Christopher Edley, Jr.
When schools reopen for the 2020–21 school year, they will look dramatically different than before the pandemic. Whether in person, online, or some combination of the two, it will be critical that each student receives rigorous instruction and the academic, social, and emotional support needed to thrive. That would be a far cry from the emergency education most districts offered in the spring.
Data reveal wide variation in how distance learning was implemented. Each district, school, classroom, and student group experienced something different because of students’ varied access to computers and Wi-Fi; differences in local decisions about what curriculum to use and how much instruction to provide; differences in the speed with which districts ramped up their virtual learning; and differences in efforts to meet the needs of English learners (ELs), students with disabilities, students who were behind academically, and students with fewer supports at home. Nationally, only one in five districts delivered rigorous distance instruction. In California, English learners and students of color were far less likely to have the opportunity to interact directly with teachers. This is particularly troubling in a state where 1.15 million students are ELs, representing one out of every three ELs in the country, and where more than three quarters of students are students of color.
When students return to school, our state’s expectations for instruction should be far higher. California leaders must prioritize equity and ensure quality across the state’s roughly 1,000 school districts. The implications, otherwise, could be dire. McKinsey and Company recently warned that if low-quality remote learning continues in 2020–21, students could lose up to a year’s worth of learning and high school dropouts could increase by as many as 1.1 million students. That academic slide will be felt most acutely by low-income, Black, and Latinx students.
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