The threat of COVID-19 has disrupted lives across the globe, with education one of the hardest hit areas. According to EdWeek, school closures due to coronavirus have impacted at least 124,000 U.S. public and private schools and affected at least 55.1 million students across the country.

With classes canceled, school districts and teachers scrambling to set up remote learning, and parents either working from home or experiencing unexpected job loss, managing children’s education on top of everything else can seem overwhelming. “At-home learning” looks incredibly different across lines of race and class and, without formal school for at least the rest of the year, students are likely to restart school with even more variability than before in their socioemotional and academic skills.

Our Foundation is supporting relief efforts in several different ways. To help with basic needs, we’re working with Robin Hood’s Rapid Relief Fund to support under-resourced and vulnerable New Yorkers and with the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund to identify the best ways to support COVID-19 efforts in the state. 

And to help provide educational resources to those families who do have WiFi connectivity and computers at home, we’re proud to support the efforts of the grantees highlighted below. All three of these organizations were quick to respond to an unprecedented need for remote learning across the country. Their ability to scale their programs to meet increased demand has provided immense and measurable benefits to families, teachers, and schools. 

We’re proud to support and highlight grantees who were quick to respond to an unprecedented need for remote learning.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy continues to have its instructional videos across subjects free for all students. In response to the crisis, they’ve also created a comprehensive resource page that’s being updated regularly and sample daily schedules by age group for both parents and teachers.

Since schools closed, Khan Academy has experienced a 250% increase in website traffic and 6x the normal teacher and student registrations. Their parent registrations have increased by 20x, and daily learning minutes increased to over 2x the daily average prior to school shutdowns. Total new registrations for the week ending 3/27 were over 2 million and learning time, once again, more than double compared to the prior year.

Usage of Khan Academy Kids, which is geared towards kids ages two through seven, also soared. Downloads were up 6-9x depending on the day, and the app was in the top 20 free apps on the App Store.

Zearn Math

Zearn made its entire K-5 math curriculum—including 400 hours of digital lessons with on-screen teachers and supportive remediation—available for free. Kids, teachers, parents, and caregivers can directly access all content 24/7, outside of school. Zearn is also making paper-based materials that can be used without a device. 

In the first week of remote learning, 35 million math problems were completed on Zearn. Sign-ups increased 1,000%, with over 70% coming from kids in low-income (Title I eligible) schools. Over 3 million K–5 kids are now using Zearn Math to learn at home. 

ST Math

ST Math, a research-based instructional math program, pivoted to provide no-cost access to their content for all schools and homeschooling families for the rest of the school year. 

Since March 14th, ST Math (and its resident penguin JiJi) has welcomed over 500,000 new students and 2,000+ schools to its program. Kids have solved over one million math problems so far!

It would have been impossible to prepare for the upheaval that COVID-19 has brought to schools, students, and families. But these organizations were well-positioned to act quickly and respond rapidly in an effort to decrease the amount of student learning loss.

It would have been impossible to prepare for the upheaval that COVID-19 has brought to schools, students, and families. But the organizations featured above were well-positioned to act quickly and respond rapidly in an effort to decrease the amount of student learning loss.

In learning about their work, and connecting to several other grantees who are ramping up remote learning options, we’ve begun to compile some best practices for creating and growing remote learning interventions during COVID-19 and after. Here are our top five.

Best practices for remote learning

  • Build online resource centers for parents and teachers. Our grantees have found that having a curated resource page or center is an essential and effective way of guiding parents and teachers through the process of remote learning, especially as they ramp up their knowledge in the early days. It’s even better when resources are available in multiple languages. Khan Academy’s new resource page is being updated regularly, and includes recommended daily schedules for both parents and teachers. Zearn has created a Distance Learning Resource Center with quick-start instructions for using Zearn Math and parent/caregiver packs that are shipped home to quickly orient families to the program. Springboard Collaborative, which coaches teachers and family members to help their children read on grade-level, created an at-home coaching plan to help parents support their children’s literacy skills week by week, with corresponding daily lessons and e-books. 
  • Find ways to support “in-person” connection, even when it’s virtual. Zearn is hosting daily webinars for administrators, teachers, and parents to walk through quick-start instructions and parent/caregiver packs. Khan Academy is having daily live streams on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter for students, parents, and teachers navigating school closures. And Springboard is hosting family workshops on Facebook Live. These virtual ways of connecting help teachers, caregivers, and students ask for help person-to-person, and set them up for more success down the line. 
  • Remember that learning is social and emotional. Effective teaching goes beyond academic content standards. It accounts for students’ diverse social-emotional needs, and creates warm and welcoming learning environments that challenge students, allow for mistakes, celebrate perseverance, and foster growth. Khan Academy’s badges and avatars and ST Math’s JiJi the penguin not only “gamify” the learning environment, but are fun for children to interact with and learn from. Adding games and engaging characters into the home learning environment is especially important at this time, when children might feel confused or afraid about their changing routines. 
  • Don’t forget parents of young children not yet in formal school. Even if children were too young to attend school prior to school closures, prolonged time at home can make it challenging for parents to entertain children and support their early learning. Organizations like ParentsTogether and Bright by Text are expanding existing services to create more content geared toward parents of young children who find themselves stuck in their homes. They’re also developing more community messages and resources dedicated to helping families understand how COVID-19 impacts them and their children and where they can turn for support. And Sesame Workshop launched a Caring for Each Other initiative and microsite, with free resources and content to help parents of young children support playful learning. 
  • Make time for breaks and movement. It’s unrealistic to expect that parents will be able to fully replace the role of teachers, or that children can sit in front of a screen for seven hours a day. By scheduling in “fun” or “movement” time in your curriculum, organizations set families up for success versus frustration. Khan Academy’s suggested schedules include several breaks during the day where kids and caregivers are encouraged to get outside (if possible) and “Get that heart pumping.” It’s important to remember that free play is beneficial for children’s development and that encouraging them to build, use their imaginations, and do arts and crafts is often just as vital as their schoolwork. (Plus, movement promotes learning!)

These are challenging times for all of us, but especially so for children and families who live in under-resourced communities. As a foundation, we are incredibly proud to support the work of grantees who are doing all they can to help teachers, parents, and children during this difficult time.

We thank our partners for all that they have done, and continue to do, to support education. We are excited to continue learning from them during this period of rapid innovation and change.