Educating Through COVID: From Alabama’s ‘Numeracy Act’ to Boost Math Skills to Connecticut Asking Students to Propose Ideas For Federal Funds, 10 Ways States Are Confronting the Crisis

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The focus of education research has pivoted to support schools’ efforts to address pandemic disruptions and missed learning, says a new report from the National Academy of Sciences. 

The report calls on the Institute of Education Sciences — the research arm of the Education Department — to prioritize research on topics that became more salient for schools during the pandemic, including education technology, teacher education and workforce development, and civil rights policies and practices in schools. “When research is grounded in the needs and experiences of communities, then that community’s district and educators are more likely to use the findings of the research in his or her daily work,” Adam Gamoran, the chairman of the National Academies committee that wrote the report, told Education Week

Elsewhere this week, K-12 policy expert Jocelyn Pickford turns her attention to how states are putting federal Covid-19 relief funds to use improving math instruction for students in her latest CurriculumHQ blog. 

She first recognizes Nebraska, where officials are “investing in aligned professional development for Comprehensive Support & Improvement schools through their Communities of Practice partnership with TNTP” and providing statewide access to Zearn Math, a curriculum tool that has enabled over 8,000 teachers to reach 110,000 Nebraska students already. “Stories like these are helping me channel my math anxiety into something much more productive: optimism that educators + curriculum experts = collaboration that helps kids,” Pickford concludes.

Looking beyond curriculum and research, here are eight other updates from across the country about how states and school systems are confronting the challenges posed by COVID-19 and its variants — and working to preserve student progress amid the pandemic:

ALABAMA – Governor Ivey Signs ‘Numeracy Act’ With Aim of Boosting Math Education

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has signed the Alabama Numeracy Act into law, approving an intended boost to math education in the state via the hiring of hundreds of new math teachers, investment in professional learning and development for teachers, and the establishment of an Office of Math Improvement and dedicated education task forces. “For our students to have positive educational outcomes and to have success later in life, we must ensure proficiency in both reading and math is achieved,” said Gov. Ivey, noting that the new law follows a 2019 law improving the state’s focus on literacy instruction.

CALIFORNIA — With Students in Turmoil, US Teachers Train in Mental Health

Despite a national return to in-person classes and overflowing school coffers, education systems are struggling to meet heightened mental health needs among students, families, and teachers that spiked during the pandemic. One coalition of mental health organizations says nearly every state in the U.S. is failing to provide the recommended number of school psychologists and school counselors, while teachers increasingly raise alarms for their students. “There’s more school violence, there’s more vaping, there’s more substance abuse, there’s more sexual activity, there’s more suicide ideation, there’s more of every single behavior that we would be worried about in kids,” one mental healthcare provider told the Associated Press. In California, officials are leaning into an educator training course offered since 2014 to help prepare and equip teachers to identify and respond to mental health concerns among students. Though more than 8,000 teachers have taken the course, experts say such efforts will need to be expanded into communities that are currently without a similar resource.

NEW JERSEY – Midyear Test Scores Predict Continued Struggle With Learning Loss

New Jersey educators and officials are bracing for lowered student proficiency rates in reading and math as students sit for annual state exams this spring, with some estimating that overall proficiency could fall as much as 20 percentage points. Across grade levels in both ELA and math, fewer than 10% of students are expected to score proficient. Newark Superintendent Roger León said his district is “taking the numbers very seriously because their implications are quite profound,” while also saying that the “road to recovery will be long” after years of disruption by the pandemic. 

CONNECTICUT – State Program Has High School Students Propose, Vote on Uses of Federal K12 Funds

Fifty-four high schools across Connecticut have now participated in the state’s Voice4Change initiative, encouraging high school students to submit and vote on proposals for how their schools should use $1.5 million in federal COVID relief funds. So far, high school students have put their support behind projects like building school greenhouses, renovating common spaces, and bringing school communities together for special events. “I’m so happy that Connecticut, under the governor’s leadership, determined that with all the federal funding we were getting in the state, that this was an opportunity for students … to tell us how you’re choosing to spend some of our recovery funding,” said Commissioner Charlene Russel-Tucker, noting that the program is the first of its kind in Connecticut and the nation. 

OREGON – Districts Exceed Federal Expectation for Committing K12 Dollars to Unfinished Learning

Oregon school districts are funneling federal COVID-19 aid into efforts to address unfinished learning, say state officials. The federal government mandated that a minimum of 20% of pandemic relief funds be targeted to lost learning, but Oregon Department of Education director Colt Gill says that rate has been over 30% for districts across the state. Programs being bolstered by the funds include in-school supports for students and teachers and  partnerships with community organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, mental health providers, and tutors who can help meet student needs when kids aren’t in school.

NATIONAL — Funders Give Millions Towards Tutoring in Hopes It Can Aid Recovery Despite Big Challenges

A coalition of philanthropic organizations led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Overdeck Foundation feel the need for effective tutoring programs is paramount to address gaps in students’ learning growth that were exacerbated by the pandemic. The funders have organized a $65 million effort to tackle issues related to providing widespread and high-quality tutoring services, including staffing, capacity, uptake, and lack of research on online tutoring. The initiative, dubbed Accelerate, will be led by CEO Kevin Huffan, a former Tennessee superintendent, and Janice Jackson, formerly of Chicago Public Schools. Accelerate will work with both in-person and online partners with an end goal to take the “burden of quality control” off overtaxed schools and district leaders.

TEXAS — State Education Agency Says Flagging Attendance Won’t Reduce School Funding

In light of reduced enrollment and attendance due to the pandemic, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will not cut funding to school districts and charter schools who suffered from these issues within the first 24 weeks of the 2021-2022 school year. “Providing this adjustment to the 2021-22 school year will ensure school systems have the funding they need to retain the best and brightest teachers and provide quality education to all public school students across Texas,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a statement. TEA also guaranteed essential funding support for school systems by providing full funding based on daily attendance, whether in-person or remote. Although grace is being extended to struggling districts, experts caution that incentives for school systems to keep students in school should remain in place to help address long-term enrollment concerns.

CALIFORNIA – State Task Force Recommends Investments in Literacy Programs, More Specialists

A task force assembled by State Superintendent Tony Thurmond to study and recommend action on flagging literacy in California has called for state investment in reading coaches and specialists to help educators align instruction to the science of reading. Citing heightened challenges during the pandemic, the task force also urged state leaders to pass a series of bills being considered by the legislature that would fund summer literacy programs, invest in bilingual initiatives and specialists, and boost library budgets and resources.

This update on pandemic recovery in education 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’ QuickSheet newsletter, which you can sign up for here

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