Are We Doing Enough? The Battle with Distance Learning during COVID-19

As we all battle with the effects that this pandemic has caused us physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially there are far more long-term effects that we will have to work through, and the impacts to education is one of them. In my previous post I discussed the impacts that distance learning has had on low-income families and how these educational disparities will further limit the success of students in these communities. What are we doing to help combat these effects and limit its damage to our communities? While it is clear that the inequitable allocation of educational resources pre COVID-19 will increase the achievement gap post COVID-19, many argue that sufficient safeguards have been put into place to mitigate this possibility. For example, school districts, such as San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) have implemented a multi-phase program to assist students in the transition to distance learning. Currently, SFUSD has distributed over 8,400 Chromebooks for students in grades 3-12 to be able to access their teacher-led distance learning curriculum which began April 13, 2020 [1]. SFUSD is also working with multiple community-based organizations to help expand access to the internet for students who need Wi-Fi to engage in the distance learning curriculum [2]. Furthermore, some internet providers have provided free WIFI access for up to 3 months for new customers, and students in grades K-2 were also given printed material and provided regular check-ins with their instructors as safety net measures.


Although school districts such as SFUSD have executed good strategic plans to help families and students navigate the shift to distance learning, there are still many challenges that are not addressed or remedied that have fallen short. SFUSD has over 57,000 students enrolled in grades K-12[3]. Among the population of students enrolled about 55% are socioeconomically disadvantaged and about 24% and English learners [3]. With only 8,600 Chromebooks currently distributed among the students, that leaves 26,400 (55% of the remaining 48,000 students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged) students without access to a device to participate in distance learning. As the district rolls out their phase 3 of distance learning, teachers are required to learn to navigate websites such as Zoom, provide virtual instructor-based curriculum and maintain communication with each student to monitor progress. However, this has shown to be extremely difficult especially in socioeconomically disadvantaged families. This is evident in my observation of 5 relatives who are current SFUSD students in grades 1, 3, 4 and 11, all with varying levels of access and communication with instructors. The youngest student, a first grader, was not given Chromebook access, but instead, printed material packets to be completed over the remaining school year. However, there has not been any communication with his teacher despite multiple attempts to connect.


The students in third and fourth grade were both given Chromebooks to access the school online learning portal, Seesaw and Google Classroom. However, there is no guiding instructor to provide help in navigating through the educational material or to answer questions causing confusion, lack of understanding and little learning of the given material. The other two students are 11th graders who have yet to be given their Chromebooks and have also not had any contact with their instructor since school has been closed. This shows how although plans are put into place to help mitigate the issues faced from school closures, there are still far more students, particularly in low-income communities, that are not provided adequate resources and/ or proper instruction to fully benefit from distance learning.


CHANGE RECOMMENDATION: We must close the educational achievement gap that has been unveiled most recently by the pandemic. This requires systemic change to rebuild healthy, sustainable, and inclusive neighborhoods. Therefore, polices must be enacted that provide equitable distribution of financial and other vital resources such as clean air and water, affordable housing and transportation options, access to high-quality educators, college preparatory curriculum, and improved access to all the social determinants of health. State and federal governments have to provide substantial funding to schools in order for them to provide equitable resources and support needed to close the achievement gap. For this to occur, it needs to start at the community level, with us, members of the community, advocating for more funding and policy change.


Reference:


[1] SFUSD Distance Learning Plan | SFUSD. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2020, from

https://www.sfusd.edu/learning/resources-learning/continuity-learning


[2] Coronavirus Is Exposing Glaring Achievement Gap for Students | Time. (n.d.). Retrieved

April 20, 2020, from https://time.com/5810503/coronavirus-achievement-gap-schools/


[3] Demographics, S. (2009). Facts at a Glance. Educational Researcher, 38(4), 300–300.

https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189x09339489