers to know who is following along with the lesson and who may be mentally checked out and ultimately falling behind. Unfortunately, once kids fall behind, it can become harder for them to catch up, so many of them give up.
“I’m an English teacher, not a math teacher, but I’ve learned zeros are very, very devastating to an average,” Eighth-grade English teacher Jody Stallings tells AP News.
Technology has been the saving grace for distance learning, but it’s far from perfect for many students and families. The “digital divide” is a phenomenon that’s become even more apparent as the first wave of grades is reported. Students who don’t have reliable access to the internet or a dedicated device appear to be struggling the most with distance learning.
This group also includes English-language learning students who have barriers of both language and technology. The fear is that once these students become disengaged, it will be challenging, if not impossible to get them back in school.
“If I lose kids that are in the crack of that cavern of the digital divide, it’s going to be very tough to get them to make up their time,” Tom Baumgarten, superintendent of the Morongo Unified School District in California telling Parentology. “Because the one thing a kid can’t make up is time.”
According to a report from Country Financial earlier in the fall, 21% of parents said they had to either change or reduce their work hours to accommodate distance learning. Unfortunately, the majority of parents aren’t educators, so even their best attempts to help their children through the challenges of distance learning are falling flat.
“I feel spread thin,” Carolyn Bims-Payne, a parent in Oakland, California told EdSource. “Not overwhelmed. But I feel like I’m stretched.”
But, is there a solution?
Parents across the country are frustrated, but that’s about all that they can agree upon. Some parents want their kids back in school now. They are demanding there be some kind of in-person option for students, preferably taught by teachers who don’t have to teach virtual students simultaneously.
On the other side, many parents still don’t feel that schools are safe for their children even with CDC protocols. Brianna Haggard, a Florida parent, told The Sun Sentinel, “I don’t have a lot of confidence in safety precautions being taken. The kids eat in a cafeteria without masks,” she said. “More students are expected in January, which makes distancing harder.”
The approval of the vaccine will most likely move more students back toward the classroom, but distance learning may stay with school districts around the country for some time. The educational and emotional cost of distance learning is just being revealed and will surely be with students long after 2020.