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Unfinished Learning, School Discipline for Students w. Disabilities, How Dems Can Gain Voter Trust

Path to Recovery - Ongoing Gaps and Unfinished Learning

This month the NWEA—a research-based non-profit that develops Pre-K-12 assessments for measuring academic growth and proficiency—released a new brief that uses reading and math data to help chart the cumulative, academic impact of the pandemic on students. Yesterday, a Chalkbeat article summarized the findings—explaining that although students are starting to regain lost academic ground, they still remain far behind where they should be. Furthermore, low-income, Black, and Hispanic students have faced the most challenging recovery. In fact, academic gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines have grown even larger than they were before the pandemic.

The New York Times' (NYT) coverage further observes that elementary students may need at least three years to catch up to where they would have been if not for the pandemic, while middle school students may need five years or more. An NWEA researcher called the projected timeline for a full rebound, based upon the current rate, "pretty alarming." The NYT article also unpacks the effectiveness of some common interventions—like summer school, doubling math instruction, and small group tutoring. (ICYMI, check out yesterday’s webinar on how states are making the most of summer learning. CT got a shout out for the comprehensiveness of its evaluation plan for summer learning investments.) These types of interventions come with steep costs, but allowing learning losses to become permanent would have serious consequences for a generation of students. All hands on deck!

New Guidance on School Discipline for Students with Disabilities

Yesterday, the Office for Civil Rights at the US Department of Education (USEd) released new guidance concerning the rights of students with disabilities when it comes to school discipline. Before expelling or suspending a student with a disability, the guidance says that a school must determine whether the behavior in question is related to the disability. If the disruptive behavior is related, a school should pursue additional behavioral supports or a change in educational setting before resorting to disciplinary measures. This ensures that students will have access to free and appropriate public education (FAPE)—a legal right under Section 504.

US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona explained that students with disabilities have often faced "harsh and exclusionary disciplinary action at school," and that they have a right to be treated fairly, including when it comes to their "disability-based behavior." According to Education Week, Cardona has called this guidance the most comprehensive the department has ever released on the topic. USEd is also working on forthcoming guidance regarding racial discrimination and school discipline.

How Dems Can Gain Voter Trust on Ed

On Wednesday, Education Reform Now Advocacy released a new poll that shows voters want Democrats to place greater focus on helping students make up for lost ground due to COVID. Although Democrats have had a historic advantage on education issues before the pandemic, voters in Congressional battleground districts now narrowly trust Republicans more on education topics, the poll finds. These results should be alarming for Democrats, but the poll also identifies how the party can better reach voters: namely, by being vocal about efforts to help students recover from pandemic losses and prepare for careers. By a 22-point margin, voters want schools to find ways to prepare students for jobs in the future—suggesting a desire for innovative policy investments—rather than reverting back to pre-pandemic teaching practices.

According to the poll, voters also think both parties, but especially Democrats, have prioritized race and gender issues over helping students to get back on track.

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