The end of the 2019-20 school year will go down as an unprecedented time in the modern history of education. Governors in all fifty states moved to order or recommend statewide school closures, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in more than 124,000 schools being rapidly shuttered and approximately 55 million students experiencing a stoppage in their in-person instruction. The quick pivot to school closures and distance learning meant that decision-makers at every level of the education system were suddenly charged with navigating the uncharted territory of teaching the majority of students remotely. This was a pandemic without an educator playbook!
State education agencies began issuing policy guidance to inform and support district and school leaders as they scrambled to plan for instruction during a time of social distancing. Among the major categories of topics emphasized in the guidance materials developed by the states was advice on how to address issues of equity during the lockdown. This topic proved to be of vital significance. With whole districts of students now being taught from home, the pandemic brought into sharp focus the inequities that are inherent in remote learning. Specifically, without time to adequately prepare for the shift, educators across the nation were faced with the daunting challenge of effectively teaching students with different levels of technology resources and a broad array of household circumstances (Selwyn, 2020)––and there were legitimate fears that achievement gaps would widen for historically underserved groups of students (Welner, 2020).
In this blog post, we are announcing the development of a policy brief that will document how state education agencies across the country addressed equity issues in their remote learning plans. In order to conduct the analysis, we first developed a remote learning equity framework, which includes four high-level domains: 1) guidance on access (technology and devices), 2) guidance on home learning environments, 3) guidance on teacher and student readiness, and 4) guidance on programmatic offerings. Within each of these domains, we developed dimensions of equity for examining the ways in which state guidance addressed providing an equitable remote learning experience for students.
Given the strong possibility of a return to remote learning during the 2020-21 school year, it is imperative that researchers and educational leaders continue to explore how to better meet the learning needs of students who are being taught remotely. In a future blog post, we will announce the completion of the policy brief.