Remote Instruction Contributes to Inequity for K-12 Students

A number of you have reached out to say thank you for the reassurance that you don’t have to become great online teachers instantly. But many of you want to be able to do that over the long term, and many public K-12 teachers, in particular, are worried about this. Kansas was the first state to close schools for F2F instruction through the end of the year, and others may follow suit, which leaves teachers, families, and students asking: What’s next?

My hope: no remote instruction.

Any shift to online schooling will leave the most vulnerable students behind, and this is true even if your school district has a 1:1 ratio of students to laptop and even if your community has reduced cost internet for families with children who are poor.

We simply cannot create the conditions for remote instruction of K-12 students that will not exacerbate inequality. Exacerbating inequality is counter to what public education should do, so I advocate for an instant end to the school year with an understanding that next year will require significant remedial instruction.

Above, a student uses a Mac desktop to join an online class. A succulent sits on her desk, as does a mesh pencil holder of perfectly sharpened pencils. A small cup of coffee and a cookie sit to her right. If your child has a set up like this, they’re already going to be fine. If they don’t have the tech resources and other things they need to learn, then remote instruction isn’t going to help but will just contribute to inequality. By Angelqiu122 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The students whose parents have time, energy, and resources to ensure that the remote instruction their kids get will be effective are already going to come out of this better than kids who don’t have that support. (They may, in fact, come out better than if they DO have remote instruction. At this point, I can likely still do a better job of teaching my high schooler than can his high school teachers new to remote teaching. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but that’s my point: if your parent is a college professor with lots of teaching resources and rich materials and who still remembers enough high school German and geography to help you, you’ll be fine, and those who don’t have that won’t be helped by videos made by teachers suddenly thrust into a new teaching role.)

This is the approach Philadelphia schools are taking, and I think it’s the only ethical one.

I think in education, every decision can only be made after we answer the question How will this affect our most vulnerable students? And remote instruction will create a further gap between our most vulnerable and those in the strongest position.

This is not to say that teachers or schools should do nothing or that teachers should shift into roles as therapists, counselors, or social workers, work they are also not prepared to do. But they can help connect families to resources, regularly check in (using technology that their individual students can access) to check on students, distribute enrichment (but not required) materials, lead for-fun online activities, and more. Livestream yourself reading the chapter book you were reading to your second grade class, please! Post tutorials about art, or help students organize themselves into a book club. Be available to students to answer questions about what they are learning related to your course content. But don’t assess any of it, don’t make it required, and don’t punish students who don’t complete it.

Ideally, teachers will shift into support roles for student learning that is optional rather than assigning and assessing work.

I realize, very much, that this isn’t an individual teacher’s decisions. These choices are made at higher levels. Some of you are going to be told to meet unrealistic standards. I’m sorry. I also know that you are teachers, so unrealistic standards are not new for you. I’m sorry about that too. I know that many of you are advocates of the things that would have made equitable access to online instruction possible–like an end to poverty and social systems that would allow parents or other caregivers to be home with children during crises. I’m sorry that we have failed to deliver those to you before they were needed by so many.

If you are being instructed to provide remote instruction, some of the same strategies I suggest for college teaching that is suddenly online apply, and I encourage you to read those posts–and email me if you have a specific question I can help answer!

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