Top Takeaways from 2020: Does Remote Learning Work?

At year end of 2020, students’ report cards across the nation uncovered a startling trend. Students’ grade performance has exhibited sweeping declines.

Among Houston Public School District students, four in ten were failing at least two classes. Usually, only one in ten students in this district meet this criterion. 

The number of students failing at least two classes in Virginia’s Fairfax County has doubled since last year.

Much of the 2020 Fall semester has been characterized by a transition to remote learning. In lieu of widespread learning loss, it may be easy to think that online school simply doesn’t work. But a closer look at socioeconomics, age groups, and education methods reveals a more nuanced picture.

Socioeconomics and Internet Access

Socioeconomic status is one of the strongest predictors of internet access among Americans. You may find it surprising that, in 2019, 27% of American adults did not have internet access. There’s a direct relationship between salary and internet access. 44% of households with a salary below $35,000 did not have internet access. If you slide household salary up to $50,000 or above, the percentage of households without internet access decreases to just 13%. 

Why is this relationship between socioeconomic status and internet access important? 

It’s important because it accounts for learning loss. 

The problem here isn’t a matter of difficult online classes lowering students’ grades. The problem is that many public schools have needed to switch to virtual learning. This means that many students without internet access aren’t attending class. Teachers report that students who are struggling the most are those who have stopped attending class. 

As these same students tend to also rely on their public schools for basic needs, such as food and social services, it’s no wonder that grades have declined.

Online Learning’s Demand on Families with Younger Students

Now let’s consider the majority of students who do have internet access. While online learning in and of itself doesn’t pose greater challenges than traditional schooling, it does require students to exercise more autonomy. This demand has posed logistical challenges to working families.

Remote learning usually means that students’ homes become their learning space. This is no issue for high school-aged students, who can benefit from the flexibility and autonomy of online learning. On the other hand, working parents with younger children have faced child care challenges. In 2019, 92% of fathers and 76% of mothers with young children were employed–the vast majority of them full-time. In a typical in-person school week, students require 30 hours of supervision per week. 

Replacing these 30 hours of supervision per week has placed serious strain on these families and complicates younger students’ learning path. For this reason, online education might be especially well-suited for high school students who require less supervision.

Education Method Matters

At the end of the day, whether online or in-person, the way that instructors teach determines academic difficulty. Education method makes or breaks students’ performance. 

Let’s begin with the hard case of elementary school students. Despite the logistical challenges mentioned above, online learning can be an effective medium for young students. One study found that student-teacher connection is critical. It found a link between student-teacher engagement and online elementary school students’ ability to read at grade level. 

While students of all ages have had a negative experience with online public schooling, these issues have centered around execution rather than academic rigor. Schools that have been willing to innovate rather than copy and paste the in-person experience to an online format have shown more success.

Experts recommend that online schools provide social community, frequent check-ins, and provide students spaces for personal sharing to bolster success.

How Sora Addresses these Challenges

Sora is a virtual high school designed with student needs at the forefront. And we don’t leave students to manage all of their time on their own.

Student life at Sora is shaped by constant connection in a supportive community. Students love their daily meetings with motivated, like-minded peers who inspire them toward academic progress and personal development. These meetings keep students motivated and accountable. 

At Sora, we also maintain a low student to faculty ratio. This way students receive personal mentorship and academic guidance from experts in their prospective fields. 

We understand that many are facing economic challenges. Sora’s tuition works on a sliding scale depending on household income, because we believe in making premium education affordable and accessible. 

If you’re interested in a virtual learning experience that actually works for your teen, click here to begin a conversation with our admissions team.

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