**Cross-posted from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) blog**
As the school year comes to an end in many places around the country, the uncertainty of what COVID‑19 means for our future looms. What’s certain, though, is that while we once hoped for summer respite, the needs of schools and children demand overdrive planning to curtail future learning disruption.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently indicated that a second wave of infections is “inevitable.” The continued threat of COVID-19 means school districts are not likely to reopen for the fall semester, if they open at all, without physical distancing mandates that fundamentally change the way schools operate.
In this new reality, it’s imperative that states use their CARES Act dollars to support school districts in redesigning their learning systems for resiliency. Our schools must be able to serve students face-to-face and online simultaneously. Further, they must be capable of serving all students face-to-face one day and all students fully online the next day without missing a beat of learning. Resilient systems of learning will keep student learning moving forward. Never stagnant. Never falling behind.
To ensure resilient and equitable systems of learning, each state must provide the digital learning infrastructure necessary to operate under any conditions. Providing for the digital learning infrastructure means:
- Closing the homework gap by supporting district efforts to provide a device to every student who needs one and internet access to every family without it.
- Providing a state-wide learning management system (LMS) to enable teacher-led instruction, learning progression, rich feedback, social and emotional connections, and parent engagement.
- Increasing professional development for teachers so they can adapt to the pedagogical needs best suited to their instructional method (in-person or online) and their students’ needs.
Having the state assume this role helps ensure that every district has the same level playing field and expectations to provide high-quality, teacher-led learning to students. By alleviating this burden, districts can focus their resources on providing the teaching and nonacademic supports necessary for every student to succeed.
Digital learning infrastructure has historically been left to school districts to support and implement independent of state intervention. In some cases, districts have been able to afford and support it, and we’re seeing early successes in those places to quickly shift students online and continue learning and services uninterrupted (see Gwinnett County Public Schools). But in most school districts, especially those serving rural and at-risk students, the infrastructure simply doesn’t exist or isn’t sufficient to serve the full population.
Only through state-level action can learning inequities, based on access to and the quality of digital infrastructure, be addressed in an equitable manner. The disruptions to learning arising from COVID-19 make it necessary for states to step in to address these inequities. The CARES Act funding provides that opportunity.
Brendan Desetti is the director of government and stakeholder relations for D2L (www.d2l.com). In his role, Brendan works with policymakers and education stakeholder groups to identify and promote positive education policy and practice in order to support and expand learning opportunities for all students. His portfolio includes accessibility of technology for students with disabilities, student data privacy, and differentiated learning pathways.