HARTFORD, CT —More than half of the nearly 3,000 teachers surveyed by the Connecticut Education Association say distance learning has gotten better since the end of March, but it’s not working for most students.
Fifty-eight percent of teachers said distance learning is more useful now than when schools first closed, according to the survey by the CEA.
However, “They know distance learning doesn’t work,” CEA President Jeff Leake said Thursday.
Teachers said the impact on their students has been clear: 38% of students are frustrated, 34% are disengaged, 29% have an inability to understand how to access online tools without assistance, 29% have been unable to complete assignments, and 29% have been unable to learn at home due to distractions in the home.
In addition, Leake said the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the disparities in resources between school districts.
The move to distance learning has exposed huge inequities among our school districts — often between students in the same district — but especially in the state’s Alliance Districts, which face greater socio-economic challenges. Some students don’t have laptops or internet service. Others face food insecurity or issues related to health and safety.
The CEA says if remote learning is expected to continue, then the schools need to provide free computers or other internet-enabled devices to students who demonstrate financial need, free access to the internet, and a plan for teaching special education students.
During the past two months of distance learning, teachers say more than a quarter of students, or 29%, received insufficient services relative to their Individualized Education Plan or IEP.
“It’s not the kind of learning that we hoped would take place,” Leake added. He said that’s not the fault of teachers, but a realization that in-person learning and socialization are really important.
“Our teachers want nothing more than to be back in the classroom with their students,” Leake said. “But any scenario for returning safely to the classroom requires resources and funding.”
According to the survey, 43% of teachers are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, and the number increases to 71% for teachers with 30 or more years in the classroom. Nearly two-thirds or 64% say their schools are not equipped to provide for frequent and sufficient hand washing for students and staff to reduce the spread of the virus.
Leake said his members are aware that schools will look a lot different going forward.
“Safeguards must be in place to protect students and staff against a virus that has no vaccine and is not well-understood. We also must address learning loss and trauma suffered by students,” Leake said.
He said they haven’t discussed a protocol for what happens when a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19. They are waiting for guidance from the state Department of Education and local school districts on most of their concerns.
Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said Wednesday that they are aware COVID-19 “has exacerbated gaps to access to learning.”
“We’re more committed than ever to equalize access for our students,” Cardona said. “And what we’re doing at the agency is focusing our efforts on trying to get devices, on trying to get connectivity, but also trying to create a platform where districts are not trying to recreate the wheel to access to good quality curriculum.”
He said they are trying to create resources for districts to do a better job at distance learning and address the lack of access to technology or internet service.
Cardona said they expect to issue guidance about the fall in the next few weeks.