“America’s great remote-learning experiment: What surveys of teachers and parents tell us about how it went” was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: ckbe.at/newsletters.

This spring, America’s schools underwent an unprecedented experiment: tens of millions of students stopped going into school, and instead began receiving instruction remotely.

So — now that the school year is over almost everywhere — how much remote learning actually happened? And who was served best, and worst, by this new approach?

Definitive answers are hard to come by, and national data on student learning is virtually nonexistent. But more than a dozen national surveys of teachers, parents, students, and school administrators conducted over the past few months offer the clearest initial tally of successes and failures.

The surveys offer more evidence that educators were right to worry that remote learning would exacerbate inequities. Over and over, Black and Hispanic students and students from low-income families faced more roadblocks to learning, driven in part by gaps in access to technology and the internet. And engagement with schoolwork was relatively low across the board, reflecting the challenges of keeping students engaged in a chaotic time and of teaching from a distance.

But the surveys also show that most of America’s teachers did rapidly overhaul how they worked, and most parents gave their children’s schools high marks — evidence that the reality of remote instruction was somewhat more complicated than outright failure.

America’s great remote-learning experiment: What surveys of teachers and parents tell us

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“The challenge and the scale of what we were asking a system that employs almost 4 million teachers to do on short notice with limited infrastructure was herculean,” said Matt Kraft, a Brown University professor who developed a recently released teacher survey. Still, he said, “It’s hard to explain — without wondering if some districts could have done a lot better — why there were places that were much more successful.” 

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Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared on Chalkbeat on June 26, 2020.