OpinionPandemic  

CRPE and Collaborative for Student Success Team Up to Create a Planning Tool to Help Districts Craft Strong Reopening Plans

By Jim Cowen and Robin Lake | July 12, 2020

This spring, education across the nation looked very different from normal. Schools and districts made a rapid shift to remote learning with little advance planning and limited state or federal support.

As a result, students received a wide range of remote instructional time and quality. The inequities and learning gaps that plague our education system have been exacerbated.

This fall, school system leaders must prepare to help teachers meet a wide range of academic and emotional needs, while also managing a range of logistical challenges that will likely continue to shift as the public health crisis evolves.

That’s why our organizations have teamed up to recruit experts on education and health and safety fields to review district COVID response plans that make sure students and teachers get the support they need.

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District leaders’ already-daunting task is growing more difficult by the day. President Donald Trump has complicated it even more by shamefully politicizing questions of whether and how schools should reopen. District officials will have to decipher mixed signals from state and federal officials attempting to cater to the president’s whims.

Still, in district offices all over the country, leaders are crafting plans to welcome students back safely in the fall. Some will develop innovative approaches to helping students catch up academically, addressing mental health needs, and preparing teachers to deliver high-quality curriculum remotely, in person or some combination of both.

When one district develops a promising solution, we want to make sure others know about it. If districts have common needs that aren’t being met, we want to elevate those issues for state and federal policymakers.

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To help local education leaders plan for school reopenings, our two organizations have created a planning tool. This resource can be used by anyone tasked with thinking through fall preparation, including school system leaders and organizations that work with students and families.

Our planning tool is by no means exhaustive, but it will help education leaders prioritize their planning and think through the practices necessary to meet their students’ needs. For example, district leaders can look to the tool to see that a strong plan for meeting the needs of vulnerable student populations might not just include strategies to extend learning time, but might also include working with community-based organizations and nonprofits to ensure that student needs are met in the face of limited school resources. Similarly, the tool can guide district leaders in their communications efforts by pointing out that a strong plan doesn’t just involve multiple methods of communicating out to parents — in multiple languages — but also might include a dedicated effort to receive community input and adapt their reopening plans accordingly.

It will also double as a rubric that will help our expert reviewers identify promising practices and common challenges. Experts will “rate” the plans on a performance scale, but not with the goal of penalizing districts. We will highlight innovative strategies that can inform states and districts across the country. In other words, we will focus on components rated highly as areas for us and other districts to learn from and spend less time on components lower on the scale.

To ensure that our experts have maximum flexibility to identify the range of potential actions and plans district leaders are putting into place, the rubric does not rigidly delineate what constitutes each score, but rather serves as a general guide for the peers to make their own determinations. The rubric defines a limited approach and a strong approach on a four-point scale. The strength of the peer-review approach is the bringing together of a diverse set of experts to offer their unique perspectives. We plan to release our results and highlight promising practices by late summer.

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Although many districts will be required by their state to publish reopening plans by then and some will have begun their transition to the 2020-21 school year with online summer school, we know that school, district and state leaders will need to continue updating their plans as they gather more information about student needs and local circumstances change.

The task school system leaders face this coming school year is immense. Even the most promising plans won’t get everything right at first.

But we hope our efforts will help more districts improve their plans as they work to meet the needs of every student in the face of a global pandemic.

Jim Cowen is the executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works to defend high standards, high-quality assessments and strong systems of accountability, to ensure that all kids are prepared for college or career.

Robin Lake is the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell.

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