Perspectives

K-12 public education: COVID-19 and the associated economic crisis

The nation’s public K-12 education system, composed of approximately 14,000 independent school districts, is confronting the challenges associated with the COVID-19 crisis in a wide variety of ways.

The current crisis highlights structural and performance differences between districts, and it also creates significant pressure on states and districts across several common dimensions:

  • Supporting student learning while addressing issues of equity and access
  • Providing technology solutions and infrastructure to support remote learning and operations
  • Ensuring sources and absolute levels of funding
  • Navigating autonomy and governance relationships between state and local education authorities

While higher education institutions rapidly closed campuses and instituted remote learning, most K-12 systems found themselves navigating challenging and uncharted territory with limited information and little time to prepare for closures. It was not until major districts closed and state governors stepped in that schools shut down en masse. Even so, communication to families, access to devices and resources to support remote learning, and school reopening projections varied widely district to district within a state, and even between schools within some districts. With few fully equipped to support remote student learning, many districts were effectively shut down in mid-March as they explored options and developed remote instructional plans and materials.

As of mid-April, most districts are now moving forward with some version of remote delivery, often using commercially available collaboration tools as the foundation. This makeshift remote learning solution should not be confused with best-in-class online courseware, delivery infrastructure and supporting services, but it will likely remain the solution for the rest of the 2019-20 school year — and potentially into the 2020–21 school year.

As the school year closes, states and districts will continue to face myriad challenges over the coming weeks and months. Yet, they must start to plan for how to deliver instruction and drive student learning in a complex and ever-changing situation. Given this unknown, schools, states and districts will be contemplating a variety of scenarios for the next school year and beyond.

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