New Database Catalogs Remote Learning Approaches in 82 Districts Closed by Coronavirus
Companies wanting a closer look at how districts are implementing remote learning plans can tap into a new database with details on 82 K-12 districts and their efforts.
The Center on Reinventing Public Education is cataloging efforts by districts across the country to continue instruction for students as their schools are closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. So far, CRPE has collected data from 82 districts, many of them in urban areas of the country, and will continue to add districts to the list, said Robin Lake, the organization’s director.
The information collected includes how districts are faring with connectivity and equity, and whether they’re using digital curricula and in what subjects. The database can reveal a trove of useful information to education companies looking to find districts in need of their products and services to help bolster digital education.
For a statewide view, Education Week is collecting state-level data about remote learning plans that may be useful to vendors.
With the CRPE database, “we’re trying to free the information so that people can identify needs and solutions,” Lake said.
EdWeek Market Brief spoke with Lake about how the database could be useful to education companies.
What kind of information is included and where did CRPE get the data?
It’s information about what the districts say they’re doing for kids and families right now. We gathered the information from the district websites, so it’s not a survey. It’s 82 districts and 11 charter management organizations. It’s mostly an urban sample, representing 9 million kids. We’re building it out and updating it.
We’re continuing to look at different aspects of district plans, but right now we have information about some of the basic needs that districts are trying to solve: food delivery, connectivity, how districts are approaching Wi-Fi connections, whether they’re trying to deliver devices to kids. That’s where most of the districts are starting.
What about educational aspects of what districts are able to provide to students?
The next layer is really the instructional strategy that districts are pursuing. We broke districts up into five different categories—everything from districts offering no resources right now and families are on their own (there were a surprising number of those in the first week or so) to those that are just offering a list of online resources like Khan Academy for families to be able to craft their own instruction.
The next level is the district providing a structured curriculum but leaving it up to families to do the instruction. Then there are districts that have a formal curriculum and instruction program of some kind. The most advanced in our minds are districts that are offering that structured curriculum and instruction but also doing progress monitoring for kids, so some kind of grading, taking attendance, checking on progress.
How detailed are you getting when it comes to instruction?
We’re increasingly exploring different aspects of the learning programs, so digging into whether districts are offering synchronous or asynchronous learning, really face-to-face contact or if they are approaching things by doing video recordings. We’re looking at whether they’re using low-tech solutions too. Some districts are partnering with public broadcasting to use TV broadcasts to get to kids or just packets of worksheets they’re sending out. It’s really a range of different approaches and we’re trying to understand the broad spectrum out there.
How should companies use this database and sort through the information?
There’s an opportunity for companies to find districts that maybe aren’t using some things that could make their lives a lot easier.
Depending on what the company is offering, they should be able to identify districts pretty quickly that are using an approach that would be a good fit for their product. A district that is saying to families, “We’ve got a structured curriculum, but it’s going to be up to parents to implement that curriculum at home,” maybe there are some products designed to support parents in scheduling their kids’ learning—essentially professional development for parents. How can providers help them manage the pretty onerous task in front of them?
As more districts come online with their own approaches, providers should be able to look to districts that maybe aren’t using the state-of-the-art curriculum package or diagnostic tool. There should be hints about the general approach, and companies should be able to better target the type of districts they’re looking at.
What kinds of trends are you seeing about what districts are doing based on the data you’re collecting?
The biggest trend is that they’ve been moving pretty slowly. It’s been a real shock to the education system and most districts weren’t well-equipped to make this shift very quickly. The districts that have a lot of low-income populations and kids who are English-language learners and high percentages of kids in special education have really been trying to work through how they deal with equity in this situation.
It’s really challenging for districts and they don’t want to mess it up. There are potential legal consequences if they do. We’re seeing a continual struggle around, what are the solutions for special education and English-language learners and other special populations?
A lot of companies have products intended for these special populations or that can be adapted for these students. Are these in high demand?
There’s a desperate need for really good solutions. In conversations with teachers and principals and districts, there’s an explosion of curriculum but people are finding it difficult to find planning time for teachers so they can organize it. They also need access to good professional development on how you teach effectively in an online setting. These are some real holes in the market.
Are there any places where you see opportunities for vendors to help districts in this challenging situation?
We’re seeing a lot of real bright spots and a hunger for learning and innovation from districts. You see a lot of creative approaches out there but districts are wary of falling into the trap of innovation for innovation’s sake. But many of them have shown they are up for problem-solving and hungry for help. I would encourage providers to do a little poking around to see what the leading districts are putting out there in terms of new ideas, including the charter schools. The CMOs in our sample are doing some very interesting things that providers might be able to partner with, or even learn from.
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