As school systems across the country learned when they were forced to suddenly close in spring 2020, remote instruction is a fundamentally different task than what school districts are designed for. A deeper dive into six school systems' efforts to navigate the spring school closures and shift to remote learning by the Center on Reinventing Public Education reveals how sweeping the challenges of remote and online learning can be.

In the six case studies, district leaders reported that in the immediate aftermath of school shutdowns in March, they had to scramble to provide food, social services, and internet connectivity, among other basic necessities, for hundreds or even thousands of children. The best they could do for remote learning at the time was to provide paper worksheets.

Remote offerings have improved, yet none of the six districts believe they have cracked the code on how to provide a consistently high-quality, online instructional experience. They acknowledged big differences between teachers and schools in content covered and student engagement, and want to increase the numbers of students with access to the best materials. Some also anticipate needing to look outside their districts for online programs.

There is hope, however. Together, the survey and examinations of the six districts' experiences suggest how different stakeholders can use pandemic-related momentum to make online learning a common staple of public schooling:

  • Addressing the digital divide.
  • Updating policies like seat time requirements and attendance policies.
  • Allocating federal funding to support states' development of free online curriculum materials and platforms.
  • Continuing district partnerships with local social service agencies built during the pandemic.

Read the full article about school district leaders by Heather Schwartz at RAND Corporation.