The Distance Learning Equity Dashboard: A Snapshot of Student Support Systems Across the South

2020 — The Distance Learning Equity Dashboard (DLED or Dashboard) is the product of a thorough scan of 48 school districts in 20 states and provides a snapshot of the academic, nutritional, social and emotional, and professional development services each of those districts offered to students and staff members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirty-one of the 48 districts included in the Dashboard are part of SEF’s Racial Equity Leadership Network, while the other 17 were chosen for being either the largest school district in their respective state or a district employing some type of innovative practice for its students, families, and/or staff members.

To create the Dashboard, SEF researchers conducted repeated reviews of states’ and districts’ reopening plans for the fall of 2020. Those reviews were conducted between April and July to provide the most up-to-date and relevant information for policymakers, education professionals, practitioners, and families concerned about maintaining equitable student learning, family engagement, and teacher support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Access the Dashboard and accompanying briefs.

Digital Learning During COVID-19: 7 Equity Considerations for Schools and Districts

School closures impact all students, but students from underserved communities feel this impact even greater. The Southern Education Foundation has reviewed publicly available digital learning plans to see how schools and districts are meeting the needs of their most vulnerable students and families. We provide seven equity considerations along with examples of how some districts are addressing these issues now. Read the Issue Brief.

SEF Statement on Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Government officials are taking swift public health actions to slow the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic. As of March 23, 2020, statewide school closures stretched across 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, affecting 54.5 million K-12 public school students in our country. Over 20 million of these students live within the seventeen states covered by the Southern Education Foundation, and a majority of these students live in poverty.

Keeping equity in focus

While the coronavirus pandemic impacts all students, students from under-served communities have an even greater need for the academic, social, emotional, and nutritional supports schools provide. In many situations, schools also provide a place a safety. Many school and district leaders are doing the best they can to fill the gap, but they—like all of us who are navigating this new reality—are dealing with limited and evolving information while focusing on the day-to-day needs of students and families on the ground.

Since our founding in 1867, the Southern Education Foundation has been on the frontlines training and supporting teachers and leaders in the South. We have doubled down on our historic strategy of developing and sharing research-based, practitioner-informed policies, then connecting these solutions to an engaged civic and legislative community who can advance equitable education policies and practices.

This week, Dr. Kelli Joseph, Superintendent of the St. Helena Parish School District in Louisiana, expressed how her participation in SEF’s Racial Equity Leadership Network has helped her navigate this moment. “Being an equity leader makes you look at everything differently. Our kids’ meals and assignments are being delivered by bus rather than picked up because they all can’t drive to a designated location.” The district is also using bus fleets to deliver assignments to and from students and has also installed new Wi-Fi access points at all school buildings so parents can park at schools to get on the internet. Dr. Joseph and her team are also exploring providing low-cost, take-home Wi-Fi hotspots to families.

“Being an equity leader makes you look at everything differently. Our kids’ meals and assignments are being delivered by bus rather than picked up because they all can’t drive to a designated location.”

– Dr. Kelli Joseph, Superintendent of the St. Helena Parish School District in Louisiana and SEF Racial Equity Leadership Network Fellow

Promising practices

In this spirit of elevating what’s working, we’ve been encouraged by the innovative ways schools and districts across the southern states are meeting the needs of our most vulnerable students.  For example:

All seventeen of SEF’s southern states have applied for and received waivers from the United States Department of Agriculture to provide meals to students at school and community sites.

School districts in North Carolina are also using school bus fleets to deliver meals to students who aren’t able to get to designated meal sites.

SCETV, South Carolina’s public broadcasting and education network, is providing free virtual professional development sessions to educators on home learning and technology best practices.

Rowan-Salisbury School System, North Carolina has a dedicated helpdesk to educators on home learning and technology best practices.

In Caddo Parish Public Schools, Louisiana, the NAACP and Comcast have joined forces to provide two months of free internet to help families without internet access engage in virtual learning activities.

Charleston County School District, South Carolina is deploying Wi-Fi-equipped buses throughout the county to provide additional internet coverage throughout the school week.

Charlottesville City Schools, Virginia is enabling families to check-out laptops and is also providing low-tech options like print-outs of educational materials to ensure continued learning for students at home.

Similarly, Jackson Public Schools, Mississippi is developing a range of learning materials that are paper-based, online, and shared via their Instructional Television Channels.

In Hamilton County Schools, Tennessee, office supply company Staples has offered to print and distribute the district’s continued learning packets at no cost for families that do not have the ability to print at home.

Moving ahead

School and district leaders have told us that they want to hear more examples like these, and we are working hard to deliver. Our team is daily monitoring COVID-19’s impact on education in the southern states, and we are committed to highlighting promising practices, model guidelines, and practical resources that policymakers, educators, students, and families can use during these times.

We are also monitoring federal legislation and regulations and are encouraged to see the U.S. Department of Education waived standardized testing requirements for elementary and high school students for the current school year. A handful of states had already taken the lead on this issue and suspended state testing as they addressed the ramifications of this pandemic on students and families. Despite a need to momentarily waive state tests, there still must be intentionality and flexibility on how states measure academic progress for students during the coronavirus pandemic.

Please continue to check our website and social media channels for updates as we brave these challenges together. It is our sincere hope and belief that we will arrive on the other side of this crisis even stronger.

In community,

Raymond C. Pierce and the SEF Team