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Commentary: Learning In The Time Of COVID-19

empty school hallway

This post was originally published on March 19, 2020 by Forbes, and is part of LPI's Learning in the Time of COVID-19 blog series, which explores strategies and investments to address the current crisis and build long-term systems capacity.

Some useful resources to support learning in the time of COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, public health officials increasingly agree that “flattening the curve” of infection and illness will likely require months, rather than weeks, of social isolation. Already, 44 million of the nation’s 57 million K-12 students* have been affected by school closures, and parents and educators are scrambling to ensure the essential services that schools provide—rich educational experiences, child care, and the meals, medical, and social services that many families rely on. As more and more schools close, it is essential to find ways to continue to provide learning opportunities and critical services to our students —especially those who will be hit hardest by the economic downturn that is also occurring.

This is a moment that exposes the many inequities in our society — from the broadband and computers needed for distance education to the supportive environments needed to focus on learning. For the millions of children who are homeless, food insecure, without health care, school is often the one place where they feel safe and where they are taken care of.

As these inequities are more sharply exposed in this time of crisis, this moment also holds the possibility that with purposeful action, these needs can be more fully addressed and when we return to “normal,” we will not also return to the inequitable status quo. In addition to the mobilization of federal and state government supports, a wide range of contributors are stepping forward to provide everything from free wi-fi and devices for students who lack them to meals for families and support for health and childcare.

Many states and districts are demonstrating enormous creativity in serving students as they close schools. For example, with the help of many partners, Los Angeles Unified School District opened up 60 grab-and-go meal centers, 40 child care centers, and launched a distance learning program that involves both interactive computer-based learning and a partnership with public television that includes programming in English and Spanish for every age group with lesson plans and assignments. Take-home packets of reading and writing assignments focus both on traditional content and on students’ written reflections about their experiences during this time.

South Carolina is repurposing thousands of school buses to deliver instructional materials and meals and to provide mobile, parked hot spots to locations without internet access. Miami-Dade County Public Schools has developed an instructional continuity plan that offers online materials available by grade level, including core and supplementary materials, as well as materials for students with exceptional needs. The district provides mobile devices for students to check out for home use to ensure that students can continue their learning without interruption. The district also has a support hotline for teachers, students, and parents seeking assistance with distance learning. California has organized a wealth of free on-line teaching resources for teachers by content area and grade level and will be coordinating access to digital tools for schools and students who need them.

Among these resources are many targeted to social and emotional learning as well as content learning, to English learners and to students with disabilities, to teachers who are learning new on-line pedagogies, and to parents who are learning to support their children’s education at home. They also include free access to on-line learning platforms so that educators can meet with their students and with each other to plan new lessons and approaches. Below we offer a selection of these resources that may prove useful in your efforts to support learning in the time of COVID-19.

While we must stay apart physically right now, it is heartening to see so many of us coming together in many other ways to care for each other and our students. Perhaps some of the innovations we’re developing today may lead us to new and powerful solutions in the future that can help overcome the persistent challenges of equity and access in education that we all strive to end.

*Since this commentary was originally posted, the number has grown to include nearly all of America's approximately 57 million students.