Remote learning has failed most children. Districts must pivot now

The school year is now almost two months old. That’s long enough to conclude that remote learning is a failing many of our children. Across the Denver metro area, attendance rates are low. Engagement is lower still. Children are not learning.

These lessons apply to students across the socioeconomic spectrum. In many ways,  this let-down is nothing new to low-income families. Schools have poorly served many such families since long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

Now, affluent families as well are experiencing the feeling of being poorly served by their school system. But those families have the resources to compensate, by hiring tutors, paying to create pandemic pods, or placing their children in private schools.

For less fortunate families, there is no time to waste. School districts must pivot, immediately, to providing direct assistance to families. That assistance can come in any number of forms. One idea would be to help parents form academic pods, and provide funding to pay for teachers to staff them.

Another idea would be to provide parents with direct stipends so they can figure out how to chart the best course for their children and provide extended learning opportunities.

Whatever course districts chart, they must begin immediately. Every day lost to failed remote learning efforts is another day students fall behind. It’s another day opportunity gaps widen.

This isn’t a time to cast blame for the failures. No school district was ready for a pandemic, and even having a summer to regroup after the shock of the spring proved insufficient to put robust plans in place. But if districts continue to limp through, poorly serving their students, then blame will be cast, and elected and appointed leaders must face consequences.

In our work at Transform Education Now, we are in touch daily with scores of families throughout the metro area. The failure of remote learning is pervasive. It is not something happening in isolated pockets. It affects almost every public school family, especially those without resources to find alternatives.

Here are a few quick vignettes. There are countless more:

  • We know families who report that their student is marked present if they text their teacher, which means they are receiving no direct instruction. 
  • We know families reporting less than three hours of instruction a week from their schools. 
  • We know families who are reporting no remote instruction while in quarantine, in districts where students are back in person. 
  • We know parents report busy work and YouTube videos as assignments that are not aligned with grade level expectations. They can check on their students’ learning goals here.
  • We know parents who have retreated completely from school and are homeschooling or in pods without any academic programming support. 
  • We know parents who are paying $1,200/month for childcare because they are essential workers who are still working while school is not in session. 
  • We know parents who have six or more children attempting remote learning in their home, with limited devices and internet access. 
  • We know parents with students with individualized learning plans who are confident that their student is not receiving the services that they are legally entitled to. 
  • We know parents who do not speak English who are unable to access their students’ instructional materials to support their student.

All of this is unacceptable. 

Nicholas Martinez
Nicholas Martinez credits his family for instilling the value of education early and igniting a deep passion for serving Colorado’s families and students. Shaped by his own educational experiences and the stories of the families he has served, Nicholas is committed to fighting alongside communities to create a more just education system because all kids deserve a life of opportunities. As co-founder and executive director of Transform Education Now (TEN), Nicholas organizes families, community leaders and decision makers to ensure that every child receives a world class education regardless of their zip code.