Darling-Aduana recently co-authored a new book, “Equity and Quality in Digital Learning: Realizing the Promise in K-12 Education,” which chronicles how two school districts in Milwaukee and Dallas attempted to enact equity-focused digital learning over a decade. Each chapter provides tools and actionable insights at a different level of implementation: the policy level, school level, classroom level, and student level. Here she shares her thoughts on the pandemic’s effects on students and what changes are needed to help them succeed.
The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities. Challenges such as economic security, safe, high-quality childcare, and access to healthcare are even more salient in families’ lives than they were a year ago.
There has been an outpouring of support from school districts, foundations, and private companies to address the digital divide regarding access to devices and the Internet. Disparities persist along socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, and geographic lines, but progress has been made.
Perhaps the best-documented concern is the potential for learning loss, particularly among students who belong to marginalized groups. Policymakers and educators are already trying to develop interventions to address this concern. While there is the potential for this to have long-term implications, with sufficient funding and support, educators and researchers have experience mitigating this challenge.
The crisis-driven shift to online learning meant that much of the infrastructure- and expertise-related roadblocks to larger-scale online learning have been addressed, at least in part. Because there are many potential benefits to online learning depending on the context, I think it’s likely that some students and schools will continue to integrate various types of technology-facilitated and/or virtual learning at higher rates than prior to the pandemic. At a student and family level, there has also been increased interest in fully virtual schools and homeschooling. I expect that some of these families will choose to continue in these alternative formats.
I’d like to believe that it’s not a particularly groundbreaking teaching strategy, but the virtual programs I’ve seen benefit students the most over that past year are those that treat students as whole people. In particular, during a national crisis, students need opportunities to connect to others and feel like they are a part of a community. The more stressful the external factors are, the more critical it is to provide opportunities for students to bring their whole selves and experiences into the classroom and develop trust and respect with each child as an individual.
I’d like to suggest rephrasing the question because online learning is simply a new medium for instructional delivery. The full spectrum of high- to low-quality instructional techniques implemented in traditional, face-to-face classrooms across the country can be virtually implemented in some form or another (with similar rates of success). The prerequisites for quality education — whether online or face-to-face — are more similar than they are different. If you want to know whether crisis schooling (whether it’s online or face-to-face) can ever compare with non-crisis education, then of course not. That speaks more to the pandemic and the state of this country than it provides any actual test of the promise or limitations of online learning.