Today’s Wednesday Weekly is a special edition focused upon the state's Monday release of a plan for reopening public schools.
Governor Lamont, Commissioner Cardona, and their teams took a significant step towards education equity this week by making the difficult decision to reopen schools statewide in the fall. According to their "Plan to Learn and Grow Together," released on Monday, all districts will reopen for in-person, full time instruction, regardless of what town a student lives in.
The step was clearly not taken lightly, as the plan focuses on student safety and public health. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics also advocated for all students to return to school this fall, reinforcing that Connecticut is making smart, practical plans for students.
There is, however, one area where we would like to see improvement before school resumes. The state’s plan talks about making the most of this crisis by interrupting the “status quo way of doing things that perpetuate inequities.” We would argue, however, that it’s time for Connecticut to consider the manner in which local control exacerbates ongoing inequities in our state. The state’s current plan would fail to establish requirements that cross district lines to monitor student learning growth, what remote learning should look like, or the high bar we set for all students and schools. If this shortcoming is not addressed, then uneven and inequitable local policies will remain the norm across racial and socio-economic lines.
But we don’t have to maintain these “steady habits.” Connecticut can do better. The state’s reopening plan describes itself as being a fluid document that will be updated as this pandemic requires. To truly address the “status quo way of doing things” in this moment, Connecticut must establish common statewide requirements with a goal of equity—not just in mind, but in principle.
Here are two ways:
1. Require diagnostic screeners by grade and subject that must be used in all classrooms upon schools reopening. Relying only on pre-COVID student data or local diagnostics will hide inequities and waste an opportunity. After all, if each district uses its own metrics, as recommended by the state’s plan, those metrics will be: (a) subject to individual biases; (b) not comparable across district lines or between student subgroups; and (c) not reflective of the crisis.
Policymakers, parents, and educators all deserve access to statewide data on the
COVID slide. The state could require the already commonly-used CT NWEA MAP test, for instance. In less than 2 hours of most students’ time, educators could have actionable information on individual students’ needs, and statewide trends on the COVID slide could facilitate decisions on both remediation and professional development to help these students. Any cost could be offset by the education relief funds in the federal CARES Act.
A commitment to addressing inequities involves taking a courageous look at new data.
2. Require a reasonable, explicit amount of ongoing, synchronous learning. Whether due to a gradual, scheduled return to the classroom or to a second wave of infections, it is very likely that a recovery period in Connecticut will include continued remote learning for some segments of the student population. The state's reopening plan links to a "Plan to Reimagine CT Classrooms for Continuous Learning" with optional guidance regarding ongoing remote learning—a hands-off approach to state leadership that suggests more of the locally-controlled remote learning we saw this spring. That document includes a sample weekly schedule for teachers on page 15. We’ve circled the only suggested block of virtual learning instruction in the entire school week.
Recommending a single session per week for live, teacher-led instruction is insufficient and does not represent a meaningful commitment to ongoing learning across district lines. It also puts a significant and unrealistic onus on parents. A more equitable approach would require every school district to provide an explicit, significant amount of ongoing learning. Our research on reopening plans in other states suggests that this should look like 4-6 hours of structured learning per day, divided between asynchronous and synchronous learning. For young children and students requiring more help, it’s also clear that remote learning is much more effective when it is synchronous, or live.
Lots more here: