There were many reasons why the public-private partnership between the state of Connecticut and the Dalio Foundation was not going to work, most obviously the insistence on privacy in an endeavor that involved public money. But there was never any questioning the good intentions behind the project, or the legitimate needs it sought to tackle.
Since that project was proposed and then discarded, the needs have only grown. The prospect of a return to full-time school in the fall has raised a mountain of new questions, with preparations also including the possibility of going back to distance learning, partially or in full, in the event of a rise of coronavirus cases. Either possibility presents problems, but recent reporting has shown the depths of the potential for student disengagement when learning goes online.
About a quarter of Connecticut students did not fully take part in online lessons this spring when schools closed their doors. The number was as high as half in some cities, and the reasons were varied. Sometimes it was a less stable home life that didn’t allow time for e-learning. Some children simply drifted away, and teachers were unable to maintain the connections they would normally have.
For many, the problem was technological. The move toward distance learning put a new spotlight on the disparities between well-off and poorer school districts, which are often close geographically but far apart in terms of what they are able to offer. While some students went home from day one with laptop computers in communities where broadband is widely available, others had to go without.
The effect was to push the gap even wider between the haves and have-nots in Connecticut education. Until that technology breach can be filled, there is little reason to expect the fall, should distance learning become necessary, to be any different than the spring.
Relief must come from many places. Part of that effort came this week via Dalio Education, part of Dalio Philanthropies, which announced its latest effort jointly with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities to work with towns and cities to bring high-speed internet to people who don’t have it. The Dalios have also stuck with their plan to provide 60,000 laptops to high school students around the state who need it most.
The laptops, as proponents of the plan have noted, are welcome but of less use without the connectivity the internet hookup will provide.
There are many details to be worked out, with more specifics expected next month. The school year is fast approaching, but there remains time to help out students in need and get them prepared for what has to be considered a likely scenario where some form of distance learning is required.
This won’t solve the problem of inequality between districts. Schools are going to be in a difficult position under any of the scenarios envisioned for this fall and there are many obstacles to overcome, not least of which is funding.
Still, this is a positive step for students in need. Anything that could take some pressure off what is sure to be a trying school year should be welcomed.