This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the roster this week: ERN Leads on National Push for Civic Engagement in College, CT Summer Camps Launch for Pandemic Recovery, and Structured Literacy in Chicago Public Schools.
How Secretary Cardona Can Increase Voter Participation
On Monday, our national affiliate—Education Reform Now—took the lead, along with over forty other signatories across the nation, to publish a joint letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona regarding how the US Department of Education (USDE) can take action to support voting rights and voter participation. The co-signers include AFT, NEA, Unidos US, National Urban League, and Foundation for Civic Leadership. They recommend:
A process to automatically register voters as they apply for services with state agencies—such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Email and social media outreach to make students aware of vote-by-mail opportunities, and/or provide vote-by-mail application materials directly to them.
A regulatory clarification giving institutions of higher education, students, and organizations the green light to use Federal Work Study funds to employ students in activities like voter registration, non-partisan voter education, or voter participation work as allowable activities.
Regulation of the time and manner by which voter registration information is distributed to students in institutions of higher education, ideally in conjunction with enrollment steps that already require students to pay close attention, such as course registration.
All in all, the letter urges the USDE to ensure that all voters have the tools and information necessary to get their votes counted, especially given recent political trends aimed at suppressing ballot access.
☀️ Summer Camp for CT
At the end of May, the CT State Department of Education (CSDE) announced that it would be using over $8.6M (drawn from its $110M state set-aside from the federal American Rescue Plan ESSER funding) to support 235 organizations providing summer enrichment opportunities. The CSDE’s grants are divided into two categories: Innovation Grants - for organizations delivering innovative and free or low-cost programming to over 56,000 students; and Expansion Grants - for organizations expanding existing opportunities so that students who might not otherwise have had access now will. In a press statement, Acting Commissioner of Education Charlene Russell-Tucker emphasized the need to prioritize students and communities who have been most impacted by the pandemic.
Indeed, many districts are ramping up this summer to provide learning opportunities and credit recovery in anticipation of a full return to the classroom this fall. In New Haven, for example, the "Summer of Fun" program will give students access to learning hubs and academic support, family enrichment activities, and community organization partnerships. In Hartford, Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez is calling the district’s summer education the "launch of our recovery," replete with morning academic lessons and afternoon activities in leadership, social-emotional support, and STEM.
When students and staff are fully vaccinated, camps can safely return to full capacity without masking, physical distancing, or routine testing—according to the Centers for Disease Control's latest guidance. It also recommends that campers be assigned to cohorts that will remain together, without mixing. Whatever form of enrichment the state’s summer learners are enrolled in, we wish them a safe season with a renewed sense of normalcy!
Structured Literacy Part of Chicago’s Success Story?
This week, the Washington Post highlights a new book from Karin Chenoweth, a longtime education reporter and Writer in Residence at The Ed Trust. The book covers surprising gains in five public school districts—in particular, highlighting Chicago, once considered one of the lowest performing in the country. In 2011, the district had only 48% of 4th graders meeting basic standards for reading, but by 2015, 67% of that same group met the benchmark in 8th grade. Among the reasons for the district's gains, according to the article, was its abandonment of the "whole language" reading model and the launch of the Chicago Reading Framework. Notably, new Connecticut legislation passed over the last week will finally shift all of the state's public school districts away from this "wrongheaded way of teaching reading."