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The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted K-12 education in the United States, forcing schools across the country to close as district leaders prioritize the health and safety of their communities. Here’s a map of school closures across the country, as compiled by Edweek.org. The data is broken down by state, enrollment data, closure start date, and anticipated closure end date, and is updated frequently to keep up with changing conditions.
With the rapid spread of COVID-19, school districts across the country have had to quickly adopt new measures to ensure continued learning for students outside of the traditional classroom.
The Rise of Online Distance Learning
In response to the need to maintain instructional continuity, schools quickly unveiled their emergency response plans, which called for distance learning, among other strategies.
As schools implemented these distance learning programs, however, longstanding concerns about digital equity began to surface. It became clear that not every student could participate due to a host of challenges including lack of internet access or dedicated devices at home.
Digital equity has been an ongoing conversation in education circles for quite some time, with proponents arguing that the lack of Internet access among economically disadvantaged students led to a Homework Gap. With distance learning becoming the order of the day during the pandemic, digital equity could no longer be pushed to the sidelines. Many districts have found themselves scrambling trying to address this issue.
Funding Support for K-12 Distance Learning
To fund their distance learning programs, many schools relied on their districts for financial support. But district funds were not nearly enough to address the needs brought on by distance learning.
Of the $2 trillion stimulus package released by the federal government under the CARES Act, a portion of the $13.5 billion of the “education stabilization fund” could be used to cover costs associated with Internet connectivity but only about $25 million under Rural Utilities Aid was specifically allocated to support distance learning.
Many lawmakers and educators are unsatisfied that additional funds were not allocated to the E-rate program, which provides “discounts of up to 90 percent to help eligible schools and libraries in the United States obtain affordable telecommunications and internet access,” according to the U.S. Department of Education, and hope that it will be addressed in a subsequent stimulus bill.
Distance Learning Resources for K-12
Ed tech organizations catering to the K-12 environment are offering helpful (and often free) resources to educators and parents to help them cope with the impact of COVID-19 and the move to distance learning.
Here are just a few:
- Kajeet – Kajeet expanded its Distance Learning Bundle program to meet the increased demand for student connectivity, while its LTE-Embedded Chromebooks with built-in wireless service are an ideal solution for distance learning programs as well as those serving home-bound, migrant, homeless, or foster students.
- ISTE – ISTE’s repository of COVID-19-related resources and tools for parents and educators includes webinars, an extensive list of free digital education tools, a map of school closures, and more.
- CatchOn – CatchOn is offering 60 days of its solution free to “allow districts to gain insight and track student engagement on applications students are using on district devices both inside and outside school.”
- Mobile Guardian – Mobile Guardian, provider of a mobile device management platform built for education, is offering its premium web filtering and classroom management tools for free for the remainder of the 2020 academic year.
- Dreambox Learning – A preK-8 math solution driven by technology, Dreambox Learning is offering parents a 90-day free trial of the solution if they sign up by April 30.
Network Carriers’ Provisions for Distance Learning
Network carriers provide Internet access to millions of Americans. They are vital to keeping people connected during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as supporting schools’ distance learning effort.
As providers of technology solutions and internet connectivity built for education, Kajeet relies on its partnerships with network carriers to provide school districts with reasonable rates to support their distance learning programs. Kajeet has been unable to provide schools with these rates because, although network carriers have signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge and are making concessions in light of COVID-19, they have not extended the same concessions so that vendor partners like Kajeet can do the same for its customers.
In an open letter to network carriers, the leadership at Kajeet urged network carriers to offer low-cost, unlimited data plans to support the surge in distance learning usage due to COVID-19.
At the date of writing, only AT&T had responded by offering Kajeet unlimited plans at lower rates. AT&T’s gesture of support will enable Kajeet to better meet the needs of thousands of school districts across the country serving the needs of hundreds of thousands of students.
The present environment is challenging for society as a whole, and while everyone is doing all they can to help manage the spread of COVID-19, we would like to acknowledge the tireless work of communities, educators, and parents working to provide students with critical learning support.