“Learning in the 21st Century: How the American Public, Parents, and Teachers View K-12 Teaching and Learning in the Pandemic,” a national survey (conducted in January 2021) produced for Digital Promise’s Learner Variability Project by Langer Research Associates, documents the broad range of difficulties in K-12 teaching and learning as perceived by the American public, public school teachers, and parents.
Highlights from the survey include:
- Keeping Up Academically and the Digital Divide: Eighty-two percent of teachers say it’s been difficult for their students to keep up academically during the pandemic, though only 45 percent of parents have the same concern for their own child. Parents with suboptimal internet access, however, are dramatically more likely than others to say the pandemic has caused a problem in their child’s ability to keep up academically.
- Parent-Teacher Relationships: Among parents who report a change in their relationship with teachers, 34 percent say the relationship is weaker compared to 11 percent who say it is stronger since COVID-19. Modest majorities of teachers and parents, though, rate their school highly for communicating about how it’s operating in the pandemic.
- Social-Emotional Learning (SEL): Teachers perceived their students’ top problem as missing social interactions at school or with friends (88 percent), followed by keeping up academically (82 percent). Only three in 10 teachers and parents give their school high ratings for helping students with pandemic-related social-emotional challenges.
- Online Teaching, Technology, and Learner Variability: Teachers with a high degree of comfort with technology are significantly less likely than others to say the pandemic has worsened their ability to work with each student’s individual learner variability. Additionally, while teachers reported having less say into the educational technology they use now than in our fall 2019 survey, those who have this input are much more likely than those without it to see their online classes as effective.
It is not surprising that teachers’ job satisfaction, already at a low level (34 percent in our fall 2019 survey), dropped to 23 percent in this survey. This was a rough year, in which teachers, parents, students had to pivot almost overnight to move schools from in person to online. Yet, there remains a possibility that taking steps back could be the catalyst for an education renewal if lessons learned are addressed with intentionality.
Lessons Learned to Move Forward
Below, we outline our main takeaways from the survey, along with examples of how members of our League of Innovative Schools are addressing concerns and opportunities in their communities.
- Engage at the federal, state, and local level to ensure all students, particularly those who have been historically marginalized due to race, gender, income level, and neuro-diversity, can access a quality education.
- Middletown City School District (Ohio) Superintendent Marlon Styles testified last May before the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee that students are either “logged in or logged out” of internet service. Those who are logged out already have been historically marginalized in schools. While his district distributed computers, hot spots, and delivered paper lessons, he shared with Congress examples of why “every child needs a computer device… and everyone needs reliable internet access.”
Relationships and Belonging
- Be laser focused on building strong and lasting relationships among students and teachers, students and their peers, and teachers and parents/caregivers. Efforts to enhance these relationships should include culturally responsive teaching and creating a sense of belonging to ensure that each student can participate at the fullest level.
- Reynoldsburg City Schools (Ohio) Superintendent Dr. Melvin Brown and his team are gearing up for several summer and fall programs designed to foster student/adult relationships. For the fall, district leaders are working with Dr. Hasan Jeffries, associate professor of history at The Ohio State University, to modify, update, and provide cultural relevance and accuracy for the Social Studies curriculum. The knowledge of these tenets will then be infused into other core content areas as appropriate. Recognizing the importance of increasing the ranks of teachers of color throughout the school system, Reynoldsburg City Schools also received a grant from the Ohio Department of Education to conduct work to diversify teacher staff across all areas.
Elevated Role of Parents and Caregivers
- Strengthen partnerships between home and school to better understand the whole child needs of each student.
- Pajaro Valley Unified School District (California) Superintendent Dr. Michelle Rodriguez understands the impact and power of a collective commitment towards a common goal. To achieve PVUSD’s goal of providing services and meeting the needs of the whole child, the Parent Engagement Network (PEN) collaborates with other district departments and community partners, such as local food banks, community foundations, health trusts, local non-profits and educational enrichment partners. PVUSD’s parent educators empower parent and family engagement and feedback, and provide the necessary information, supports, and tools in multiple languages, including Mixteco Bajo, so they can continue to guide and support their child in their educational journey.
Social-Emotional Learning as Part of Whole Child Learning
- Transform in-person teaching and learning to weave SEL into the school environment and all lessons, rather than treat it as a separate class.
- Dr. Melissa Moore, superintendent at El Segundo Unified School District (California), and her team wove a systemic districtwide SEL plan that was embedded across the curricula into their schools prior to COVID-19, making it an easy transfer to home-based learning. Among other tasks, El Segundo created a page for parent resources to help support students not only during the pandemic, but for all time. During the pandemic, the district formed an SEL committee that met monthly for a pulse check on how students, parents, and employees were feeling. They are now conducting surveys of staff and students to explore the underlying issues related to SEL in order to assess where they are and where they need to go.
Edtech and Professional Development
- Provide high-quality teacher professional development in selecting and using edtech that is inclusive of all learners and encourage teacher input and ownership of the edtech they use in their classrooms.
- The Lakota School District (Ohio) rolled out their “WE are Empowered” initiative designed to empower students with personalized learning supported by technology. Included as part of the initiative are: 1) transforming dated media centers into Innovation Hubs for students to create and collaborate; 2) a district-wide expansion of access to tech devices, applications, and tools, which includes a one-to-one device programs for grades six through 12; 3) innovation specialists are assigned to every school to provide professional development in instructional technology; and, 4) an expanded library of digital resources and lessons created by Lakota teachers.
While a year teaching and learning with COVID-19 looming unveiled inequities that have always existed, what was learned can inform how the nation proceeds in transforming educational systems designed to understand and address the learner variability of each student. Data points from the survey can help point the way to fully realize the dream of educational equity.
Many thanks to my colleagues who also contributed to the survey, Medha Tare and Alison Shell.