Last spring, more than 50 million K-12 students were hurriedly sent home as the nation’s public schools shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some of those students have returned to their classrooms now, for full or partial in-person instruction, while others have continued with distance learning or quit public school systems altogether.

Paul Reville, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Pedro Noguera, dean of the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, discuss the changes afoot in American education and the consequences for students across the country.

Remote learning has placed a heavy burden on many parents, including Courtney Wittenstein, Maria Makarenkova and Jenna Ruiz, who share their experiences and the decisions they have made about their childrens' education during the pandemic. And Joseph Connor, the co-founder and chief operating officer of SchoolHouse, a company that matches teachers with families for at-home instruction, explains why COVID-19 has led to an increasing interest in microschools and learning pods.

Three Takeaways:

  • Many large urban school districts have struggled to serve their students during the pandemic and have not been nimble enough to respond to the crisis and personalize their offerings, according to Reville, who leads Harvard’s Education Redesign Lab and previously served as Massachusetts secretary of education. He says those districts already had outdated educational models and are now, “like a traumatized patient or somebody coming out from under an earthquake and just standing up, dusting themselves off, beginning to communicate and restore some basic elements of normalcy to get going again.”
  • Noguera, a former public school teacher himself, fears distance online learning has deepened inequity in public schools. USC Rossier School of Education conducteda recent survey of low-income families in the L.A Unified School District, and found many students were unable to consistently participate and became disengaged because of access issues, including shaky internet connections and lack of suitable devices, he explains. Overcrowded housing situations, parents working outside the home and homelessness have made remote learning particularly challenging for some in L.A.
  • During the pandemic, parents with more resources have been able to supplement or even replace their students’ public school education with the help of tutors, learning pods, online activities, and other enrichment opportunities. Noguera and Reville believe it will be possible for public schools to help other students, who have experienced learning losses, to catch up in the months and years ahead through extra summer school classes and additional tutoring. However, it will require additional funding and political support, says Noguera.