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In Biden’s State of the Union, a Call for Schools to Better Focus Relief Funds Towards Confronting COVID Learning Loss?

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President Biden is challenging America’s parents to be more vigilant in tracking how their schools are spending COVID relief funds, with the expectation that those dollars go directly to efforts to help students catch up academically. 

During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, the president turned his attention to the American Rescue Plan and said the legislation “gave schools money to hire teachers and help students make up for lost learning. 

“I urge every parent to make sure your school does just that. They have the money.” (Read Linda Jacobson’s full speech recap)

For the average American watching at home, it might have seemed like a throwaway line in a wide-ranging speech. But for education experts who have long warned about a lack of specific guidance surrounding how these funds should be prioritized by school districts, it seemed like something more: 

Last month, we published an essay from Georgetown’s Marguerite Roza who made the case that school leaders needed a clearer “North Star” for how to prioritize relief dollars — and how to then measure the success of those decisions.

As Roza wrote then: “When it’s all said and done, how should ESSER investments be judged? That depends on what we hope to get from the $123 billion pumped into public schools. Here’s the problem: No end goal, no focused objective, no common yardstick has ever been attached to this mammoth federal investment. The ESSER money lacks a North Star

“Metaphorically speaking, a North Star is the mission statement. It’s a fixed destination to aim for even as the world changes. A well-designed North Star could put every leader on a mission to remedy those gaps.

“Shifting the focus from what districts are purchasing to what progress students are making would be a game changer. First and foremost, it’s a shift that requires school systems to start tracking and regularly checking whether they’re making headway, and for which students.

“There’s no need to wait for federal leaders to establish the North Star. A state leader could outline goals and create mechanisms for districts to track progress. A district leader could do the same for its schools. A principal for the school.

“Measuring and tracking outcomes doesn’t just let districts pivot when things aren’t working as intended — it gives staff and students alike a much-needed chance to celebrate progress, even if they’re still way behind where they want to be. This is the way to learn what works. This is how we learn from each other. And this is how to ensure that the money helps kids.”

Read Roza’s full essay: “Without Clear Rules, There’s No Way to Judge How School Relief Funds Are Being Spent. Setting Student Progress as a North Star Would Be a Game Changer

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