A high-quality K-12 education for every learner is a wellspring of future success. The traditional “one-size-fits-all” model in which teachers “stand and deliver” and learners “sit and get” is no longer the right tool for the task of ensuring each and every young person has an opportunity to learn. The Aurora Institute has identified 11 key issues to support state policymakers in modernizing K-12 education, with a special priority on ensuring continuity of learning, a critical need made evident in the wake of COVID-19.
States have a leadership role to play in continuity of learning for preparedness in times of an emergency, such as a pandemic or other disasters, during which schools must close. A hallmark of future-focused, student-centered learning is ensuring that learning can be decoupled from place and time so that learning can continue anywhere at any time. A continuity of learning plan ensures students can stay on their learning pathways during an interruption, such as a prolonged school closure or absence due to illness, natural disasters, conflicts, or weather events.
Schools can be certain in a rapidly changing, and increasingly interconnected global economy, that they will again in the future need to transition from face-to-face to different forms of learning experiences. Now is the time for both rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic and long-term planning to ensure smoother transitions in the future, as well as to enable innovative, student-centered learning pathways.
Decisions about instruction, curriculum, methods, delivery models, tools, and resources are made locally. States, therefore, must consider the needs of all students and support every district and school to create action plans for continuity of learning to ensure equity and availability for all students. Local education agencies can determine which tools work best for their schools and districts based on the anticipated length of the closure, current resources available, student access, and other needs. Emergency management and continuity planning teams should conduct an annual readiness assessment to ensure that:
- people are prepared,
- infrastructure will provide access to technologies and broadband internet,
- implementation and access are equitable, and
- a clear communication plan will be implemented when an emergency triggers use of the plan.
In Singapore and China, best practices for continuity of learning include ensuring online learning by piloting schoolwide e-learning days annually. The SARS outbreak challenged Singapore, for example, to make e-learning a key strategy in the nation’s continuity planning. The plan also included:
- training educators to teach online, including use of a learning management system that helped deliver course materials and track student progress;
- placing all instructional materials in digital and online formats; and,
- ensuring students who needed equipment or internet access could be enabled within a day.
In New York state, there is a provision for flexibility in seat-time requirements. In districts where “distance and online learning methods are available, or other continuity of learning strategies are utilized, the priority for the instruction should be that which best prepares students to meet the learning outcomes for the course and prepare for the culminating examination, if applicable. Any student who achieves the learning outcomes for the course should earn the applicable course/diploma credit without regard to the 180-minute/week unit of study requirement in Commissioner’s Regulations Part 100.1.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the globe, school leaders and education policymakers are grappling with unprecedented decision-making about timing closures, continuing graduation-readiness for seniors, evaluating student progress, and ensuring equitable access and outcomes. In Future Focused State Policy Actions to Transform K-12 Education, we offer six recommendations for states to ensure continuity of learning.
- Establish a statewide Continuity of Learning Task Force to plan, implement, and evaluate academic continuity and preparedness statewide.
Ensure districts assess readiness for continuity of learning (at least once annually):
- providing educators, students, and parents with training and the infrastructure to carry out the plan remotely;
- providing access to high-speed broadband, platforms, materials, and tools needed for remote and online learning; and,
- ensuring accessibility, equity, and options for students with disabilities.
- Support continuity of learning through credit flexibility to enable anytime, anywhere learning.
- Evaluate state education policies to identify enablers and barriers to remote learning (i.e., credit flexibility for seat-time, areas for waivers, demonstrations of evidence for achieving learning outcomes, and graduation requirements, etc.).
- Take action for the future. Move to competency-based education systems and structures to address gaps. Create pathways for anytime, anywhere learning, and ensure equity for all students in building mastery of knowledge and skills needed for success.
In addition, we launched a resource page with guidance on continuity of learning, best practices, instructional supports, federal and state policy changes, and recommendations for school communities. We created this page to help educators, school leaders, and policymakers access helpful materials to navigate the challenges of the current pandemic.
Natalie Truong is Policy Director and Alexis Chambers is Policy Associate at Aurora Institute.
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