That will be a far cry from the emergency education most districts offered in the spring. Data reveals wide variation in how distance learning was implemented, in large part because of students’ varied access to devices and Wi-Fi. To their credit, our state leaders have been working to address this digital divide.
But the variation was also due to local decisions about curriculum and instruction, the speed with which districts ramped up their virtual learning, and differences in efforts to meet the needs of English learners, students with disabilities, and students who were behind academically. With distance learning here to stay for the time being, at least in some form and for some students, our expectations should be higher. We need to ensure quality across our roughly 1,000 school districts and we need to prioritize equity.
Already the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 have disproportionately affected low-income, Black, and Latinx families, and these students have also been the ones least likely to receive high-quality education during closures. As a result, we should expect these students’ learning to be seriously impacted; in the fall, they must receive good instruction, regular interactions with teachers, and supports that address their academic, psychological, and social and emotional needs. But evidence from the spring tells us that many school districts will not do this without a stronger state role.
Our state leaders, including the legislature and the governor, must therefore set clear statewide expectations for the teaching, learning, and student support—whether online or in person—that must happen during this time.
They can begin by shifting the conversation back to the core purpose of school: learning. For good reason, our state leaders have spent significant time in recent months focused on logistical issues like connectivity, cleaning, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and sanitization. State leaders must now also support rigorous, engaging, relationship-centered, and personally relevant teaching and learning by investing in professional learning and resource sharing—and by detailing for parents, educators, administrators, and students an inspiring vision for this new era.