Multiple surveys confirm distance learning didn’t go well

Gov. Walz and the Minnesota Department of Education will announce school learning guidance for this fall on July 30.

Hopefully their decision takes into account the recent surveys where students, parents and educators shared their experiences on how distance learning went. Hint: it didn’t go well.

An informal survey of parents by the MDE discovered 52.6 percent of respondents rated their distance learning experience during spring 2020 as “bad” or “very bad.” The top challenges included students experiencing decreases in their social-emotional and mental health, unclear lessons, not enough communication from teachers, and a lack of adult support.

According to a distance learning survey by the University of Minnesota, educators were more worried over continuing distance learning in the fall than they were about coming back to school and getting sick. Many respondents detailed out their concerns under “other,” which included worry over “the mental health of students and themselves, the inequities in distance learning and students falling behind, and that vulnerable populations of students are likely being most adversely affected.”

Source: University of Minnesota

Students have also weighed in on how distance learning went. The Center on Reinventing Public Education “analyzed seven student surveys (four of them nationally representative) and found that most students reported having negative experiences with distance learning,” according to Ed Allies.

In one national survey, 67% of students reported that they learn better in-person compared to distance learning. Another national survey indicated that nearly 25% of teens reported that they connected with their teachers less than once a week, and 41% reported that they hadn’t attended an online or virtual class since in-person school buildings were closed.  Another survey found that while nearly two-thirds of students indicated that their mental health has worsened during the pandemic, only 40% reported that they have received support from an adult at their school.

There were also differences in experiences depending on where students went to school, with twice as many private school students reporting that they connected with their teachers at least once a day (66% v. 31%). And students in rural communities reported feeling less connected to their school communities than students in the cities or suburbs. Furthermore, less than half of Black, multiracial or Latino students indicated that they had been able to focus on their learning, as compared to 50% of white and 62% of Asian students.

While a student-specific survey for Minnesota isn’t available, some of the state’s students shared their point of view during listening sessions hosted by the House education committees, Ed Allies continued.

Students expressed a strong desire for more synchronous—or live—instruction. Students testified that they struggled with the lack of real-time feedback or opportunities to engage with peers online. As one student described: “One of the most difficult situations during distance learning for me was in the classes that did not provide teacher interaction. For example, a semester-long class, my peers and I had no opportunity to watch lectures or attend video calls on the materials we were supposed to learn.”

Reopening K-12 schools for in-person learning holds tremendous value, especially for elementary school students. And doing so while promoting public health is possible. Visit and let Gov. Walz know online learning isn’t enough and our kids need to be in the classroom this fall.