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What We Can Learn from State Directives on Distance Learning

The Newsela Team
Apr 20, 2020

With schools closed across the U.S.—many for the remainder of the academic year—the focus of administrators, teachers, and parents around the country has shifted to distance learning. With each passing week, districts make strides towards more reliable teaching platforms and instructional content, but questions remain: What further training is needed to fully leverage technology? Are there partnerships available to bolster support? How can schools ensure equity when students’ home environments are beyond their control?

A key set of resources has emerged in the form of state directives on distance learning. Each state has its own unique challenges to confront, and the variety of approaches provides a wealth of guidance for schools to consider. Below, we explore highlights from a handful of states that can be applied by school districts everywhere.  

California: Equity is Paramount

California published COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools, and ensuring equity and access for students is a prominent part of their approach. After reminding schools that they can’t require students to supply their own devices and wifi, they recommend starting with an assessment of student access to the internet and technology as the baseline for developing a distance learning plan. 

They stress, however, that an equitable plan does not have to be one-size-fits-all: the key is employing a variety of content delivery options so each student can receive materials in a way that works for them. They also emphasize the importance of implementing short-term options while not losing sight of better long-term ones, since schools’ “ability to deliver robust and meaningful educational opportunities will increase as they have more time to assess e-learning options.”

New Jersey: Flexibility is Crucial

In New Jersey, the Department of Education’s guidance highlights the importance of flexibility in continuing to engage students. In the new world of distance learning, teachers may need to reassess not only how they’re teaching, but when; the traditional schedule and rhythms of the classroom may not always make sense with students learning from home. 

Other ways to encourage flexibility? Allowing for student choice as a means of keeping classes engaged, and providing different ways for students to interact with content (including reading, video, hands-on projects, and more). Supporting self-reflection can also help students learn from the moment as a whole.

Texas: Asking the Right Questions of Technology

The Texas plan for instructional continuity provides a list of detailed questions to guide schools as they create and evolve their distance learning plans. A significant portion of these focus on technology, with the goal of ensuring that schools examine all options when shaping the role technology will play in their approach.

In addition to understanding the access students and teachers have to technology at home, it’s also important to consider questions of maintenance and training to keep successful technologies operating smoothly. When it comes to long-term plans, questions of scalability should also be top-of-mind; once in place, programs for device lending, training, and tech support should be supported and expanded to ensure greater access.

Ohio: Getting the Right Partnerships in Place

Schools shouldn’t have to go it alone, and Ohio’s Remote Learning Resource Guide emphasizes that “education is everyone’s business.” Their guidance on leveraging partnerships encourages schools to engage local organizations and businesses, inviting them to share the responsibility for designing and delivering distance learning plans. 

Which prospective partners should schools consider? Everyone from education service centers and universities to non-profits, IT centers, local businesses, and community leaders. In a time when all of us want to help how we can, shared responsibility can lead to better outcomes for schools, teachers, and students.

Florida: Considering the Needs of English Language Learners

Many states have additional considerations when developing distance learning plans, and in Florida their Best Practices for Distance Learning include a number of grade-specific resources for English Language learners. While this may be top-of-mind for states with large bilingual student populations, it’s important for all schools to consider and address the needs of ELL students.

From improving content delivery to serving student populations with unique needs, the pursuit of equity is central to all the directives discussed above. And when schools consider the tools that support their distance learning plans, they should hold them to the same standards laid out in the plans themselves. 

Instructional tools should be flexible and versatile, with materials that can support evolving needs as schools address the current moment and plan for the recovery that will follow. Content delivery should be accessible and equitable, with infrastructure students can use and content that is relevant and accessible to all. Learning platforms should be digital-first, but not digital only; there should be online and offline options available to students and teachers, and consistent visibility into their usage to ensure transparency. 

The considerations above shouldn’t be limited to our current moment. Instead, they should open the door to improved equity, flexibility, technology, and partnerships in the future, with the goal of enriching learning for all students.

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