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Can we fix the inequities exacerbated by remote learning?

When schools across the nation shifted to remote learning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the change exacerbated several inequities between students including class, race, access to technology, and learning abilities, indicating which students may or may not succeed. Wayne Lewis, former Kentucky Education Commissioner, and Dean and Professor of Education at Belmont University, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Most families got a sense of what this coming semester might look like back in March when schools across the country suddenly made the switch to remote learning due to COVID-19.

    It was an early indicator of which students might, and might not, succeed. I recently spoke with former Kentucky Education Commissioner and Dean and Professor of Education at Belmont University in Nashville Wayne Lewis about what lessons were learned and how we move forward.

  • Wayne Lewis:

    I think we learned a lot in the spring. There can be very significant differential impacts on kids and families when we shift to remote learning. So, for example, if you're talking about my family and the shift to remote learning, because of the socioeconomic status, the economic situation, the job situation, that my daughter has with, with two parents such as me and my wife, even though there are challenges associated with it, we can make it work.

    When you shift to a completely remote learning situation for kids that come from low-income backgrounds, for kids that may have one, or in some cases no parent at home, parents with lower levels of education, you can have really disparate impact, particularly on low-income kids, particularly on kids who historically have not been served well by our schools.

    We're going to have to critically examine every policy, every program, every line item, and think about how we might spend dollars different so that with additional investment, we can transform the way schooling looks for kids.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Now, that said, there's still at least, what, 10 or 11 million kids that don't have access to the same digital tools, right? I mean, there's kids that have iPads at home or laptops at home, and that's still not the case for everyone. And even if they had a computer, there is still the issue of broadband and whether that's a universal lifeline service or utility or should be considered that way versus if it's, you know, a luxury.

  • Wayne Lewis:

    You know, I think we're at the place at this point in the 21st century where there shouldn't be any debate. Broadband access and access to digital tools and digital resources is not a luxury. It's an absolute necessity. And when we think about kids not having access to those things, we should think about it very similar to the way we would think if kids didn't have access to electricity. Right?

    There's no way in the 21st-century environment as we're preparing for a 21st-century workforce for these kids, that they can have the type of education that they need and that they deserve unless we can ensure that every child has access to those resources.

    And I want to be really clear that that is not the responsibility solely of schools. So to say that it's the responsibility of schools and school districts to make sure that all kids have access to that, I don't think that's the case. It's going to take partnership on the part of federal and state governments to make sure that families have that type of access.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Wayne, finally, just academically, how should parents be looking at this year going forward? I mean, given the school districts and the cities and the composition of the workforce in which unions might support strikes and it's not going to be a normal year, but at the same time, we still want our children to be educated and advance.

  • Wayne Lewis:

    That's a scary question for me. And here's why. We understand from the research literature that kids who lose an academic year tend to be disadvantaged for the better part of their academic careers.

    Kids that loose two academic years, the chances that they'll ever catch up are slim to none. So even while we're dealing with this pandemic, this very real public health crisis, we cannot afford to lose an academic year, and we're not just talking about an academic year. Many of our kids have been out of school for all intents and purposes since March of last year.

    And what I see happening on the ground is not much different than what we've seen traditionally with education in the United States is parents and families who have resources, who have time, are ensuring that their kids are not only not falling behind, but they're using those resources to make sure that their kids move ahead while at the same time families and kids who have traditionally been underserved and don't have resources are falling further behind. The effect of which, unless we are very intentional in intervening here, is an exacerbation of extraordinarily large achievement gaps and opportunities that we've seen in the past.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Wayne Lewis, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Wayne Lewis:

    Absolutely.

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