online laptop

Officials warn that online programs may not be accessible to low-income students

March 19, 2020
Schools that embrace online learning during the coronavirus pandemic should strive to ensure programs are accessible to all students.

Delivering education online is a  priority as schools around the world close because of the threat of the coronavirus, but some educators are worried that going online, even as a temporary measure during a crisis, risks leaving some kids behind.

The Detroit Free Press reports that Michigan officials are urging a cautious approach to online education.

"Only those districts and schools that can ensure that all students have equitable access to quality learning opportunities should pursue a full transition to online learning," Vanessa Kessler, deputy superintendent of the Michigan Department of Education, wrote to school leaders across the state Wednesday.

Liz Kolb, a clinical associate professor of education technologies and teacher education at the University of Michigan, says: "One of the things that we know about online learning and virtual instruction is that it can increase some of the gaps that we have in education, especially around equity issues of low social-economic-status students and more affluent students. So it's definitely an area that we are very concerned about."

 Kessler's memo says that before a district makes online learning a "full substitute" for instructional delivery, it should answer several questions including:

  • Do all kids have access to devices and internet connections at home?
  • Can the district fully support all learners, including those with special needs?
  • Have educators been trained in how to deliver instruction online?
  • Have students had enough prior exposure to blended or online learning to be successful?

Federal education officials are concerned, too. They have released a video to remind schools that services they provide must be provided to all students regardless of their race, gender, income or disability status.

Video from U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights:

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