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Nonprofit pushes for more funding to help ‘vulnerable learners’

Remote learning failing certain students
Posted at 1:51 PM, Jun 16, 2020

With a total of six adopted and foster children, Keri Penland’s family is an exercise in planning and patience.

“Trying to do school with them has been insane,” she said.

All of her kids are school-aged; some have learning disabilities. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, they--along with tens of millions of other students across the country--became part of a nationwide experiment in remote learning.

Her verdict?

“I don't know how anybody is doing this, to be honest,” Penland said. “It's not possible.”

And it turns out, she's not alone.

“We found that remote learning is really failing our most vulnerable learners,” said Justin Ruben, who is with the nonprofit “ParentsTogether.”

The group recently conducted a survey of more than 1,500 families across the country to see how remote learning was going.

Among the findings:

When compared to a family making $100,000 a year, lower-income families--making $25,000 or less-- are ten times more likely to have children doing little to no remote learning.

Those families are also five times more likely to attend a school not offering distance learning materials at all and 13 percent of them didn’t even have a computer device or internet access.

Yet, the numbers were even worse for families of children with special needs, who usually get individualized support at school. Out of those families, 40 percent said that with remote learning, they were receiving no support at all.

“A huge chunk of students are being left behind by remote learning,” Ruben said.

ParentsTogether wants the federal government to step in with $175 billion more in funding for education, especially since the coronavirus pandemic slashed tax revenues for local and state budgets and, in turn, education programs.

“Schools are making budgets right now and kids are falling behind right now, and schools are making plans for the fall right now,” Ruben said. “And so, there's this surreal lack of urgency in Washington, D.C., and there’s literally like a whole generation of vulnerable kids is being allowed to languish.”

Back at Penland’s house, it’s been an unusual ending to the school year.

“I'll tell you, if school doesn't start again, the kids are gonna be way, way behind,” she said. “It's a different time than we've ever experienced.”

Given everything that happened with schools and the pandemic, experts have some suggestions for how to keep kids engaged and learning over the summer.

  1. Keep some semblance of structure. A visual schedule that everyone can see will help and make it easier for you and your kids to get back into the swing of things when summer ends.
  2. Read to your children or encourage them to read, write or draw--anything that engages their minds, as long as it does not involve a computer or phone screen.
  3. Outdoor hikes, walks or scavenger hunts can help kids get exercise and keep them engaged in discovering new things.
  4. Make sure your kids get enough sleep and proper nutrition, to keep them in top shape and ready for when it’s time to return to school.