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Building Resilient Schools for Next School Year

This guest blog post was written by SETDA partner, Brendan Desetti, Director of Government & Stakeholder Relations for D2L.

As the school year comes to an end in many places around the country, the uncertainty of COVID-19 looms in the future. What is certain, is that while we once hoped for summer respite, the needs of schools and children demand overdrive planning to curtail future learning disruption.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recently indicated that a second wave of infections is “inevitable.” The continued threat of COVID-19 means school districts are not likely to re-open for the fall semester, if they open at all, without physical distancing mandates that fundamentally change the way schools operate.

In this new reality, it is imperative that states use their CARES Act dollars to support school districts in redesigning their learning systems for resiliency. Our schools must be able to serve students face-to-face and online simultaneously. Further, they must be capable of serving all students face-to-face one day and all students fully online the next day, without missing a beat of learning. Resilient systems of learning will keep student learning moving forward. Never stagnant. Never falling behind.

To ensure resilient and equitable systems of learning, it is the State that must provide the digital learning infrastructure necessary to operate under any condition. Providing for the digital learning infrastructure means:

  1. closing the homework gap by supporting district efforts to provide a device to every student that needs one and internet access to every family without it;
  2. providing for a statewide learning platform to enable teacher-led instruction, learning progression, and parent engagement; and
  3. increasing professional development for teachers to adapt to the pedagogical needs best suited to their instructional method (in-person or online) and their students’ needs.

The state assuming this role helps to ensure that every district has the same level playing field and expectations to provide high-quality, teacher-led, learning to students. By alleviating this burden, districts can focus their resources on providing the teaching and non-academic supports necessary for every student to succeed.

Digital learning infrastructure has historically been left to school districts to support and implement independent of state intervention. In some cases, districts have been able to afford and support it, and we are seeing early successes in those places to quickly shift students online and continue learning and services uninterrupted (see Gwinnett County Public Schools). But in most school districts, especially those serving rural and at-risk students, the infrastructure simply does not exist or isn’t sufficient to serve the full population.

Only through state level action can learning inequities, based on access to and quality of digital infrastructure, be addressed in an equitable manner. The disruptions to learning arising from COVID-19, makes it is necessary that the state step in to address these inequities. The CARES Act funding provides that opportunity.

 

Brendan Desetti is the Director of Government & Stakeholder Relations for D2L (www.d2l.com). In his role, Brendan works with policymakers and education stakeholder groups to identify and promote positive education policy and practice to support and expand learning opportunities for all students. His portfolio includes accessibility of technology for students with disabilities, student data privacy, and differentiated learning pathways.

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