In March of 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic was just beginning its deadly sweep across the United States, Ohio became the first state to close all K–12 schools. Nearly two weeks later, the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, was signed into law. Approximately $30 billion of this stimulus package was reserved for schools, and Ohio received a whopping $489.2 million in the form of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
Ninety percent of these funds were distributed directly to schools using Title I formulas. But the remaining 10 percent—nearly $49 million—was set aside to pay for state-level efforts to support schools. One such effort was RemotEDx, a statewide initiative aimed at helping schools “enhance, expand, and more effectively scale high-quality remote, hybrid, and blended education models.” Given that every school in the state—public and private alike—was operating fully remote at the time, investing $15 million of the set-aside in virtual learning improvements was a smart move. But what, exactly, is RemotEDx? Let’s take a closer look at some of its key components.
RemotEDx is a collaborative effort, but its overall direction is overseen by the Coordinating Council. The Council consists of leaders and educators from both the public and private sphere, and includes representatives from district schools, charter schools, the State Board of Education, the Governor’s office, BroadbandOhio, Education Service Centers (ESCs), the Management Council, Information Technology Centers, philanthropy, business, higher education, PBS stations, and libraries. Together, these members develop and approve criteria for high-quality remote education models included in the Exchange (more on this later), facilitate discussions on how to better align and coordinate remote education across the state, and review project updates, outcomes, feedback, and proposed improvements. The Council was also responsible for codesigning the various components of the initiative, including Connectivity Champions and Support Squad.
This group does exactly what its name suggests: provides boots-on-the-ground assistance to overcome internet connectivity issues. Primary goals include ensuring all pre-K–12 students have home internet access, helping schools overcome technology barriers, engaging with vendors to troubleshoot and solve problems, and collaborating with the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and Ohio’s Information Technology Centers. The Management Council, which coordinates and supports the Ohio Education Computer Network, is also a key partner.
Since the creation of RemotEDx, the Connectivity Champions have directly engaged with schools and families across all eighty-eight Ohio counties, and have provided more than 600 connectivity or technology related services. These services include connecting families to reliable and sustainable broadband service, supporting schools with the BroadbandOhio Connectivity Grant, and collecting data from 592 traditional public districts, joint vocational school districts, and charter schools as part of the Opportunity to Learn survey. Going forward, the Connectivity Champions will play a key role in coordinating state and federal broadband programs, including the $3.2 billion Federal Communications Commission Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and $7.2 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund.
The Support Squad is made up of staff from each of Ohio’s fifty-one ESCs who were selected by ESC superintendents in December 2020. Collectively, they support schools by identifying and compiling technology, content, instructional, and vendor information that supports remote, hybrid, and blended learning. They also identify and provide schools with high-quality professional development opportunities. Members of a smaller subset of the squad, known as the Concierge Team, are assigned to support specific regions of the state. They do so by working directly with ESC-identified experts and service providers, responding to help requests submitted online, and procuring professional development experiences and content for teachers as well as supports for students.
Since its launch in late summer 2020, the Support Squad has served over 10,000 educators through targeted training opportunities and provided thirty-two ESCs with training on how to seamlessly integrate resources and services available through RemotEDx. Going forward, the Support Squad plans to provide ongoing professional development and coaching.
The Exchange is a “one-stop shop” for Ohioans—both educators and families alike—to explore the resources, services, and tools available through RemotEDx. The website, which is powered by INFOhio, highlights high-quality remote education platforms, standards-aligned instructional materials and curricula, and professional development resources. It contains a page for parents and caregivers, as well as one for educators, and parents and teachers alike can peruse the Curriculum Library, which offers instructional resources, collaboration and creation tools, curriculum and instructional reviews from EdReports and RemotEDx reviewers, and links to other useful sites.
Since its launch, the Exchange has gathered more than 80,000 standards-aligned instructional materials from Ohio content providers and organized them into statewide curriculum repositories. These resources have been used in almost every county in Ohio, forty-four other states, and twenty-six countries. Going forward, the state plans to leverage RemotEDx and the Exchange, as well as other programs, to develop peer-to-peer tutoring, technology supports, and a computer science curriculum aligned to Ohio’s learning standards.
Under the umbrella of RemotEDx, Ohio has created several funding opportunities for schools. For example, the state awarded seventeen subgrants worth up to $150,000 each to nonprofit and community-based organizations partnering with schools to improve remote teaching and learning opportunities for underserved students. ODE also partnered with Philanthropy Ohio to fund the Ohio Collaborative for Educating Remotely, or OCER, which offered two rounds of grants aimed at helping schools improve remote education practices and outcomes. The first round awarded $3.1 million to twenty-eight projects that reached more than 788,000 students, and the second round awarded just over $2.6 million to twenty-nine projects that reached over 107,000 students.
RemotEDx also tackled the sudden drop in the number of Ohio students earning industry-recognized credentials (IRCs). In 2020, 46,569 students earned an IRC. That’s a sizable number, but it’s significantly smaller than the 62,210 students who earned credentials during the previous year. To help bring these numbers back up, RemotEDx awarded eleven subgrants to Business Advisory Councils, industry sector partners, and other eligible entities that will serve nearly 11,000 students, spearhead awareness and outreach campaigns that reach all eighty-eight Ohio counties, and provide training to more than 10,000 educators.
The vast majority of students and educators are back to full-time, in-person schooling. But that doesn’t mean that supplemental and high-quality remote, hybrid, and blended learning opportunities need to fall by the wayside. The state has already said that it will use future federal funding to “expand the footprint” of RemotEDx and reimagine the “future of education in Ohio.” That’s good news so long as state leaders transparently track outcomes and ensure that the services and opportunities offered to students and educators are high quality.