Survey says: Students struggling with remote learning

Based on Governor Walz’s recent executive order, the state’s guidance for public schools was updated yesterday to note that “all school districts and charter schools must offer a distance learning model that meets the educational needs of all students of families who choose not to receive in-person instruction” and that a school district could “limit movement from distance learning to in-person or hybrid instruction.”

But now with schools choosing distance learning, not all parents have a choice over the learning model their students have access to, and given the challenges and shortcomings of distance learning, the educational needs of all students are not being met despite previous guidance from state leaders that it is critical for schools to provide distance learning in a format that can be “equitably accessed by all students.” Recent reports have stated that districts’ distance learning plans are not meeting students’ needs; students are experiencing heightened learning loss; and the state’s most vulnerable students are being left behind due to continued school closures.

A survey data analysis by the RAND Corporation shows that most schools are still providing either wholly or partially remote instruction. According to teachers, this has continued to limit students’ learning, particularly among the most vulnerable student subgroups who have been more likely to receive remote instruction, and students are less prepared to participate in grade-level work this school year relative to last school year. But “only 10 percent of principals indicated that their school was providing more students with tutoring or supplemental courses than last year.”

Most teachers providing remote instruction “reported that they had not received adequate guidance to support students from vulnerable populations,” and four in 10 remote teachers said they “have a major or very major need for strategies to help students catch up to grade level.” Contact with students, especially in schools without in-person instruction, is also challenging, according to teachers.

As I wrote here, this is why it’s so important for state leaders to help families access the learning environment that will meet their children’s needs. Students who were underserved by the education system pre-COVID are more likely to continue being the most impacted, as they were by school closures last spring.

And if you missed all the previous research I have shared about schools not being the super-spreaders they were once feared to be, here is a new antibody study that shows young children may be less likely to spread the coronavirus, which could be good news for in-person elementary and middle school learning, reports Asher Lehrer-Small with The 74 Million.

The paper, published in the journal Nature Immunology, examined 47 youth and 32 adults who had been infected with the virus, finding a reduced antibody response among children. Counterintuitively, this result is good news for kids, as it indicates that COVID often did not take hold as strongly within children’s systems and seems to offer a scientific counterpoint to the highly politicized debates over school reopenings during the pandemic.

While these findings may not change school plans immediately, they could be used when schools have to confront bringing students back for in-person learning later on down the road, continues Lehrer-Small.

The paper helps put the pieces together on a number of previously unknown questions surrounding school reopenings. First and foremost, it helps explain why young children seem to transmit COVID less than adults. The lessened antibody responses observed by Farber’s team indicate that the virus rarely gains the same foothold in children as it tends to in those who are older. That has implications for transmission.

“If they really don’t have a lot of virus, they’re not going to be breathing out a lot of virus,” Farber explained. “They’re not going to be the big spreaders, the big super spreaders.”

Doctors and school officials alike have worried that youth who are infected by COVID but do not experience symptoms could come to school and spread the virus inadvertently. And while that risk remains, the findings of the Nature Immunology study indicate that asymptomatic carriers may be less likely to spread the virus than those who experience symptoms.

The study’s conclusions also tie into what public health experts have found on the importance of prioritizing in-person instruction, especially given the negative impacts distance learning has had on students.

Earlier this month in an interview with Education Week, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, said that “schools need to be bolder” in their reopening strategies, given the proper safety measures. Jha has also spoken out on Twitter about the oft-overestimated risk of in-person learning. And last month, The Atlantic published an article arguing that fears that schools would be COVID “super-spreaders” were likely overblown.