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Distance Learning Methods Differ Notably Across The U.S.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

More than three dozen states now have ordered or recommended that schools stay shut for the rest of this academic year, and so this nationwide experiment with distance learning continues. But what that looks like can differ wildly from state to state, district to district, even school to school.

Bree Dusseault has been taking a close look at what is happening with remote learning across the country. She is with the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

Welcome.

BREE DUSSEAULT: Welcome. Hi.

KELLY: Hi. So give us the 30,000-foot view. How much learning is taking place in the U.S., and what kind of learning with more than 50 million schoolchildren trying to learn at home?

DUSSEAULT: Yes. Well, we've been reviewing districts all over the country. We've reviewed 82 districts serving over 9 million students. And what we're seeing is there's just an incredibly wide range of experiences on the ground. Students in one school system might be getting a work packet once a week or a phone call with their teacher. Students in another district might be getting four or five hours of instruction every day and using online technology. So there's just a great deal of difference.

KELLY: Was there any kind of roadmap for this? I mean, schools were all thrown into the whole distance learning thing practically overnight.

DUSSEAULT: Yeah. There was no guidebook for this. And what we've seen is that some districts came right out of the gate and within a week or two had pretty comprehensive learning plans, and they were in a minority. One great example is Miami-Dade County because they already had a really comprehensive continuity of instruction plan in place. They had surveyed families for device needs and even preferences for communication. So within just a couple days, they were able to at least start remote learning. We've seen them also really adjust and tweak and get better.

KELLY: And when you say they're getting better, be specific. I mean, what are they doing that other states and districts maybe should push their schools to be doing?

DUSSEAULT: One example that we've been looking into in the last week or two with Miami-Dade is attendance tracking. And this feels like a really important data point for districts to be tracking - whether or not they use it to penalize students, which we'd would hope they wouldn't be - just to know what students are logging in. Any student who doesn't log in or is not present, they have a team of instructors who either call or actually go to their home to find out what's going on.

KELLY: Oh, wow. Anything that has surprised you as you've surveyed the landscape?

DUSSEAULT: Gosh. It might be surprising that we're only six weeks in (laughter). It feels like...

KELLY: (Laughter) It feels like six years. I know.

DUSSEAULT: It does feel like six years. I mean, I think, you know, we are seeing so much hard work and effort being put into trying to figure things out. What I would hope to see moving forward is districts getting ready for next school year based on what they're learning from this spring. The fact that we had this kind of quarter of time, this academic quarter of time, to pilot and learn from what remote learning can and can't do is a critical factor in districts' success getting ready for the 2020-21 school year.

KELLY: Any words of reassurance or advice to all the students and all the parents out there listening who just feel incredibly frustrated? I had a conversation with one of my kids, and he said I never thought I would say this, mom, but I really miss school. I want to go back.

DUSSEAULT: (Laughter). You know, those are some great words. I think...

KELLY: Yes. I know. I'll hold them to that in a year or two, but go on.

DUSSEAULT: (Laughter) I think what I would say is just to validate, number one, that sure, this is not ideal. And it may even feel unsustainable. But we're just going to have to get better at it. You know, at root, districts are learning organizations. And that's what their secret sauce is. And so I think my words of hope to all of us is to name that we are on an upward trajectory, and we've hopefully learned a lot from these first six weeks in the spring.

KELLY: Words of hope - I will take them.

Bree Dusseault, thank you so much.

DUSSEAULT: Yeah. Thank you.

KELLY: She's with the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.