Online Schools Are Here to Stay, Even After the Pandemic

In a study by the RAND Corporation, “Remote Learning Is Here to Stay,” 58 out of 288 district administrators — roughly 20 percent — said their school system had already started an online school, was planning to start one or was considering doing so as a postpandemic offering.

“This is hardly a panacea or a silver bullet for public schooling,” said Heather Schwartz, a senior policy researcher at RAND who directed the study. But, she added, “there is a minority of parents, a minority of students and even a minority of teachers for whom virtual schooling is the preferred mode.

Yet a surge of online schools comes with risks. It could normalize remote learning approaches that have had poor results for many students, education researchers said. It could also further divide a fragile national education system, especially when many Asian, Black and Latino families have been wary of sending their children back to school this year.

“My fear is that it will lead to further fracturing and fragmentation,” said Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

Districts said they were simply responding to demand from parents and children who want to stick with remote learning — some because of student health issues, some because of concerns about bullying or discrimination in their school, and some who just prefer the convenience of learning at home.

Districts that fail to start online schools could lose students — along with government education funding — to virtual academies run by neighboring districts, companies or nonprofits, administrators said. To pay for the new online offerings, some districts said, they are using federal coronavirus relief funds or shifting resources from other programs.

Online schools began opening in the 1990s, some run by states or districts and others by private companies or nonprofit charter management organizations. But until recently, they played a niche role in many states.

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Schools in Long Beach, Calif., Start Reopening This Week

California continued its uneven progress in reopening schools on Monday, as elementary students began to return to classrooms in Long Beach, the state’s fourth-largest district with 70,000 students.

Public schools in the state’s top three districts by enrollment — Los Angeles, San Diego and Fresno — have said they will begin to allow grade-school students back onto campus later in April, as new coronavirus cases have fallen sharply across California.

Schools in Oakland and San Francisco also are scheduled to reopen next month for elementary and special-needs students. But labor agreements in both cities have allowed substantial numbers of teachers to opt out, leaving some schools without enough teachers to reopen and prompting others to scramble for substitutes.

Although many smaller California districts have been open for months, large urban districts on the West Coast generally have lagged behind their counterparts in the rest of the nation. Surging infections in Southern California after the winter holiday were partly to blame for a slow rebound in the Los Angeles school system.

open earlier than other large California school systems because labor unions there agreed last summer to reopen as soon as health conditions permitted, and because the city was able to start vaccinating teachers earlier than other districts in the state.

Unlike most other cities in Los Angeles County, Long Beach has its own public health department, giving the city its own vaccine supplies and the power to set its own vaccine priorities, at a time when the county as a whole was making teachers wait until after other groups, like residents 65 and older, were vaccinated.

“A city with its own health department has the ability to be more nimble,” said Jill Baker, the city’s schools superintendent, who called the return to classrooms this week “exciting and momentous.”

The school district is among the city’s largest employers, and two-thirds of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, so vaccinating school employees and reopening classrooms was viewed as economically important, Ms. Baker said.

About 14,000 students in Long Beach from transitional kindergarten through fifth grade will return this week to school buildings for masked, sanitized and socially distanced instruction. They will be on a hybrid schedule, with students spending about 2½ hours at school each day, five days a week, and completing the school day with remote instruction.

In-person classes for older students are scheduled to resume April 19, with grades 6 to 8 getting the option to return on April 20 and grades 9 to 11 on April 26. The last day of school will be in mid-June.

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Learning Apps Have Boomed During the Pandemic. Now Comes the Real Test

After a tough year of toggling between remote and in-person schooling, many students, teachers and their families feel burned out from pandemic learning. But companies that market digital learning tools to schools are enjoying a coronavirus windfall.

Venture and equity financing for education technology start-ups has more than doubled, surging to $12.58 billion worldwide last year from $4.81 billion in 2019, according to a report from CB Insights, a firm that tracks start-ups and venture capital.

During the same period, the number of laptops and tablets shipped to primary and secondary schools in the United States nearly doubled to 26.7 million, from 14 million, according to data from Futuresource Consulting, a market research company in Britain.

“We’ve seen a real explosion in demand,” said Michael Boreham, a senior market analyst at Futuresource. “It’s been a massive, massive sea change out of necessity.”

co-founded Blackboard, now one of the largest learning management systems for schools and colleges. “You can’t train hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students in online education and not expect there to be profound effects.”

Tech evangelists have long predicted that computers would transform education. The future of learning, many promised, involved apps powered by artificial intelligence that would adjust lessons to children’s abilities faster and more precisely than their human teachers ever could.

improve students’ outcomes.

Instead, during the pandemic, many schools simply turned to digital tools like videoconferencing to transfer traditional practices and schedules online. Critics say that push to replicate the school day for remote students has only exacerbated disparities for many children facing pandemic challenges at home.

“We will never again in our lifetime see a more powerful demonstration of the conservatism of educational systems,” said Justin Reich, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies online learning and recently wrote the book “Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education.”

Apps that enable online interactions between teachers and students are reporting extraordinary growth, and investors have followed.

Among the biggest deals, CB Insights said: Zuoyebang, a Chinese ed-tech giant that offers live online lessons and homework help for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, raised a total of $2.35 billion last year from investors including Alibaba and Sequoia Capital China.

Yuanfudao, another Chinese tutoring start-up, raised a total of $3.5 billion from investors like Tencent. And Kahoot, a quiz app from Norway used by millions of teachers, recently raised about $215 million from SoftBank.

raised $100 million. Now Newsela is valued at $1 billion, a milestone that may be common among consumer apps like Instacart and Deliveroo but is still relatively rare for education apps aimed at American public schools.

Nearpod also reported exponential growth. After making the video lesson app free, the start-up saw its user base surge to 1.2 million teachers at the end of last year — a fivefold jump over 2019. Last month, Nearpod announced that it had agreed to be acquired by Renaissance, a company that sells academic assessment software to schools, for $650 million.

Some consumer tech giants that provided free services to schools also reaped benefits, gaining audience share and getting millions of students accustomed to using their product.

more than 150 million students and educators, up from 40 million early last year. And Zoom Video Communications says it has provided free services during the pandemic to more than 125,000 schools in 25 countries.

But whether tools that teachers have come to rely on for remote learning can maintain their popularity will hinge on how useful the apps are in the classroom.

Nesi Harold, an eighth-grade science teacher in the Houston area, have used features on the app to poll students, create quizzes or ask students to use a drawing tool to sketch the solar system — digital tools that work for both live classroom and remote instruction.

“It allows me to broadcast the lesson to all of my learners, no matter where they are,” said Ms. Harold, who simultaneously teaches in-person and remote students.

one complaint: She can’t store more than a few lessons at a time on Nearpod because her school hasn’t bought a license. “It’s still pricey,” she said.

The future in education is less clear for enterprise services, like Zoom, that were designed for business use and adopted by schools out of pandemic necessity.

In an email, Kelly Steckelberg, Zoom’s chief financial officer, said she expected educational institutions would invest in “new ways to virtually communicate” beyond remote teaching — such as using Zoom for Parent Teacher Association meetings, school board meetings and parent-teacher conferences.

Mr. Chasen, the ed-tech entrepreneur, is counting on it. He recently founded Class Technologies, a start-up that offers online course management tools — like attendance-taking and grading features — for educators and corporate trainers holding live classes on Zoom. The company has raised $46 million from investors including Bill Tai, one of the earliest backers of Zoom.

“I’m not coming up with some new advanced A.I. methodology,” Mr. Chasen said of his new app for video classrooms. “You know what teachers needed? They needed the ability to hand out work in class, give a quiz and grade it.”

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Learning Apps Have Boomed in the Pandemic. Now Comes the Real Test.

After a tough year of toggling between remote and in-person schooling, many students, teachers and their families feel burned out from pandemic learning. But companies that market digital learning tools to schools are enjoying a coronavirus windfall.

Venture and equity financing for education technology start-ups has more than doubled, surging to $12.58 billion worldwide last year from $4.81 billion in 2019, according to a report from CB Insights, a firm that tracks start-ups and venture capital.

During the same period, the number of laptops and tablets shipped to primary and secondary schools in the United States nearly doubled to 26.7 million, from 14 million, according to data from Futuresource Consulting, a market research company in Britain.

“We’ve seen a real explosion in demand,” said Michael Boreham, a senior market analyst at Futuresource. “It’s been a massive, massive sea change out of necessity.”

co-founded Blackboard, now one of the largest learning management systems for schools and colleges. “You can’t train hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students in online education and not expect there to be profound effects.”

Tech evangelists have long predicted that computers would transform education. The future of learning, many promised, involved apps powered by artificial intelligence that would adjust lessons to children’s abilities faster and more precisely than their human teachers ever could.

improve students’ outcomes.

Instead, during the pandemic, many schools simply turned to digital tools like videoconferencing to transfer traditional practices and schedules online. Critics say that push to replicate the school day for remote students has only exacerbated disparities for many children facing pandemic challenges at home.

“We will never again in our lifetime see a more powerful demonstration of the conservatism of educational systems,” said Justin Reich, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies online learning and recently wrote the book “Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education.”

Apps that enable online interactions between teachers and students are reporting extraordinary growth, and investors have followed.

Among the biggest deals, CB Insights said: Zuoyebang, a Chinese ed-tech giant that offers live online lessons and homework help for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, raised a total of $2.35 billion last year from investors including Alibaba and Sequoia Capital China.

Yuanfudao, another Chinese tutoring start-up, raised a total of $3.5 billion from investors like Tencent. And Kahoot, a quiz app from Norway used by millions of teachers, recently raised about $215 million from SoftBank.

raised $100 million. Now Newsela is valued at $1 billion, a milestone that may be common among consumer apps like Instacart and Deliveroo but is still relatively rare for education apps aimed at American public schools.

Nearpod also reported exponential growth. After making the video lesson app free, the start-up saw its user base surge to 1.2 million teachers at the end of last year — a fivefold jump over 2019. Last month, Nearpod announced that it had agreed to be acquired by Renaissance, a company that sells academic assessment software to schools, for $650 million.

Some consumer tech giants that provided free services to schools also reaped benefits, gaining audience share and getting millions of students accustomed to using their product.

more than 150 million students and educators, up from 40 million early last year. And Zoom Video Communications says it has provided free services during the pandemic to more than 125,000 schools in 25 countries.

But whether tools that teachers have come to rely on for remote learning can maintain their popularity will hinge on how useful the apps are in the classroom.

Nesi Harold, an eighth-grade science teacher in the Houston area, have used features on the app to poll students, create quizzes or ask students to use a drawing tool to sketch the solar system — digital tools that work for both live classroom and remote instruction.

“It allows me to broadcast the lesson to all of my learners, no matter where they are,” said Ms. Harold, who simultaneously teaches in-person and remote students.

one complaint: She can’t store more than a few lessons at a time on Nearpod because her school hasn’t bought a license. “It’s still pricey,” she said.

The future in education is less clear for enterprise services, like Zoom, that were designed for business use and adopted by schools out of pandemic necessity.

In an email, Kelly Steckelberg, Zoom’s chief financial officer, said she expected educational institutions would invest in “new ways to virtually communicate” beyond remote teaching — such as using Zoom for Parent Teacher Association meetings, school board meetings and parent-teacher conferences.

Mr. Chasen, the ed-tech entrepreneur, is counting on it. He recently founded Class Technologies, a start-up that offers online course management tools — like attendance-taking and grading features — for educators and corporate trainers holding live classes on Zoom. The company has raised $46 million from investors including Bill Tai, one of the earliest backers of Zoom.

“I’m not coming up with some new advanced A.I. methodology,” Mr. Chasen said of his new app for video classrooms. “You know what teachers needed? They needed the ability to hand out work in class, give a quiz and grade it.”

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