The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated disparities in education, now Illinois must address these disparities while preparing for the future.
Springfield, IL – Today, Matthew Gross, Co-Founder and CEO of Newsela, a digital education platform used in schools across America, submitted testimony to the Illinois General Assembly urging them to pass SB1569 which would codify changes to the state’s distance learning requirements. While the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the disparities that exist in students’ access to quality distance-learning, this legislation addresses those disparities.
Newsela has been working with states and school districts across the country to provide free distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic for the 2019-2020 school year. As the fate of the fall semester of the 2020-2021 school year remains largely uncertain, schools must prepare for any possibility. This legislation helps level the playing field and ensure that no matter where students are starting school in the fall, they will be able to continue learning in a meaningful and equitable way.
Excerpted submitted testimony is below:
Newsela Co-Founder and CEO, Matthew Gross: As schools face a future that will include prolonged closures and likely greater reliance on distance learning even after schools re-open, we must be honest about and address the gaps in our schools’ preparedness for distance learning. SB1569 addresses three of the most important challenges we face.
First, the bill rightly requires that remote learning be accessible to all students in the district.
We must acknowledge the digital divide that exists today. Access to devices and internet is an enormous barrier to online learning, and we as a society must work together to address the digital divide. But at the same time, we need to ensure that distance learning can still work for students who do not have access to unlimited internet. Districts should seek platforms with ample on and offline access that allow students to access their materials even when they are offline and that teachers can also print as PDFs to send to students without access to computers at home.
Second, the bill requires that remote learning be aligned with state standards. It is of the utmost importance that we not compromise on standards-based instruction while students are learning remotely. We must empower teachers with instructional materials that ensure students continue to progress on track, whether they are together or apart.
Finally, the bill strives for equity in seeking to address the needs of students with disabilities and homeless students in remote learning. Online materials should serve all students, including those most vulnerable. Using digital materials that meet WCAG AA (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) standards ensures curricular content is accessible both for students with disabilities and those who only have access to limited devices, such as mobile phones. But equity does not stop at getting materials in students' hands. We must also ensure that the instructional content itself is accessible to students of all reading and learning levels.
The elements of this bill I have outlined are entirely possible with solutions that exist today. We have no reason to deprive our students of accessible, standards-aligned instruction that serves ALL learners. I strongly urge the passage of this bill.
Newsela takes authentic, real world content from trusted sources and makes it instruction ready. We publish each text at five reading levels, so content is accessible to every learner. We attach the content to subject-specific activities and state standards like TEKS, and embed reporting that gives visibility into students’ work. Newsela has over 10,000 texts and publishes 10 new ones every day across 20+ genres.
Gina Smith, Newsela