School districts across the country expect the demand for online learning options to remain above pre-pandemic levels. Some are launching new virtual schools or preparing to accommodate future enrollment. BY BRANDON PAYKAMIAN / MARCH 24, 2021

School districts across the country expect the demand for online learning options to remain above pre-pandemic levels. Some are launching new virtual schools or preparing to accommodate future enrollment. BY BRANDON PAYKAMIAN / MARCH 24, 2021

While virtual learning and teaching have come with a plethora of challenges, some K-12 educators are more confident than ever about their remote capabilities after more than a year of virtual schooling during COVID-19 school closures. According to a February survey by the RAND Corporation American School District Panel, about 20 percent of schools now plan to establish and expand online courses for the handful of families who’ve welcomed the change of pace and flexibility of virtual learning.

Education officials from coast to coast say they’re bracing for an unprecedented increase in demand for online learning options in the years to come. And plans are underway to help meet that demand via the establishment of new virtual academies and the expansion of existing programs.

Jordan Virtual Academy Established in Utah

In Utah’s Jordan School District, officials are gearing up to offer the system’s newly established Jordan Virtual Learning Academy for students next fall. The new school, announced in December, is projected to serve at least 1,200 of the district’s current 3,000 virtual students through virtual core curriculum courses found elsewhere in the district, including math, reading and the sciences.

Principal Spencer Campbell said most of the new academy’s elementary students will attend virtual classes together in the morning, while others can choose to complete coursework asynchronously, meaning they can view lectures and finish coursework according to their schedules. Students can also choose to take a handful of hands-on art courses at in-person district campuses.

“There’s a little more flexibility as you move up through the [grade] levels,” he noted.

Campbell, a former virtual learning trainer, said educators feel more prepared to teach virtual classes after nearly a year of facilitating remote learning. He noted that 40 to 50 teachers from within the district have already applied to work with the new academy, made up of Kings Peak High School, Kelsey Peak Virtual Middle School, and Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary School.

“We had a lot of interest. Some of our positions had five, six, seven applicants that were within the district,” he said. “We also hired special ed teachers as well to work with our special needs students.”

Since most of the school’s staff come from within Jordan, officials expect the academy to be a cost-effective solution funded mainly through the district. However, administrators had not determined the exact cost of the school as of Wednesday. Campbell explained that while Utah’s schools are funded according to enrollment, some students may elect to take a couple classes virtually and others in-person. Because of this, he said, administrators are still exploring funding mechanisms.

“If we’re talking any student taking an online course, it will probably be about 2,000, 2,200. A lot of those will come from the high school level just taking one or two classes,” he said. “Full-time students, I would imagine, will be about 800 or 1,000.”

Butterfield Canyon Elementary School fifth-grade instructor Kasey Chambers said educators and administrators in the district had been discussing a new virtual academy since before the pandemic put the need at the forefront and put teachers’ virtual capabilities to the test. Though many were initially reluctant about going virtual, Chambers said she’s now looking forward to being part of something new in Jordan next semester.

“The challenge is that nobody has done this before for the majority of the time. We were all kind of thrust into it and doing the best we can with our expertise. As the year has progressed, we’ve gotten pretty good at it,” she said. “When the school opens, we’re really going to up our game.”

CAVA Hires More Teachers to Meet Demand

California Virtual Academies (CAVA) recently hired over 100 teachers to help facilitate enrollment growth, which has reached its brim with more than 15,000 students during the 2020-21 school year. Over the course of the pandemic, the K-12 charter academy system has witnessed growth not seen since its founding nearly 20 years ago.

April Warren, CAVA’s head of schools, said the school expects to retain many of these new students who enrolled for the first time during the 2020-21 school year, though projections for the fall still remain largely speculative. While many of those new students are new to full-time virtual learning, Warren thinks CAVA is up to the task of meeting the growing demand for online classes.

“We are hopeful many of those students will stay with us for the upcoming school year,” she said. “It is [still] too early to tell at this time what the enrollment for the upcoming school year will look like.”

Through the help of state funding, Warren said CAVA students can access comprehensive courses found in most brick-and-mortar schools, including world language courses. The school also offers Advanced Placement, career technical education and dual enrollment options that allow high school students to take college courses for both college and high school credits. The school also tailors instruction for some special needs students.

Similar to other online schools offering asynchronous learning options, Warren said CAVA gives students and teachers more flexibility throughout the school year compared to other traditional in-person public schools.

“While some traditional school experiences are not available in our setting — for example, competitive sports — students have more flexibility and support to develop other interests, such as afterschool jobs, community service or travel experiences,” she said. “For educators, they’re a part of a school designed to meet the individual needs of students … The model allows them to work with students individually or in small groups in ways the traditional school model struggles to provide.”

NC Virtual Expects Continued Growth

NC Virtual, a tuition-free supplemental online school in North Carolina, offers about 130 different courses and employs nearly 750 part-time and full-time instructors who now teach tens of thousands of students.

Executive Director Eliz Colbert said online learning at NC Virtual has been gaining popularity over the years since the school was established in 2007, but the pandemic boosted enrollment in the spring of 2020 and the 2020-21 school year.

“For the last several years, NC Virtual has averaged enrollment numbers of around 50,000 students in full-course credit classes. This year, we are on pace to exceed 60,000. I say ‘full-credit courses’ because some online schools count course enrollments by half credits. That is an important distinction to note,” she said in an email. “If we counted half credits, we would be exceeding 100,000.”

According to Colbert, the school is now planning to expand its course catalog, which currently includes foreign language classes and career courses, as well as K-12 core classes found in other public schools.

“We have 11 different world languages, a group of career technical education courses, and about 16 Advanced Placement courses,” she said, adding that courses sometimes vary by semester. “We are also growing our middle school course offerings.”

The school operates under a state enrollment-based funding formula similar to California, which works through a three-year rolling projection model so schools can budget ahead of each year, with reserve funds for drastic changes in enrollment.

“If a student enrolls for one class with us and the other six at their local [in-person] school, NC Virtual gets the money for the percentage of the one course through the average daily membership (ADM) formula for that particular district,” Colbert explained.

While learning loss has been a major concern for schools not used to full-time remote learning, Colbert noted that the school’s state test scores and AP scores generally match up well when compared with scores from the state’s in-person public school students, though state testing data has been limited during the pandemic.

Colbert said other schools often look to NC Virtual for help facilitating remote learning through programs like its Partnership Courses program. Colbert said programs such as this have “taken off” faster than expected during the pandemic as teachers and administrators throughout North Carolina continue navigating the challenges of virtual learning.

“Many districts in North Carolina want local virtual academies, but building a standards-aligned course catalog is most difficult,” she said.

Brandon Paykamian Staff Writer

Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and more than four years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.

Rugaber reported from Washington. AP Business Writer Alexandra Olson contributed to this report from New York.

DETROIT (AP) — It’s a question occupying the minds of millions of employees who have worked from home the past year: Will they still be allowed to work remotely — at least some days — once the pandemic has faded?

On Wednesday, one of America’s corporate titans, Ford Motor Co., supplied its own answer: It told about 30,000 of its employees worldwide who have worked from home that they can continue to do so indefinitely, with flexible hours approved by their managers. Their schedules will become a work-office “hybrid”: They’ll commute to work mainly for group meetings and projects best-suited for face-to-face interaction.

Ford’s announcement sent one of the clearest signals to date that the pandemic has hastened a cultural shift in Americans’ work lives by erasing any stigma around remote work and encouraging the adoption of technology that enables it. Broader evidence about the post-pandemic workplace suggests that what was long called tele-commuting will remain far more common than it was a year ago.

A report this week from the employment website Indeed says postings for jobs that mention “remote work” have more than doubled since the pandemic began. Such job postings are still increasing even while vaccinations are accelerating and the pace of new confirmed COVID cases is declining.

“If job postings are a guide, employers are increasingly open to remote work, even as some employees return to the workplace,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed.

The share of Indeed’s job postings that mention “remote work” or “work from home” reached 7% last month, up from just below 3% a year ago. But in some industries, the gains were far more dramatic, including those that haven’t traditionally welcomed remote work.

In legal services, for example, remote-work postings for jobs including paralegals and legal assistants jumped from under 5% in the second half of 2019 to 16% in the second half of 2020, according to Indeed data. In banking and finance, for such jobs as actuaries and loan underwriters, remote-work postings surged from 4% to nearly 16%. For mental health therapists, they rose from 1% to nearly 7%.

Such shifts could, in turn, trigger changes in where people live and affect the varying economic health of metro areas. Some highly skilled workers could migrate from high-cost coastal cities, where they had clustered in the decade after the Great Recession, to more affordable cities or small towns. Downtown offices could shrink and exist mainly for collaborative work. The tax revenue of large cities could tumble as fewer workers patronize downtown bars, restaurants and coffee shops.

“The pandemic has broken the social and cultural norms for how we work,” said Timothy Golden, a professor of management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “Remote work has become much more accepted.”

Ford is just the latest company to allow more work from home after the pandemic. Salesforce, Facebook, Google and other tech firms have said they’ll continue work-from-home policies indefinitely. Target Corp. will leave one of four downtown Minneapolis office locations because it’s moving to a hybrid model for 3,500 workers. It will keep other downtown offices.

Flexible remote work is hardly an equal opportunity perk. It is disproportionately concentrated among more educated, well-paid workers. The jobs of lesser-paid employees generally require on-site work or face-to-face contact with the public.

More than one-third of Asian employees and a quarter of whites worked from home because of the pandemic in January, according to an analysis of government data by the Conference Board, a business research group. Just 19% of Black workers and 14% of Hispanics were able to do so.

Ford has found over the past year that employees and supervisors believe that more work can be done remotely, that they can still connect with each other and that they have the means to do their jobs, said Kiersten Robinson, chief people and employee experiences officer. So when its hybrid schedule begins in July or soon thereafter, Ford will give teams a choice of when to come to the office.

Robinson said a flexible schedule will also help Ford compete for talent.

“I do think we’re seeing a real shift in expectations among candidates,” she said.

Among the employees pleased by the new policy is Kelly Keller, Ford’s chemistry and material compliance manager. Keller, who has been working a hybrid schedule since the pandemic erupted a year ago, wouldn’t want to go back to commuting to work each day. Now she generally works three days from home and then commutes for the next three workdays, an hour each way, to a lab in Dearborn, Michigan.

Sometimes when she’s home, she gets to take her daughter to elementary school and start work a little late before finishing later in the day.

“I definitely enjoy the flexibility,” Keller said. “I would be grateful for the opportunity to continue the hybrid arrangement, for sure.”

Of the workers she supervises, seven commute to the lab every day; four work from home. The at-home workers, Keller said, have been more productive than they were before the coronavirus struck because they often work during the time they would have been commuting.

“For most,” she said, “I think they put in longer days.”

A study last month by Alexander Bick, an economist at Arizona State University, and two colleagues found that nearly 13% of workers they surveyed plan to work from home full time after the pandemic — nearly double the 7.6% who did so in February 2020. An additional 25% expect to do so at least one day a week, up from 17% before the pandemic.

Company executives overwhelmingly report that remote work has succeeded during the pandemic, according to research by consulting firm PwC. About 55% said they envision allowing continued remote work, according to the survey of 133 executives of mostly large companies. Just 17% said they wanted employees back in the office as soon as possible. An additional 26% said they preferred only limited remote work but recognized that it’s become popular with employees.

Ford and other companies have been redesigning their offices, or considering doing so, to reflect fewer cubicles and personal offices and more conference rooms and other spaces for workers, who may be on-site for just part of the week, to collaborate.

A more flexible attitude about workplaces could deal a blow to the largest U.S. cities. Many Americans are already capitalizing on remote work to leave New York, Los Angeles, Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area in favor of Phoenix; Tampa, Florida; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; and other less expensive areas, real estate data shows.

One telling detail: Even as the number of homes for sale has tumbled nationally in the past year, the supply of for-sale houses in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles has actually increased, according to the real estate brokerage Redfin. And the drop in available homes has been much smaller than the national average in other large coastal cities, such as Seattle, Boston and Washington.

Many cities may also absorb a financial hit even if remote workers don’t move. One academic study estimates that spending by workers at downtown businesses will shrink 5% to 10% after the pandemic.

Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin, said the pandemic has accelerated a trend that predated the virus: More Americans have sought cheaper homes in lesser-known cities and suburbs.

Fairweather herself left Seattle last summer after wildfires in Oregon turned the city’s skies smoky and dark. Originally, she, her husband and two small children planned to stay for just a month in a small town in Wisconsin, near his family. Soon, though, they decided to make it permanent, and Fairweather has been able to work remotely.

“We liked the pace of life — we liked being near family,” she said. “It’s so affordable here.”

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By TOM KRISHER and CHRISTOPHER RUGABER | https://apnews.com/article/will-work-from-home-last-after-virus-5409e050ff98749621f3d0edbe47f5dc

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins is cautiously optimistic that IT spending will increase this year, and says companies are preparing to send employees back to their office spaces by installing Wi-Fi 6. (FierceTelecom)(Mike Robuck/FierceTelecom)

The shine on working-from-home has worn off for most people, according to Cisco CEO and President Chuck Robbins.

Speaking on Tuesday’s second fiscal quarter earnings call, Robbins said based on the uptake that Cisco has seen for its Wi-Fi 6 offerings, companies are planning to send their employees back to their office spaces by using a hybrid model.

“I think we sort of moved into that phase where people actually struggle mentally,” Robbins said during the earnings call, according to a transcript.  “People are—they’re not enjoying it. One of our employees said to me the other day, ‘I don’t mind the option of working from home. I don’t like being forced to work from home.’ And so I really believe it’s going to be hybrid where people are going to work from home.

“And everybody is sort of landing here where they work from home three days a week and then work from the office two days a week or vice versa. The question is, what accommodations does that lead to for customers based on employees’ concern over space issues, concern over future pandemics or other concern? That’s what we just don’t know yet. But I do believe, based on what we’ve seen with Wi-Fi 6, that tells me customers are getting ready. And they’re upgrading the wireless infrastructure now.”

Robbins said he anticipated Cisco’s employees would return to their offices starting in the mid-to late-summer timeframe. In addition to the Wi-Fi 6 upgrades, Robbins said the return to office spaces could also require more switching infrastructure to support the Wi-Fi 6 builds. 

“We also believe that every meeting in the future is going to be a hybrid meeting, even when people are back in the office,” Robbins said. “You’ll have people in the office and you’ll have people remote.

“And in order to accommodate that, we suspect most of our customers will be putting video units in every conference room they have, which, again, will also accommodate the hybrid work model but will also drive bandwidth requirements, which could lead to switching infrastructure. So that’s the way we see it playing out over the next few months.”

Cisco by the numbers

Due, in part, to the lingering impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Cisco’s revenues decreased for the fifth consecutive quarter. In the second quarter, Cisco’s revenue was $11.96 billion, which was relatively flat from a year ago, but exceeded analysts’ projections of  $11.92 billion, according to Refinitiv. For the quarter that ended Jan. 23, Cisco’s earnings rose 2% to 79 cents per share from a year earlier versus the 76 cents per share that was expected by analysts.

Cisco’s Infrastructure Platforms business revenue, which is its leading product segment that includes its data center switches and routers, was down 3% year-over-year to $6.39 billion in the second quarter. Revenue for switches was flat while revenue from routers and servers decreased.

Cisco’s applications unit that includes its Webex video-calling products posted $1.35 billion in revenue, which was surprisingly flat year-over-year and below the FactSet consensus estimate of $1.40 billion.

On the plus side, service provider revenue was up 5% while commercial was up 1%, but the enterprise segment was down by 9%. Robbins said Cisco was starting to find traction with web-scale customers that operate large-scale data centers. Roughly a fourth of Cisco’s service provider revenue came from web-scale clients in the second quarter.

“On the SP (service provider) space, if you look at what we saw in the quarter from an order perspective, we saw positive growth in cable, which represents about 15% of the segment,” Robbins said. “We saw triple-digit growth in web scale, which has represented 25% of the segment. And then our telco business was down, and that’s roughly 60% of the business.

“And primarily, that is because of where we are in the stages with 5G. We have roughly 35 customers around the world that we’re working on 5G solutions with mobile backhaul, with orchestration, with packet core. And so we’re just early in that transition. And I think that particular sub-segment of SP will begin to show progress for us as we see the core backbone build-out, as we’ve been saying over the last few years.”

RELATED: Cisco and Acacia move forward on merger but price tag goes up to $4.5B

Robbins also commented on the on again, off again deal to buy Acacia Communications. After claims and counter claims in court last month, Cisco and Acacia Communications announced they had settled their differences and are moving forward on their merger, but the price tag increased from $2.6 billion in 2019 to $4.5 billion last month.

Cisco and Acacia were at odds over whether Cisco garnered regulatory approval from China by the deadline last month.

“So on the Acacia thing, I think it’s quite clear what occurred,” Robbins said. “We didn’t have China approval. We thought we did. We didn’t have it in time. So we renegotiated the price because our contract with them had expired. And candidly, the performance they put up in the 18 months between our original deal and this deal was pretty astounding, so the price was not out of the question.”

With China’s regulatory stamp of approval in place, Robbins said the deal is awaiting final approval by Acacia’s stockholders, and that he expects it to close in the third quarter.

Going forward, Cisco expects 80 cents to 82 cents in adjusted earnings per share on 3.5% to 5% revenue growth in the fiscal third quarter.

“Looking ahead, we are cautiously optimistic as recent surveys of IT spending indicate year-over-year IT budget growth for calendar 2021,” Robbins said.

by Mike Robuck | Feb 10, 2021 | https://www.fiercetelecom.com/telecom/cisco-ceo-work-from-home-a-struggle-mentally-for-people