Giving Compass' Take:

• Here is an overview of the various issues with distance learning solutions for students, teachers and education administrators. 

• How can donors help alleviate some of these pain points for students? What distance learning solutions are working in the short-term? How can donors help educators find long-term solutions within academics during COVID-19? 

• Read this survey that reveals obstacles and successes for distance learning.

Schools and parents scrambled last spring as the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated school closings and virtual learning solutions became the norm.

If the virus continues its deadly spread, it may be necessary to continue with these solutions. However, it is important to consider the long-term effectiveness of these programs.

Results vary greatly, especially for students with fewer resources at home and those in low-income or rural areas. As many as one-third of American homes do not have access to digital devices or the internet.

Local schools are doing what they can to bridge this divide, but it is neither cheap nor easy.

In recent years, there’s been no shortage of misleading information about virtual learning. Many programs are run by for-profit companies that may seek to prey on parents; others are well-meaning nonprofit enterprises with little hard data to back up their claims. Certainly, some virtual learning solutions, when done carefully, can be helpful — especially in a pandemic. However, lack of oversight has created a Wild West atmosphere.

Even the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has issued a plea for reform of virtual schools.

A recent analysis by the National Education Policy Center examined the Summit Learning Program, one of the most prominent virtual learning programs in the country. The program has been backed by millions of dollars from Silicon Valley philanthropists, but there is little evidence it works.

Summit claims it follows a “science-based” model, but this hasn’t been confirmed by independent researchers. When asked for further data to back its claims, Summit failed to respond.

Virtual learning programs also open the door to possible breaches of sensitive student data, making it critical to read privacy agreements before enrolling in any online learning platform. Even if companies promise not to sell the data, it can still be compromised. Last year, a K12 Inc. breach exposed student data to anyone with an internet connection for 19,000 students for an entire week.

Read the full article about distance learning by Gretchen Dziadosz at Education Dive.