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Editorial | Island Voices

Column: Expand options for distance learning

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  • David Miyashiro is founding executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN.

    David Miyashiro is founding executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN.

The Star-Advertiser’s March 30 editorial, “Rise to challenge of distance learning,” called on our public school system to effectively use technology to support continued academic and social-emotional learning while school facilities are closed due to COVID-19. As a community-based education advocate, I couldn’t agree more.

Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and the hard-working staff at the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) have done a great job responding to the immense disruption of the novel coronavirus. Schools also are making Herculean efforts to move heaven and Earth to support students. However, given that the crisis could last the remainder of the school year, bold action is required in the months ahead.

First and foremost, the concept of “equity” doesn’t mean it is fair to offer the least amount of support and learning, or no real learning, to all students.

Rather, the DOE should serve the most students possible virtually, and use creative solutions for those who lack access to home learning opportunities. This includes aiding families to sign up for free internet connectivity, converting inactive school or tour buses to mobile hotspots, establishing a clear loan policy for devices, and setting up a donation fund through local foundations.

For students with disabilities, schools should have close contact with families to determine appropriate technology, aids, at-home support services, and accommodations. Schools should establish communication plans for English language learners, and ensure all updates and support materials for parents have multilingual translations. Community organizations and volunteers have a powerful role to play as these materials are created.

Students need more than “enrichment” activities that are not required or come without a grade or incentive.

Teachers have reported challenges in motivating students, and parents have shared frustration with what they see as busywork. Schools should use a modified light schedule that lets students participate at their own pace and move ahead in the curriculum.

To ensure real learning is happening, the state Board of Education (BOE) must provide a minimum hourly standard for student work that is differentiated across grade levels and establishes a high bar of continued learning. Such guidance is common in other states, such as the 62-page “remote learning recommendations during COVID-19 emergency” plan by Illinois’ Board of Education.

Parents need a road map from schools that includes daily and weekly assignments, and every family should be in contact with a teacher, counselor or administrator at least three to five times per week.

The DOE must collect and report data showing how many students are partaking in services, as a critical component of effective distance-learning is monitoring and tracking student progress. It’s easy for kids to fall through the cracks like in Los Angeles, where about 15,000 high school students are unaccounted for and 40,000 have not been in daily contact with their teachers since March 16.

The DOE must establish real-time two-way communication with the public and families for clarification and transparency. The DOE should work with community partners to meet families where they are, bringing food and academic materials directly to homes in a safe manner.

We need to do more than graduate “proficient” seniors early. Let’s put lots of options on the table, including using the upcoming summer for additional instruction, providing ample counseling support, and recognizing credit from Common Core-aligned platforms such as Khan Academy. Hawaii’s community has abundant natural and cultural resources that could be a source of additional learning opportunities.

COVID-19 has changed our lives, but our keiki can still thrive if we come together as a community to ensure all of their needs are met.

David Miyashiro is founding executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN.

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