Tens of thousands of West Virginia school children have been getting their instruction remotely all or part of the time since last March. The hope is that, by connecting teachers with students using technology, instruction could continue.
However, early research in a neighboring state suggests that online learning is leaving an alarming number of students behind.
The analysis comes from the Fairfax County, Virginia school system. Fairfax is an affluent suburban Washington, D.C. county. Two-thirds of the population have advanced degrees, the poverty rate is only six percent and 98 percent of the households have internet access.
Despite all those advantages, the report found a significant increase in the number of failing students and a growing gap between students who did well previously and those who did not.
For example, the number of students in middle and high school who received two or more F grades for classes has doubled to eleven percent since the county went mostly online last March.
The Washington Post reports the findings are similar in other school systems.
“In the Independent School District in Houston, more than 40 percent of students are earning failing grades in at least two of their classes. Likewise, in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the superintendent recently reported that nearly 40 percent of St. Paul public school high-schoolers have failing marks.”
There is no comprehensive analysis in West Virginia public schools yet, but the Department of Education is working on it. Department officials report that, anecdotally, they have heard from several county superintendents who are reporting more F grades than usual.
The remote learning has also left some children without contact with a schoolteacher, who unfortunately is sometimes the most responsible adult in the child’s life. One superintendent said she has had to refer 18 child abuse or neglect cases to Child Protective Services so far this school year, twice as many as all of last year.
Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the University of Massachusetts, who directs research for the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovation and Education, told the Post that many students will need a “do-over.”
“The default should be, once we’re in person again, everybody could go back to the grade they were in March of 2020,” he told the Post. “We need to slow the pace down in the name of equity.”
That would likely be met with considerable pushback from parents and students who have grown accustomed to social promotion. However, the alternative is to accept even lower achievement.
West Virginia School Superintendent Clayton Burch is no fan of remote learning. He has repeatedly raised concerns about children falling behind during the pandemic. Burch is right to be worried, and so should every West Virginian who believes a quality K-12 education is vital for achievement.
If Fairfax County, Virginia, with all its advantages, is struggling with remote learning, it is frightening to think how we are faring in West Virginia.