COVID-19 quarantine efforts in K-12 schools have amplified awareness of the “Homework Gap”. As school districts work to get their students access to remote learning, it’s important to consider whether the overall goal is Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) or One-to-One (1:1).

Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT)

As defined in the article
The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning, ERT is “a temporary shift of instructional delivery to an alternate delivery mode due to crisis circumstances.”

The current pandemic has forced ERT initiatives in schools across the United States.

One-to-One (1:1)

As defined by the Glossary of Education Reform, 1:1 initiatives are “programs that provide all students in a school, district, or state with their own laptop, netbook, tablet computer, or other mobile-computing device. One-to-one refers to one computer for every student.”

Some school districts are now assessing 1:1 programs so that should another ERT scenario arise, device availability is assured.

Is your district solving for ERT or 1:1?
Depending on your answer, defining eligibility for a district-issued device may be very different, as will the paths to success. School districts should also recognize that any decision will have both equity and financial implications. Decisions should be discussed and approved by the district school board so that the community can voice their concerns or support.


School districts focused on ERT should consider what is required to reasonably engage and succeed in their learning plans. For home-bound students, many will leverage family-owned devices. Does the learning plan require specific applications or platforms that are not compatible with certain device types? Is it appropriate and feasible for an elementary school student to engage in your learning plans via keyboard and mouse, or is a touchscreen more appropriate? How new does a device and core operating system need to be to maintain compatibility with applications /platforms included in your learning plans? For ERT planning, consider that the period of quarantine may not coincide with the end of a school year, as it did in the spring of 2020.

Similarly, school districts focused on beginning or expanding a 1:1 program should begin with their learning plans, and allow them to determine the types of devices that best support their academic mission. 

While both ERT and 1:1 planning need to outline device needs, an ERT solution should determine if pre-existing family owned-devices meet the needs of a student and learning plans, and provide one if not. School districts on the 1:1 path will be able to use this determination to focus their procurement efforts to support their program.


School districts focused on ERT should consider their learning plans and how that may affect the use of suitable shared family-owned devices. How frequently will students need access to the devices? Do your learning plans include synchronous video conferencing? While families may have suitable devices in the home, during a quarantine scenario, the device may not be available to the student. 

School Districts Should Create a Definition of “Meaningful Use”

The term meaningful use was first used in the medical field. In an educational context, meaningful use can be defined as a device available to the learner at appropriate times for appropriate purposes to accomplish appropriate tasks. The existence of a device in a household does not necessarily provide meaningful use to a student if it is the wrong type, too old, unavailable to the student at the right time, or usage is limited. School districts should take into account their learning plan demands and competing demands,  like parent work needs or multiple siblings in a household, as they consider meaningful use of pre-existing family-owned devices.

School districts that are planning a 1:1 program tend to procure devices for all students based on the size of the student population and projected growth. However, some school districts implement 1:1 programs in Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) style, where families purchase the devices for their children based on a minimum specification set by the district. School districts still generally procure some student devices in a BYOD style program to support families that cannot purchase devices.


School districts will need to collect information from their families to accurately determine how many devices are needed to support an ERT scenario. They should use their determination of types of devices that meet their learning plans and their definition of meaningful use to formulate effective survey questions.

School districts may also wish to collect data about the availability of printers, smartphones, and other equipment that can aid with communication and distribution of materials. This is also a good time to ask about challenges or barriers in the home.

School districts should also plan to use multiple means to collect data since online surveys may not be accessible to families with the greatest need.  

In many instances, teachers are being asked to make contact with each of their students weekly. As part of this outreach, if data has not been submitted electronically, teachers can gather information on phone calls. Alternatively, many school districts are leveraging paraprofessionals and other building staff, which not only relieves teachers of additional tasks, but it also allows other staff to be involved in vital work to maintain their hours.


Determine your device program goals (ERT or 1:1). Allow the goals to guide your school district’s definition of “Meaningful Use” and the type(s) of device(s) you will need.

If your district is solving for ERT, develop your data collection process so that you can determine the needs in your student community. Compare your results against your district’s available devices to determine if you need to acquire additional devices, or if you can move to deployment planning.

If your district is assessing a move to a 1:1 program, your goals should be the basis for your procurement process, and if necessary, the development of a Request For Proposal.