Mark Warschauer, UCI professor of education and informatics, said the consequences of shifting to a virtual environment for K–12 students—which all Orange County public districts have done at some point since the lockdowns began March 2020—are wide-ranging.
“There are going to be greater achievement gaps and social adjustments in the classroom, as some kids have thrived in the at-home learning environment and other kids have basically dropped out,” Warschauer said in a statement.
“This is something districts need to be aware of and prepared to deal with. Those pandemic-induced issues are not going to immediately disappear when we start going back to school.”
He said that combined with the pandemic, children from low-income families have an added impediment that sets them back.
“When you get to the summer, middle- and upper-middle-class parents are putting their kids in enrichment camps or exposing them to lots of reading or taking them to museums,” Warschauer said.
“Lower-income kids have fewer opportunities in the summer, which is when they really fall behind, and it accumulates summer after summer. So when they’re already behind and have fallen even further behind because of the pandemic, I feel kids need to have after-school or Saturday sessions or summer learning opportunities to help them fill those achievement gaps.”
As a result of the CCP virus pandemic, and with teachers and students discovering the benefits and shortfalls of distance learning, public schooling may see an increase in use of technology for hybrid learning, Warschauer said.
“The virtual and in-person realms have different benefits, so this will be a plus,” he said.
Many children in low-income households lack internet service and are at a disadvantage compared with children who could access the web from home, he said.
“There’s always been this pretense that kids didn’t need Internet access at home because they could do their work in school,” Warschauer said. “Eventually, what that meant was that in wealthier districts, students had more opportunities for rich out-of-school learning, and students in poorer districts had less of those opportunities.”
The pandemic has changed the playing field, as at-home internet is now a requirement and should be treated like a designated public utility, he said.
“I think this wholesale acceptance of at-home Internet access being optional rather than a necessity for fair and equal education has been blown away.”
Effects of Isolation
Throughout the pandemic, many high school students have been stripped of their in-person schooling experience and the social development it provides, Warschauer said.
But while some students will be eager to return to an in-person setting this fall, others could have a hard time adjusting.
“For the majority of kids, returning to in-person instruction will be a very positive development,” Warschauer said. “But there are some introverts who have secretly enjoyed not having to get up and face a group of people every day, which is something that teachers and counselors will have to pay close attention to.”
Addressing all the issues the pandemic has caused will take time and patience, he said.
“It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon,” Warschauer said. “It’s going to be a long process of working together and having the support needed to help everybody rise.”
Putting It to the Test
The U.S. Department of Education removed the standardized testing requirement last spring. However, this year, states are required to administer standardized testing with some modifications for learning flexibility.
Warschauer said students should take the annual state assessment standardized tests this spring, as “more data is better, so I’m in favor of school testing so we get an accurate assessment of student achievement levels.”