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New Research on Unfinished Learning, How Districts Use ARP $, Are Students Coming Back to School?

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: Lots of News Today! New National Research on Unfinished Learning, How Districts Plan to Use ARP Funds, and Are Students Coming Back to School?

New National Research on Unfinished Learning

According to new reports out this week from both NWEA and McKinsey & Company, students are notably behind where they would be in a non-pandemic year. The NWEA brief uses growth assessment data for grades 3-8 to explore how gains in the 2020-21 school year compared to pre-pandemic trends. Although most students still made gains, they were lower than in a typical year in both reading and math, with historically underserved subgroups disproportionately impacted. The McKinsey research reveals that, on average, students have been left five months behind in math and four months in reading. Moreover, the analysis finds that unless steps are taken to address this fallout—once today's students join the workforce—they could earn $49,000-$61,000 less over their lifetimes because of the pandemic's impact on education—at a cost of between $128-$188 billion to the US economy per year. Also noteworthy: these assessments were administered to students who had access to in-person learning, which reinforces the notion that there is much still to know about how children who stayed home fared academically.

NEW! ARP Watch: How CT Districts Are Using Their K-12 Funding

According to Friday's Hartford Courant article, districts must publish online plans for their portions of the $1.1B in K-12 ARP education funds and for returning to in-person instruction. Many are already planning to use the resources in meaningful ways that directly target the academic and social needs of students. In fact, earlier this month, CT Insider reported on districts spending ARP funding to get a jump this summer through efforts such as the following:

  • Fairfield, Danbury, and Stamford have all expanded their summer programming to serve more students—with Stamford’s program doubling enrollment.

  • New Milford has made its summer credit recovery program free to highschoolers.

  • Bridgeport, Danbury, and Guilford have added or expanded summer offerings for English learners and students with special needs.

  • Stamford and Torrington have coordinated with RESCS and community partners to offer childcare in summer afternoons, following their academic programming.

  • Region 12 has added a free kindergarten readiness program.

We hope to see how districts might adopt long-term strategies for the K-12 ARP funds at the local level when plans emerge in mid-August.

Are the Youngest Students Coming Back to School?

According to a story from the Associated Press on Monday, some parents are opting to homeschool their children in the coming school year after the pandemic period. In March, the Census Bureau reported that the rate of homeschooling had doubled by September 2020. An interactive data analysis from EdWeek shows that Vermont lost the most students overall, with a decline in enrollment of -5.3% to Connecticut's -2.8%.

In particular, however, the AP notes that the largest dip in enrollment has been in the youngest grades. Nationally, kindergarten enrollment fell by 9%, while the decline was a significant 12% for kindergarteners in Connecticut. More than four thousand eligible children did not attend kindergarten in Connecticut last year, according to the State Department of Education.

Now, across the country, schools preparing to reopen this fall don't know whether to expect those students to return in a surge, or continue to stay home. In the hopes of preparing students to catch up and enroll for the fall, the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood has partnered with family resource centers to arrange 36 free early childhood enrichment programs to provide classroom-like experiences.

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