Report indicates distance learning success tied to funding and accessibility

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This article was published on NBC News 10 by Connor Cyrus on October 20, 2020.

A new report by The Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council found success in distance learning can be tied to funding and accessibility.

It found students in low income or urban communities who struggled before the pandemic, struggle even more when they have to learn at home rather than in school.

Many kids are back in school but families are still trying to figure out the mix of in-classroom and distance learning.

“It’s been a challenge to adapt to a hybrid system,” said John Garofano, a father in Barrington.

Garofano is the father of two at Barrington high schoolers and one of the biggest challenges for him has been access to bandwidth at his house.

With four people needing to be on Zoom calls, he drives to Providence to get work done.

Barrington decided to start the school year with a hybrid model of learning, like most of the state.

A new report put out by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council shows that only nine of the state’s 36 school districts are fully reopened.

“The schools that are most closed, therefore relying on distance learning are the ones in our urban communities,” said Micheal DiBiase.

This is a problem because many of those school districts are low income and struggled with proficiency before the pandemic, and with distance learning, they are the ones that can least afford to fall behind.

“We need to help the urban areas get to a more in-person instruction,” said DiBiase.

Across Rhode Island, RIPEC says half have the districts offer partial in-person learning and about one in eight had no in-school learning going on at all.

The report points out the suburban and rural areas of the state that have successfully fully reopened tend to be higher income.

RIPEC struggled to get all the data it needs for this report. The non-profit, non-partisan group says there is still a lack of transparency about how distance learning is going.

“I think that we deserve to know how many students are actually attending school, what kind of instruction are they receiving, how many hours a day are they receiving instruction, what was the learning loss in the spring,” said DiBiase.

But for the dad of two from Barrington, he’s not sure what the learning loss has been for his kids, if any.

He’s hoping teacher feedback when grades come out will help.

“I haven’t noticed them but I can say it’s a concern and I’m going to try to monitor that. I can see kids having a problem with it,” said Garofano.