States target learning loss with summer school and extended days, but some parents want option to hold kids back
Even before President Joe Biden signed the latest federal relief bill — which requires a portion of funds to be spent on learning loss — state lawmakers were already moving on their own proposals to help students make up for missed instruction due to school closures. Legislatures are weighing proposals to establish summer learning initiatives, expand afterschool programs and extend the school year. But for those who need more to get back on track, some states are examining a more controversial option: holding students back.
School nurses are getting renewed attention and heavier workloads during the coronavirus pandemic. But they also can play a crucial role in supporting students academically, by providing health care that improves children’s ability to learn and by collecting data to help identify students who are likely to fall behind. It’s a valuable moment for schools to think about providing student health care, advocates say. Students are grappling with the trauma of the coronavirus. And schools have a rare opportunity to invest in health services because of the surge of federal funding they are receiving.
As students begin returning to the classroom as the pandemic eases, schools are bracing for an onslaught of serious mental health conditions that, for some students, may take years to overcome. In the year that campuses were closed due to Covid-19, students experienced waves of loneliness, fear, upheaval and grief. Some lost loved ones, others saw their parents lose their jobs and their families sink into poverty. Nearly all experienced a degree of depression from being apart from their friends and missing important milestones like proms, graduations and being on campus as college freshmen.
A study released Monday by the University of Chicago Education Lab of thousands of 9th and 10th grade students in Chicago Public Schools shows high-dosage tutoring can increase math test scores, as well as math course grades and grades in other subject areas. The tutoring model consisted of daily 45-50 minute, two-on-one instruction to complement in-classroom learning. The study defined the nonprofit’s program as “low cost,” or between $3,500 and $4,300 per student per year. Researchers say the tutoring model can be replicated by using recent college graduates, retirees or career-switchers to provide personalized tutoring, according to the press release.
In the year since the pandemic brought the country to a halt, state policymakers faced challenges transitioning to a remote work and schooling environment and began to lay the groundwork for long-term recovery. At each step along the way, Education Commission of the States has served the people behind the policy by ensuring states have the information they need to make informed decisions. Information requests are one way we provide research and counsel to our constituents as they address pressing issues in their states.
The coronavirus pandemic upended almost every aspect of school at once. It was not just the move from classrooms to computer screens. It tested basic ideas about instruction, attendance, testing, funding, the role of technology and the human connections that hold it all together. A year later, a rethinking is underway, with a growing sense that some changes may last.
The U.S. Education Department has released the first in a series of school surveys intended to provide a national view of learning during the pandemic. It reveals that the percentage of students who are still attending school virtually may be higher than previously understood. As of January and early February of this year, 43% of elementary students and 48% of middle school students in the survey remained fully remote. And the survey found large differences by race: 68% of Asian, 58% of Black and 56% of Hispanic fourth graders were learning entirely remotely, while just 27% of White students were.
At North-Grand High School in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood, a team of school counselors, case managers and a social worker make up the behavioral health team charged with supporting students with low attendance, discipline issues or trouble at home. In a couple of years, every Chicago school could have a team just like it. That’s the goal of a new district initiative to train school staff in trauma-informed student support practices.
Last March, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker closed schools across the state. Just over a year later, high school students in Chicago are still not back in classrooms while the district is planning for their return on April 19th. The shift to remote learning has been difficult, especially for those without the technology and internet access necessary. Robin Steans, president of Advance Illinois, an independent policy and advocacy organization, said students benefited if they had someone looking over them unless parents were working.
Families, especially in communities with more students from low-income backgrounds, more English learners, and more students of color, also face many obstacles to participating in distance learning opportunities, for reasons ranging from inadequate access to technology to competing responsibilities such as jobs or childcare that limit the time available to focus on learning. It is most important to note that these inequities are not limited to the current crisis; they are longstanding.
One after another, like a relentless set of dominoes falling, states closed their schools as the pandemic swept across the nation last March. For America’s students and their families, so much has changed and been lost, but somehow also found in the last 52 weeks. Students learned to live without in-person classes, sports, proms, friends and teachers — and to live with remote classes on laptops, in quarantine. Across the country photographers captured moments of loss, loneliness and fear.
The Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law in December 2015, bringing sweeping changes to K-12 education, particularly state accountability systems. States began making these changes in the 2017-18 school year with full implementation intended by the 2019-20 school year. By fall 2017, all states had submitted their ESSA state plans for implementation, which were reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Education. These plans detail states’ school accountability systems, including indicators for measuring school performance, school improvement requirements and other aspects of accountability.
COVID-19 has presented new challenges for schools and families to grapple with when it comes to student learning — but the pandemic also has illuminated shortcomings and missed opportunities that have long been present in our education system. Now, nearly a year after schools across the country first shut down due to the pandemic —and as more communities eye the possibility of a return to full-time, in-person learning — a new series of briefs from Bellwether offers guidance on how the education sector can recenter and rebuild in the wake of COVID-19.
This is the third in a series of reports on the digital divide for K–12 students and teachers. This report was developed by Boston Consulting Group in partnership
with Common Sense and Southern Education Foundation.