Although some East Texas school districts have changed or even eliminated their remote learning programs amid high failure rates, local school leaders say they have no immediate plans to follow suit.
New Diana, Gilmer and Hallsville ISDs have canceled virtual learning, while Longview ISD pulled the plug on its asynchronous model for students in grades through 12 but is keeping synchronous instruction.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools can offer remote learning to students who wish to stay home because of COVID-19. The different models include synchronous, where student and teacher are engaged and the same time, and asynchronous, where students can complete work on their own schedule.
Districts that have ended remote learning or changed it cite student failure as a reason.
Pine Tree ISD Assistant Superintendent Eric Cederstrom said anyone in the education business knows how important engagement is to learning.
“We continue to see an overall higher failure rate for students on the virtual platform,” he said. “The vast majority of failures relate to limited engagement or non-engagement by students. Our interventions up to this point have been via phone, email and personal visits to homes all with limited success.”
He said the nine-week grading period ended Friday, so he does not have final data on how virtual students are performing. But he said based on testing already completed, only about 20% of remote learners are doing well.
The discussion of removing or changing remote learning is ongoing, Cederstrom said, but at this point, it is not ending.
“We do have to address all the possibilities. Is (ending remote learning) one? Certainly,” he said. “Is modifying how we support kids a possibility? Most certainly. For some, remote is not in their best interest, and for others it may be.”
Pine Tree ISD highly encourages remote learners who are failing to return to classrooms, he said.
At Spring Hill ISD, Superintendent Wayne Guidry said 81 students returned to classrooms in the last week alone, leaving 178 remote learners. That drops the percentage of Spring Hill’s remote learners to 10%, half of what it started with at the beginning of the school year, he said.
Guidry said when considering the future of remote learning, the district wants to see the failure rate of students who plan to continue with that type of instruction.
“At the beginning of the year, we wanted to provide parents options. We still want to do that, but we want to make an informed decision,” he said. “We have a lot of kids being successful with it. We just want to balance that out. We just want a more accurate picture of those successful versus those not. We feel like a lot of those who aren’t successful are coming back.”
White Oak ISD Superintendent Brian Gray said the district plans to continue at-home learning.
“It’s a new situation for everyone across the state,” he said. “Some students, it really fills a need, and we have some that are struggling.”
Though the district is using an asynchronous model, Gray said teachers still check in regularly using Zoom.
“I personally do an at-home government class,” he said, “so I’ve got Zoom meetings set up so that I’m touching base in real time with those kiddos on a weekly basis as well.”
Overall, the district wants to do the best it can to meet students’ needs, which is why at-home learning will stay “for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Gregg County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne said this past week that he does not see a problem with students returning to classrooms.
“I’m sure 90% of the kids are in class, so if it’s good enough for 90%, it’s good enough for everyone,” he said. “I don’t see that it’s a problem for them to go back. No matter what, they can get exposed. The kids in the remote learning situation are not staying home all the time, and they can get infected.”
Browne said the safety measurements in schools of social distancing, masks and increased sanitization have helped keep the spread of COVID-19 low.
“When they said they were going to do remote, I was concerned about if those kids are going to get a good education,” he said. “Classroom learning is much better than on a computer. I certainly didn’t get my medical degree on a computer. I went to class, and I think it made me a better doctor.”