School Districts Scramble To Shore Up Software For Remote Learning

Jul 13, 2020

Districts around the country are announcing their back-to-school plans, and in the age of coronavirus, many include remote learning. For some teachers and students, at-home learning didn't go very well this spring after the pandemic forced them to stay at home. How are districts looking to improve, and what can they do differently?

A Brown University professor recognized teaching from home isn't easy and conducted a survey in April and May of more than 7,000 educators in nine states.

Matt Kraft found:

  • Mid-career teachers, who are most likely to have children at home, particularly struggled
  • Veteran teachers were more than three times more likely than early career teachers to report being uncomfortable using technology tools required to teach from home
  • Only 60% of students were engaged in remote learning on a regular basis with wide gaps in perceived engagement along racial and socio-economic lines
  • Supportive working conditions are critical for teachers and a sense of success

"Schools can play a key role in helping teachers to address those challenges by providing supportive working conditions during a time when they need them the most. This is especially true in schools servicing low-income and Black communities that have been hit hard during the pandemic," the report says.

Zach Vander Veen is a former Hamilton City Schools teacher and is co-founder of the education software company Abre.

He says teachers are trying. "There is this very 'can do' attitude," he says. "We just need ways to learn how. And then there's also a big concern about social emotional health; and then the third part - how do you scale upĀ  online/virtual tools?"

Vander Veen says schools have a collection of software that often times just does one thing each.

Abre has created a consolidated software package, and recently beat out McGraw-Hill, Scholastic, Lexis Nexis, and others to win Best Overall Education Technology Solution this year.

As teachers in Hamilton, Vander Veen and Chris Rose came up with the idea and the district paid for its development.

"A few years into the project we were saving our district quite a bit of money and lots of other districts were approaching us," Vander Veen said.

Cincinnati Public Schools is one of Abre's clients. The District has decided on blended learning for the fall with kids going to school two or three days a week and then doing online learning the rest of the week.

Abre realizes there are barriers. CEO Damon Ragusa says there's an issue of equity. "As a company that works closely with urban core district like Cincinnati Public as well as a number of smaller ones, it sounds great to go to virtual learning, but when 10, 12 or 15 percent of your students don't have sufficient access to the internet while at home, you have to make decisions and you have to be able to provide education that's uniform for all schools," he says.

Ragusa's colleague Vander Veen says that's where he thinks the federal government must step in and provide funds.

The Brown University survey concluded schools can play a key role in helping teachers to address challenges by providing supportive working conditions during a time when they need them most. It says this is especially true in schools servicing low income and Black communities hit hard during the pandemic.

Ragusa says there are some positives for both teachers and students with blended learning. "Flexibility's going to be the name of the game for sure for the next couple of years and I just don't think it's going to change," he says. "I think you're going to see school districts that want to go to a blend and I think that's good given where higher ed is going."