10 Ways Remote Learning Is Failing Our Students

Returning to in-person learning poses many risks. So does staying at home.

Dayton Martindale August 27, 2020

Eight-year-old Indi Pineau, a 3rd grader in Jeffco Public Schools, during her first day of online learning in her room at her family's home on March 17 in Lakewood, Colo. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Schools across the coun­try have begun reopen­ing, either par­tial­ly or in full, with pre­dictably bumpy results. In Georgia’s largest school dis­trict, more than 250 employ­ees have called in to report either a pos­i­tive test or poten­tial expo­sure, mean­ing they have to stay home. Stu­dents in mul­ti­ple states have test­ed pos­i­tive, send­ing their class­mates home to quarantine.

The Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers said it would sup­port safe­ty strikes” against school dis­tricts that reopened unsafe­ly, and many of the largest dis­tricts are remain­ing remote for the fall semes­ter. While this may be the safest choice for now, it is not with­out costs.

School clo­sures pose a dif­fi­cult child­care chal­lenge, and remote learn­ing is typ­i­cal­ly low­er qual­i­ty than in per­son. Many stu­dents lack the tech­no­log­i­cal resources need­ed, and the already dis­ad­van­taged may fall fur­ther behind. 

These 10 num­bers give a sense of the scale of the prob­lem, head­ing into the new school year:

  • 1,725,082,528 stu­dents world­wide have been affect­ed by Covid-19 school and uni­ver­si­ty closures
  • 50% of these stu­dents do not have access to a com­put­er and more than 40% do not have inter­net access
  • 7,000,000 U.S. stu­dents do not have home inter­net access
  • 30% of U.S. Indige­nous fam­i­lies access the inter­net only through a phone (if at all)
  • 10,000 Boston pub­lic school stu­dents (more than 20%) did not reg­is­ter to log into class in May and may have dropped out
  • 52% few­er K – 5 stu­dents in low-income house­holds used the online plat­form Zearn Math in May than in Jan­u­ary, while high-income stu­dents used it more
  • 30% of year­ly read­ing gains and more than 50% of year­ly math gains could be lost for stu­dents who received no instruc­tion since March
  • 9 of the 10 largest U.S. school dis­tricts are in areas with pos­i­tive Covid-19 test rates above 5%
  • $1,778,139 in addi­tion­al fund­ing could be need­ed for pan­dem­ic-relat­ed staff and logis­tics to reopen an aver­age 3,659-student dis­trict, yet many face cuts
  • 62% of U.S. teach­ers, admin­is­tra­tors and dis­trict lead­ers are at least some­what con­cerned about return­ing to school

Day­ton Mar­tin­dale is a free­lance writer and for­mer asso­ciate edi­tor at In These Times. His work has also appeared in Boston Review, Earth Island Jour­nal, Har­bin­ger and The Next Sys­tem Project. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @DaytonRMartind.

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