Educating Through a Pandemic: From a Kansas Showdown Over Campus Closures to California’s New Tool to Measure Learning and New York’s Surge in Homeschooling Families, 11 Ways Schools & States Are Adapting to COVID-19

This update on the COVID slide collects and shares news updates from the district, state and national levels as all stakeholders continue to work on developing safe, innovative plans to resume schooling and address learning loss. It’s an offshoot of the Collaborative for Student Success’s COVID Slide Quick Sheet newsletter, which you can sign up for here!

As the coronavirus pandemic continues into the final months of summer, pressure is building on school districts nationwide to formulate their reopening plans. States such as Arizona, Texas and California, where cases are steadily increasing, have seen their schools begin to prepare for fully remote learning in the fall. In early hot-spot cities like New York City and Chicago, more schools are moving toward a hybrid option, with online and in-person learning occurring on alternating days, while case numbers slowly decrease.

Regardless of in-person or remote instructional plans, district officials, teachers, advocates and researchers are also heavily engaging in conversations around student assessment, citing grim findings on the impact of school closures on children’s academic achievement.

In a virtual interview with the Collaborative for Student Success, Luke Ragland, president of ReadyCO, stated that “American education has just been dealt a once-in-a-lifetime blow” and that the students who have been impacted by these school shutdowns will suffer “lifelong consequences.” Ragland cites the Common Sense Institute, which found that elementary students in other countries who lost 80 to 90 days of instruction were “harmed permanently, including lower educational attainment and lower labor market earnings as adults.” Considering that children have been away from the classroom since March, Ragland states that there is a dire need to understand how much children have fallen behind to make up for lost time.

Here are 11 updates from across the country about how school systems are working to preserve student learning amid the coronavirus pandemic:

1. LOUISIANA — Who controls when schools reopen? In Louisiana, local educators have the final say

As Louisiana’s state school board and education officials continue to provide guidance and recommendations, local officials across 69 districts will be the final authority on school reopening dates, as well as how instruction will be structured upon reopening.

2. CALIFORNIA — State Superintendent Tony Thurmond announces implementation tool for assessing student learning

Earlier this month, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond announced that the California Department of Education (CDE) has released a new implementation tool on diagnostic and formative assessments as a resource for schools. Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education and the Learning Policy Institute, said, “As they create a safe and welcoming environment, it will be important for schools to take stock of students’ social, emotional and academic needs when students return to school.”

3. GEORGIA — Georgia’s Department of Education and Verizon will enable distance learning for up to 12.5 million students across 10 states

A new partnership between the Georgia DOE and Verizon is intended to ameliorate the digital divide for K-12 students in the neighboring states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia and will help provide discounted service plans, mobile device management and CIPA-compliant security applications.

4. COLORADO — No statewide test this fall to assess what Colorado students missed

After 10 Colorado education organizations penned a letter to the Colorado Department of Education calling for statewide use of a diagnostic assessment when schools reopen, Education Commissioner Katy Anthes replied that she agrees that schools and students ought to have the right support to make up learning loss, but that “she did not feel that an off-the-shelf diagnostic test was a good use of Colorado’s federal coronavirus relief funds.”

5. KANSAS — Board of Education rejects governor’s order to delay reopening schools

In a 5-5 vote, the Kansas Board of Education rejected Gov. Laura Kelly’s order to wait to open schools until after Labor Day. In response, Gov. Kelly stated that the vote “puts our students, faculty, their families and our economy at risk.”

6. NEVADA — Clark County trustees approve distance education to start the school year

The Clark County School Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday evening to approve a full-time distance education plan for the start of the 2020-21 school year. The decision, many months and contentious meetings in the making, comes amid a rise in COVID-19 cases locally around Las Vegas and across the state.

7. NEW YORK — Some parents are considering homeschooling for the first time amid pandemic uncertainty

Parents in New York are joining throngs of communities across the nation in considering homeschooling and other public school alternatives rather than sending students to schools struggling to solidify a plan to address COVID-19 risks.

8. GEORGIA — In educating kids, do ‘pandemic pods’ threaten equity efforts?

As “pandemic pods” and other alternatives to public schooling increasingly gain news coverage and spark discussion, New York Times writer and creator of the 1619 Project Nikole Hannah-Jones discusses their serious implications for equity.

9. MICHIGAN — Lawmakers debate distance education plans, and how ‘school days’ will be counted, ahead of school year start

Republican and Democratic lawmakers are sparring over a package of bills that would change “the way school days are counted and instruction is handled.” Lawmakers are particularly concerned with ensuring internet access for the more than 10 percent of Michigan students who lack broadband internet access.

10. ARIZONA — Schools need virus data to reopen campuses

Arizona Superintendent of Public Education Kathy Hoffman said the state’s school districts should be “empowered to reopen campuses” for the 2020-21 school year “based on public health data” rather than trying to commit now to a specific opening date.

11. EDLECTION 2020 — Biden’s school reopening plan: national guidelines, local decisions, more funding

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden unveiled a school reopening plan that called for increased funding and guidelines from the federal government but that rests decision-making power with local officials.

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