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The number of districts offering remote instruction more than doubled in the first few weeks of the 2021-2022 school year, according to a poll of 105 large and urban school systems. Challenges and opportunities related to remote instruction and testing began for some pre-pandemic, but for most, they came in response to the pandemic.

Here are some things to note as we start yet another pandemic impacted school year:

Remote Instruction Status

  • COVID’s ongoing spread in classrooms is forcing a growing number of district leaders to reverse their decisions to discontinue online and remote learning options.
  • Some states have blocked or eliminated funding for online learning this school year.
  • Yet the number of districts offering remote instruction more than doubled, from 41 to 94, between July and September.
  • Some parents are also turning to hybrid tutoring options to tackle unfinished learning caused by COVID-19. A nationwide parent survey showed students benefit when in-person and remote learning are combined.
  • Many remote learning programs are struggling to accommodate demand, are not accessible to all students, or don’t provide the support services students would normally receive in school.

States That Changed Policy to Allow Remote Instruction

  • Tennessee – granted waivers allowing eight districts to shift individual schools to remote learning.
  • New Jersey – endorsed overturning a ban on virtual learning options.
  • Texas – approved a bill that provides state funding for district remote learning programs.

Varied Virtual Learning

  • Some virtual learning programs are new, some expanded, others seeing a surge in demand.
  • San Antonio ISD’s virtual program includes 700 students with medical challenges and their siblings, and for students who have suffered trauma during the pandemic.
  • North Carolina went from 600 students in virtual learning to over 2,300 (quadrupled) in a few weeks.
  • Gwinnett County Public Schools near Atlanta saw a similar spike in enrollment.
  • At least 29 of the districts set enrollment caps or started waitlists for virtual options.
  • California’s Sacramento City USD only had enough teachers to accommodate 25% of its virtual learners.
  • Many of the districts are using their own teachers to deliver virtual instruction but some have partnered with external providers and only a handful of the school systems surveyed are offering a hybrid option that blends in-person and online learning.
  • Meanwhile, the approach to distance learning varies among the 105 programs in the CRPE survey. For example:
    • 60 require regular teacher check-ins
    • 53 developed plans to serve students with disabilities and English language learners
    • 45 offer academic interventions such as tutoring or small-group instruction
    • 31 provided enrichment and elective opportunities

States Limiting Remote Learning

  • Eight states have restricted remote learning to some degree in 2021-22:
    • Kansas
    • Kentucky
    • Massachusetts
    • Missouri
    • New Hampshire
    • New Jersey
    • Rhode Island
    • Tennessee
    • Texas

States supporting districts’ remote learning plans

  • Arizona – lets schools offer remote learning, mastery-based education, and night and weekend classes as alternatives to the five-day school week.
  • Colorado – established standards for online learning programs that cover multiple districts.
  • Connecticut – requires the state to set standards for remote learning so districts can offer high school remote learning in 2022.
  • Indianapolis Public Schools is contracting with other organizations to operate online schools that offer small-group instruction, tutoring, social-emotional resources for students with disabilities and English learners, enrichment and electives.
  • Illinois – developed remote learning guidelines that cover instructional time, enrollment and requirements for synchronous instruction.
  • South Dakota – guidance for long-term virtual programs urges quality instruction, alignment to state standards and use of certified staff.
  • South Carolina – approved 51 district-operated virtual programs requiring that teachers are certified, schools provide live instruction, and students actively participate.

Conclusion

  • Providing students in quarantine or isolation with immediate access to quality remote learning continues to be a challenge for states and districts.
  • We have an opportunity to establish long-term virtual learning programs that expand on lessons learned during COVID.

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