Look up remote in a thesaurus, and you’ll find not just the usual distant and far-off, but also lonely, disconnected, and isolated, perfect descriptors for the distance learning foisted on millions of students in March 2020 when America was locked down, schools closed, and life went virtual.

Remote’s opposite, of course, is close, approachable, and friendly, all of which apply to in-person instruction, pretty much denied kids for months on end. And then, when restrictions loosened and numerous schools reopened at least partially, many still chose to stay shuttered and distant, some right up to the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

Meanwhile, led by Emily Oster, an economics professor and parenting author, a new Brown University study involved poring through school district websites, Facebook pages, and other public data, tracking changes in instruction offered at some 1,200 districts, in all 50 states and D.C. In other words, 46% of all K-12 public school students from September 2020 to April 2021.

The researchers discovered that, between January and April 30, 2021 when reliance on virtual-only instruction lessened:

** 75% of white students had access to full-time, in-person instruction, up from 38%.
** 63% of Black students had such access, up from 32%.
** 60% of Hispanic students had such access, up from 36%.
** For K-5 kids, the gap in such access rose to over 15% between white and Black students.
** That gap rose by more than 11% in the middle grades. and nearly 13% for high school students.

The result of all this virtual and hybrid instruction were such negatives as less exercise and time outside, mental health issues, emotional distress, etc., ballooning learning loss and summer school rolls. Case in point: Philadelphia. Typically, some 4,000 students sign up; this year more than 15,000 are hitting the books.

And no wonder since, according to the Voice of the Educator study, more than 97% of educators have seen at least some level of learning loss, and 57% estimate that their students are socially and emotionally behind by more than three months.

Says Mike Morath, Texas State Education Commissioner: “The impact of the coronavirus on what school means, and what school is, has been truly profound. It will take several years of change and support in order to help kids catch up.”

Adds Robin Lake, director of the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education,” It’s a little sickening to see the bottom drop out for so many kids. Clearly, remote learning has been hitting the most vulnerable kids the hardest. It’s what we were expecting, but it’s still tough to see.”

As an Education Week Research Center’s study discovered:

  1. While 20% of schools were fully in-person, 20% were fully remote.
  2. 50% of those fully remote reported a shorter school day than usual vs. 17% of those fully in-person.
  3. Just 15% of fully remote teachers and 19% of teachers in hybrid settings said they’d covered all or nearly all of what they would cover in a normal school year.

Nevertheless, school districts in such cities as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, and Houston intend to continue offering a full-time virtual option come September. And finds a recent AT&T 2021 Future of School report: 94% of teachers are open to hybrid instruction given the proper resources, curriculum, and support, and 71% support inclement weather virtual days.

As for parents, the report found that:

  • 83% support inclement weather virtual days.
  • 84% support virtual tutoring or enrichment programs.
  • 85% want their kids to join classes virtually when home sick.
  • 37% say their kids’ education was delayed by the pandemic.

At the same time, a recent Education Week national poll of 1,150 parents found that 58% want their schools to offer both remote and in-person instruction; another 12% said schools should be remote-only.

As 4th grade charter school teacher LeLac Almagor reminds us, however: “Even under optimal conditions, virtual school meant flattening the collaborative magic of the classroom into little more than an instructional video. Stripped of classroom discussion, human connection, art materials, classroom libraries, and time and space to play, virtual school was not school; it was busywork obscuring the “rubber rooming” of the entire school system.”

Then there’s this from Candy Schulman, a writer and writing professor at The New School in NYC: “I yearn to walk into a classroom, welcome my students, and get down to work. Side by side.”

And that’s the bottom line, at least for me.

With thanks, Carol