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VICTOR JOECKS: CCSD’s distance learning plan is already a disaster

Updated August 25, 2020 - 9:42 pm

After just two days, it’s already apparent that distance learning is a slow-motion disaster. Unfortunately, Clark County School District leaders seem more interested in watching the train wreck than changing course to avoid it.

On Monday, the district’s 314,000 students were supposed to log on and start their virtual learning. Then the district’s learning platform crashed amid the influx of users. That was embarrassing, but it should be correctable. Online platforms frequently struggle when usage spikes dramatically for the first time. Presumably, that problem won’t be an ongoing issue.

The other challenges faced by the district look more serious. Last week, Superintendent Jesus Jara admitted that 30,000 students still need a Chromebook. Around 20,000 need internet access. That means 10 to 15 percent of students don’t have access to the tools necessary to succeed online. It’s unclear how much overlap there is between those groups.

Normally, the district can pretend that disadvantaged students are getting an education even while their learning outcomes are terrible. No longer.

This problem won’t be fixed by belatedly handing out laptops in two months. Consider a third grader without a Chromebook. He hasn’t received formal instruction since March. The district admitted that distance “learning” last spring didn’t involve much learning. If he gets a laptop and the internet on Oct. 1, he’ll have missed almost a half of year of school. He’ll be behind with no hope of catching up.

That’s not just a little problem. It could — and for many students will — set them back for a lifetime. Through third grade, students learn to read. After third grade, students read to learn. When students move into fourth grade without being able to read well, they are set up for academic failure every day until they drop out. Those who drop out of high school are more likely to go to jail. On average, they will earn less and be unemployed more often.

This issue is ripe for a lawsuit. The district is ordering students to attend online school but hasn’t provided them the tools they need to do so. One logical remedy: Give parents control of the per-pupil money the district receives and allow them to pay for a program that will provide an education.

It would be better if the district allowed students who aren’t able to connect online to learn in person. The district has already made plans to bus kids to school for lunch. Just keep them there to learn.

Having tens of thousands of struggling students isn’t the only predictable outcome. Next legislative session, district leaders will be begging for more money to help those students whose learning was interrupted by the pandemic.

There’s a way to help alleviate that perfectly predictable problem right now. Jara and district leaders must at least get kids without a computer or internet access into a classroom.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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