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. Today’s edition focuses on the forthcoming plan for reopening schools in CT.
Learning Must Be A Focus of Reopening Plans
With word last night from Governor Lamont that the state will release plans for reopening schools tomorrow, we are paying special attention to whether the plan covers how school districts should address learning losses in the coming year or how they will deliver high-quality virtual instruction if their doors do not fully reopen. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of Connecticut reporting on the inspiring work of teachers and students, the trials of virtual school, the lack of adequate technology, and the necessary public health and fiscal analyses about how to return to school in the fall. But when it comes to guidelines for actual learning, we are left asking: What are other states up to?
We dug into the published COVID-19 responses of three states: Rhode Island, Maryland, and Louisiana. At a high-level, all three states stand out for administrative leadership that set a vision for ongoing learning during these unprecedented times. They have emphasized: (1) rigorous, meaningful remote learning across all local education agencies, (2) the use of diagnostic screeners to ensure that students start back on the right track, and (3) a prioritization of research-based strategies to address individual student needs.
Here in Connecticut, remote learning experiences have varied in terms of substance and academic impact, both between and even within school districts. Last spring, learning plans were made within districts and dictated by a variety of factors including technology, resources, and collective bargaining agreements. Now, with the understanding that remote learning will likely continue in the fall, the state has a fresh opportunity to set clear state-wide expectations this week for how districts should handle remote learning by age group, grade level, and academic need. Rhode Island, for example, issued a distance learning plan in April, articulating the expectation that new instruction would continue to be provided at the same pace even while schools were shuttered—tasking districts with providing full, structured learning days; attendance protocols; and equitable grading practices. Maryland stressed live, synchronous learning during closures, with a focus on small group instruction.
We also know many students will experience a COVID-slide. As a result, the only way to inform where school learning picks up is to require a statewide diagnostic screener for students. Louisiana, for example, has required such a screener for grades K-3. Although Connecticut has suggested it will offer districts a free assessment, it has not yet made plans to mandate it. We need a single statewide assessment—rather than a variety of local assessments—so that educators and researchers can learn from this period about what worked best for students from every district and so that data can inform statewide policy decisions going forward with an eye towards equity.
Lastly, if a reopening period requires some amount of staggered in-person access to schools, we need to make research-based decisions about which strategies best meet individual students’ academic needs and address equity. This fall, Maryland encourages lengthening school days, rather than the school year, because longer days are proven to improve Science and Math outcomes. And finally, students with the most need must have priority for in-person and individualized instruction. Maryland identified research showing that low-performing students and early elementary students have the most trouble processing remotely. If entire student bodies cannot return to the classroom at once, having students with higher in-person needs return to the classroom first would be ideal.
Already a leader in lowering COVID-19 transmission rates, Connecticut also can and should be a leader as we prepare for the 2020-21 school year. We look forward to seeing what the state recommends tomorrow!
In Other News: CT Senate Dems Release Juneteenth Agenda
In other news, on Friday, Juneteenth, the CT Senate Dems unveiled a special session agenda designed to address systemic racism. Their policy proposals tackle criminal justice and police accountability, economic opportunity, educational inequality, and more. See it here.