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Online K-12 Requires Creative Solutions, Resources, Patience

Duke faculty share insights during a media briefing on adapting to the pandemic

Ed Experts: Online K-12 School Requires Creative Solutions, Resources, Patience
Kenneth Dodge, Leslie Babinski and Brian Cooper

K-12 teachers, students and parents face a mountain of obstacles as they prepare for weeks or months of online schooling this fall. They’ll need technological, emotional and financial support to shepherd a generation of school kids through an unprecedented time, three Duke education experts said Wednesday.

But there are ways to make it easier, they told media during a press briefing (watch on YouTube:

Here are excerpts:


Brian Cooper, Duke Talent Identification Program

“Remote learning really is like playing a different game. Students, teachers, parents, they have to figure out how to do these familiar things but in a different way. How do I submit an assignment? How do I deliver instruction? How do I ask a question?”

“It’s almost like students going back to kindergarten, where they’re learning how to do school. It’s almost like teachers becoming first-year teachers again, learning how to do things for the first time.”

“Plan for this new reality. Plan for the extra time it’s going to take to do these new things in these new ways.”

“Don’t expect it to be regular school, because it won’t be.”

“It’s important to intentionally build in time to practice, with these new tools and technologies. Instead of jumping right into some of the content, you very well may spend a few days or a week practicing how to submit an assignment. How to ask a question. How to send an email.”

“Planning and practice. For the instructors, for the teachers and administrators, paring down the number of tools they’re using is going to make it much easier for students. Every time you introduce a new tool you’re introducing a new learning curve that takes mental and emotional energy. Being more selective is really helpful.”

“Creating patterns and routines for students so they know what to expect and when, I think, is really, really valuable. Particularly now when there are so few areas of regularity in all of our lives.”

“Teachers helping parents establish those patterns and schedules can be very valuable.”

“Being patient is very important. Assume positive intentions. Recognize parents and teachers are on the same page. Having the generosity of spirit to be patient with each other as we’re all learning together.”


Kenneth Dodge, early child development expert

“There are about 51 million children in K-12 schools in America. About 8.6 million children, K-12 age, do not have the necessary equipment at home to participate in online learning. That’s about one-in-six children in America. They either do not have internet service coming to their home, or they do not have an internet subscription that supports high-speed access, or they do not have a computer device in their home. Let alone whether they have a parent with the knowledge to supervise them.”

“There are great disparities as you would expect. Almost one-in-three low-income students in America will not be able to participate adequately in remote education unless we do something, because they do not have access. That’s compared to only about 7.5 percent of middle-income students.”

“That will increase the disparities in educational outcomes that are already present. They will simply grow over time.”


Kenneth Dodge

“A household needs to have broadband internet access coming to their home. It should be like other utilities -- electricity, water. It’s long been needed but unfortunately, particularly in rural areas, too many children don’t have what’s needed. It’s a long-overdue solution.”

“Each child’s family will need a subscription to high-speed Internet access with enough data to support remote learning.”

“Each child will need a computer device, a tablet, a desktop, a laptop.” 

“Assuming there is broadband access and they have a subscription and they have a device, we need to have training for parents and the students in how to access the internet (and) how to use it. Schools are doing a good job of this, but we need more.”


Leslie Babinski, child and family policy expert

“There are a tremendous number of gaps. When you think of kindergarten and first-grade students trying to access online education, parents are overwhelmed.”

“I think we also have to remember that many teachers are parents, too. … Teachers are very well aware of the multiple demands placed on parents.”

“This is really an unprecedented time when we’re asking parents to step up and serve as facilitators or teachers for their children’s education. It really highlights the importance of public education in keeping our economy running.”

“We really have learned a lot from the experience in the spring, and I think this fall is going to be quite different.”

“I think there are still big hurdles ahead. If you think about how this is going to work, especially for the young elementary students and their parents, some of whom are working outside the home, and some of whom are working at home but need to concentrate on their own work.”


Kenneth Dodge

“The risks are great. We know children lose maybe up to one third of what they had learned in the previous school year over the summertime -- unless during that summer they had continual educational experiences.”

“We know there are big differences, disparities, in what is lost. Middle-income parents figure out or have the financial resources to make up for that lost educational experience while low-income students do not have that luxury. So the disparities in learning will grow.”

“So the long-term implications are, I think, potentially permanent loss in ultimate educational outcomes for all children, and growing disparities in those outcomes for low-income children.”


Leslie Babinski

“We need to think really seriously about what are our options for supporting students. Certainly students are missing out on the development of some academic skills. They’re missing chunks of their education in terms of specific skill development.”

“Students and children are learning all the time. They’re engaged in their homes. They’re continuing to grow and develop. What we’re really missing is the actual academic skills rather than the normal growth and development. Schools really can address this challenge. I think we can provide for those skillsets those students have missed.”

“It’s really going to take a thoughtful application of the various interventions. Educators are really struggling with this but also thinking about what we can do to support growth and development both during online learning and when we return to in-person schooling.”


Brian Cooper

“The social/emotional needs of students -- and teachers and parents -- is really, really important to bear in mind. Part of what happens often in the remote learning environment, it really strips out everything but the academics. We forget all of these informal interactions that students have. Hanging out in the hall or chatting before school starts or eating lunch in the cafeteria or playing on the playground. Students are learning in those environments. They’re making friendships. They’re learning how to interact with each other. They’re developing their interpersonal skills.”


Kenneth Dodge

“The consequences for the long-term are to fall behind, comparatively, in educational progress and to fall behind on an absolute basis. We’re not giving children the education they need to be successful down the line.”

“Children grow. They develop. We cannot simply have them stand still for six months or a year and expect we can presume they will pick up at that later on and make up later on. That simply is not the way it happens. A year in the life of a 9-year-old child is a huge proportion of that child’s life. And that child will permanently lag behind unless we attend to those problems.”


Leslie Babinski

“Access is one of the key things. Making sure at the very basic level that students were able to log on to the learning platforms.”

“Teachers also provide a lot of supports to children and their families. A lot of texting and evening phone calls, trying to help them support their young students. In the future, schools really need to look at all those supplemental supports available for families. Certainly translational support, but also tech support and social and emotional support.”  

“We really do need to pay attention to the social and emotional development of students.”


Brian Cooper

“Remote learning requires a different type of motivation. You’re missing that structure of the regular school day and you’re at home with all these other distractions. Exploring more comprehensive solutions around child care around supervision … it really gets to a fundamental question or problem around education in that to some extent it has become a child care vehicle. That’s important, but what happens when the child care aspect conflicts with the education aspect?”

Kenneth Dodge

“We criticize the public school system too much. They do an awful lot. Twenty million children receive subsidized school breakfasts and/or lunches each day. That’s nutrition. That’s basic support not being served well if children are at home.”

“We have 26 million students who are under age 12 attending public schools. The best guidelines are that those children really should not be alone in their homes unsupervised.”

“It’s a problem that certainly disproportionately affects low-income families who cannot provide that extra support. But not only low-income families. Ten million school-age children in America have parents who are health care workers or first responders, police, fire, etc., and they’re at home. There’s a false assumption that everybody, all adults are at home with nothing to do and can supervise their children.”

“This is a huge challenge. Our public schools have served us well in that capacity. We now have to figure out other kinds of solutions.”


Leslie Babinski

“In families of English learners, the older siblings really do take on a lot of responsibility in terms of translating for parents as they acquire English. They’re serving in adult roles earlier than children from English-speaking families. We heard from teachers that some kindergarten and first-grade students were getting support from their siblings who were as young as second-graders.”

“I think we absolutely have to attend to the potential burden not only for our English learner families but all of our families that older children are taking on during this time. They’re being asked to provide a lot of child care kinds of support but also academic support, at the risk of losing time for focusing on their own education.”


Leslie Babinski

“Schools are starting to provide support for certain learning platforms they’re asking all of their teachers to use. One of the things we’re seeing that really works is collaboration. This is really an opportunity to leverage one another’s strengths. Each teacher doesn’t have to create his or her own suite of lessons. Teachers could specialize in different learning platforms. It’s really important for students who are served by more than one teacher … that those teachers have both the time and framework to collaborate with one another to really leverage one another’s strengths.

“Schools really need to provide time for teachers to learn the new learning platforms and to develop content. This is a whole new ballgame.”

Brian Cooper

“It’s really important to be very intentional about building lessons, devoting instructional time, so students can learn the platform. That’s not lost time. Creating modules of instruction where the goal is solely for the student to understand and be able to use effectively and practice those tools they’ll be using for the next weeks and months.”


Brian Cooper

“If there is a silver lining in this, one of the benefits for students going through this process, they are developing some pretty critical 21st century skills that will equip them for study in universities or a variety of workplace contexts where they’ll have to interact productively with people using technology.”


Kenneth Dodge

“State governments provide a lot of support for our public education. Right now they can allocate emergency funds to provide internet access, to provide training for parents and students, to provide extra support for teachers who no doubt will be putting in extra overtime to make this successful.”

“State legislature are linchpins in providing resources and providing the moral leadership and character leadership we need.”


Leslie Babinski
Leslie Babinski is director of the Center for Child and Family Policy and an associate research professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke. She is a licensed psychologist who studies children and adolescents, and professional development for teachers. 

Brian Cooper
Brian Cooper is director of educational innovation and online learning at Duke’s Talent Identification Program. He taught in Durham Public Schools for six years. At Duke Cooper has created new distance-learning program models and online educational programming.

Kenneth Dodge
Kenneth Dodge is a professor of public policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, where he studies early childhood development. Dodge is the founding and past director of the Center for Child and Family Policy.


Duke experts on a variety of other topics related the coronavirus pandemic can be found here.