Report: Districts’ handling of spring school closings provide insights for fall reopening

July 30, 2020

School location, family income and broadband internet access were critical factors in how well K-12 students adjusted to the COVID-19 shift from classroom to remote learning, according to a new report by Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC).

College of Education alumna Meghan Dziedzic taught a class remotely during spring 2020.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered districts to craft Continuity of Learning plans when the pandemic forced Michigan to shut down last spring. An analysis of those plans by MSU researchers for the state Department of Education included how districts initially planned to provide instruction during the pandemic and how they monitored student learning. It also assessed district support services provided for students overall and those in special populations.

The analysis found that there were important differences in the kinds of educational opportunities districts planned for their students in the spring of 2020. Much of this variation was related to factors including geography, socioeconomics and home technology, said Katharine Strunk, EPIC faculty director and professor of education policy at MSU’s College of Education. 

“The research is clear: Kids need direct, authentic and engaging interactions with their teachers and peers in order to maximize their learning,” Strunk said. “This is always true, and is even more important as we consider distance or inconsistent in-person education this coming year. Our results show that not all districts could plan to provide that last spring, which is not surprising given they had little time and preparation to shift to distance education. I hope we can learn from our experiences last year to ensure that all kids have high-quality learning opportunities this fall.” 

Katharine Strunk headshot
Katharine Strunk

Other key findings include: 

  • Districts were flexible with their final grading policies for students.
  • District plans specified accommodations for special populations of students, but the kinds of modifications varied by district.
  • A quarter of districts planned to offer teachers professional development to help them prepare for distance education.
  • Districts arranged to reassign staff to address students’ specific needs during the pandemic.
  • The majority of districts specified resources for students’ mental health and nutrition needs. 

“As educators and administrators plan for the 2020-2021 school year, it will be critical to learn from last spring and work to ensure high-quality opportunities for all students,” Strunk said. 

Collaborators on the report were Melissa Lovitz, Tara Kilbride and Meg Turner, all with EPIC.

This story, written by Kim Ward, originally appeared on MSUToday.