After a year of distance and hybrid learning, The Conference Board’s Committee for Economic Development (CED) released a report identifying K-12 remote education deficits, as well as ideas on how schools can harness technology for future learning.
“Remote learning fundamentally changed the delivery of education, and now, the K-12 system is reaching a critical inflection point,” said Lori Esposito Murray, President of CED. “While difficult to incorporate under crisis conditions, schools have an opportunity to embrace and accelerate online learning technology by providing funding, focused instruction, and support for these learning models, which can be an effective educational supplement to traditional classroom experiences.”
While many educators, parents, and students are eager to return to a physical classroom, Murray said that “reverting back to a model that relies solely on physical presence in the classroom risks students missing out on an array of digital opportunities that are needed to succeed in an increasingly digital economy.”
In the upcoming school year, schools will have to address significant learning deficits from the COVID-19 pandemic, which will disproportionately impact low-income students. CED posits that much of the learning deficit can be blamed on the digital divide – which existed long before the pandemic – and that school closures and remote learning mandates merely “exacerbated the existing domestic disparities.” The report says, “failure to learn from the lessons of the past year could be catastrophic to the learning outcomes – and eventual workforce readiness – of future generations.”
In the report, CED offers five proposals that business leaders and policymakers should implement to harness remote learning technology more effectively in the future. The proposals are:
- Narrow the digital divide: While the report acknowledges that full broadband expansion will require the Federal government to take charge, CED said that in the interim school districts and local business leaders can step up to the plate to help close the digital divide. CED said states and school districts should replicate and scale up stop-gap solutions developed during the pandemic, including computer device and Wi-Fi hotspot lending programs. Business leaders also have a role to play, and can help bridge the digital divide by extending the reach of Wi-Fi and providing funding to support the necessary purchase of additional devices. “These innovative partnerships could spell the difference between success and failure for vulnerable students,” the report says.
- Address learning loss: Closing learning deficits caused during COVID requires policymakers and educators to reengage students and accelerate learning through remedial education opportunities. CED says that one way to do this is by adding additional instruction days to the academic calendar. Other options include using trained tutors or teaching assistants to provide individualized instruction to struggling students, as well as summer school programs both this year and beyond.
- Improve student and teacher wellbeing: The ramifications of the pandemic are wide-reaching, and include serious impacts on the mental, physical, and emotional health of teachers and students. To ward off teacher burnout, CED says educators should be provided counseling resources and time to prepare for hybrid or remote instruction. For students, schools need to provide additional counselors to offer social and emotional support as students reintegrate into a physical learning environment.
- Improve online learning models and methodologies: The report argues that school districts must capitalize on lessons learned during the pandemic to deliver more effective blended learning. It also says that effective digital curricula and assessment tools for remote and asynchronous learning on personal devices enable schools to individualize education. Further, the report says that “technology in and out of the classroom is imperative to building a digitally literate generation that can fill the jobs of the future.” However, schools alone cannot build out the digital infrastructure needed to support these efforts. Rather, it will require partnerships among businesses, community organizations, K-12 schools, and colleges and universities.
- Identify best practices: As the world returns to normal, Federal policymakers should establish national task force to sponsor research and comprehensively assess the lessons learned and best practices from remote learning undertaken during COVID-19. The task force also should identify and codify the best methods for testing the effectiveness of online learning.