A parent's guide to online school: 9 questions to ask to vet your back-to-school choices

Erin Richards, USA TODAY

In Brandon Wislocki's fifth grade class this spring in California, daily virtual classes were an experiment in creativity.

The Zoom sessions featured guitar playing, group discussions about literature, live math lessons, checks for understanding through Zoom's chat function and silly games, such as Oreo stacking and household scavenger hunts.

The remote lessons featured something many students didn't get this spring when the coronavirus forced instruction online: the learning of new material.

Wislocki's students at Stonegate Elementary in Irvine, California, still covered the core math and English standards that would have been taught in person from mid-March to the end of the school year. 

The experience suggests online learning doesn't have to be bad. There are ways to make it more engaging and effective, education experts said. But schools have little time to figure out how to do that before schools reopen this fall, and they haven't devoted much effort to it.

A growing number of districts, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Atlanta and Austin, Texas, plan to start the year with online-only instruction amid a surge in coronavirus cases. In Richmond, Virginia, schools will be online for the first semester. Prince George's County Schools in Maryland called for all students to learn online until at least February of next year.