Survey of public school teachers finds many saw low student participation in distance learning

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Updated: Jun. 22, 2020 at 4:35 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Education Department recently surveyed Hawaii teachers in hopes of illuminating how many public school students actually participated in remote learning after campuses closed in March.

Based on the poll, the answer is: Far fewer than hoped.

The survey included 61% of Hawaii public school teachers, asking them what percentage of their students “consistently participated” in distance learning.

Of those who taught middle and high school teachers, nearly half said they saw fewer than 1 in 5 of their students participating regularly in distance learning.

Just 10% said they saw more than 6 in 10 of their students consistently participating.

Among Hawaii elementary school teachers, the survey results were slightly more favorable. About half of teachers said they’d been able to reach their students after campuses closed.

And 31% said most of their students regularly participated in distancing learning lessons.

Hawaii Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has said she didn’t require that schools keep track of how many students were actually going to class remotely because she wanted educators to focus on teaching.

But the apparent lack of participation ― especially among secondary school students ― could raise alarm bells as the state Education Department tries to figure out how to teach students come August.

Kishimoto, who oversees one of the nation’s largest school districts with some 180,000 students, has indicated that schools could offer “blended learning” ― a mix of in-person and online classes ― in the new school year so teachers and students can maintain social distancing guidelines.

In a statement, Kishimoto said the Education Department would analyze the survey results to determine next steps.

“This has been an important initiative for the Department, learning from the voices and experiences of teachers, students and families to help gauge readiness levels and areas of need in planning for the new school year,” she said.

Another worrisome finding in the survey: Participation was far lower in some districts compared to others, especially those with greater percentages of students who live in poverty.

  • Just 8% of elementary school teachers in the Nanakuli-Waianae complex said that most of their students consistently participated in distance learning.
  • In the Castle-Kahuku complex, 6% of secondary school teachers said most of their students consistently participated in distance learning activities.
  • In the complex that includes Pearl City and Waipahu, 10% of secondary school teachers said the majority of their students regularly participated in online learning.
  • Among elementary school teachers in the complex, 29% said their students consistently participated.
  • Student participation was incredibly low in the Kau-Keaau-Pahoa complex. Middle and high school teachers there said just 4% of their students regularly participated in distancing learning.
  • Elementary school teachers in the complex put the figure at 10%.

To see the data for the state and complexes, click here.

Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii teachers union, said the survey results underscore the tough situation facing teachers and students. He noted that many students in low-income families may not have as much access to the internet, either because they have to share a single device or simply don’t have regular access at all.

He also responded to a question he gets a lot: Didn’t not grading students in the final semester of the school year essentially give them no strong incentive to regularly attend remote learning?

His answer: Well, sure. But mandating grades, he said, might have exacerbated economic inequalities; students without regular access to the internet would have had an unfair disadvantage.

“The big question is what do we do now?” he said. “How are we going to start the schools?”

He said that the DOE is facing a host of potential concerns, from how to make sure to keep both vulnerable children and teachers safe to how to offer remote learning to students who attend a variety of campuses, from tiny to crowded ones.

The DOE also surveyed nearly 9,000 secondary public and charter school students to understand their experiences with distance learning and potential limitations.

Interestingly, most students who answered the survey said they did regularly participate in distance learning through online devices. That’s probably because the students who took the survey were a skewed population, far more likely than their peers to participate in remote learning. But the DOE couldn’t immediately say if that was the case.

The Education Department did note that the survey results are still preliminary. They also said that a separate survey is being conducted of parents and guardians.

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