It is week 26 of our new education reality–a full six months after this crisis started–and across a new round of states, children are headed back to an uncertain school year.

Last time, in a special edition of The New Reality Roundup, we presented two new policy briefs that chart a path forward with specific recommendations for a nationwide emergency response to meet the needs of our students: Fund Everything and Measure Everything.

This week we take a closer look at the work underway to put these ideas into practice, the progress we have made as a country in the past two weeks–including a major win in North Carolina, documented on our blog— and the tasks ahead to realize their full potential.

Keep the 2020-21 summative assessments 

“U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has informed states that they should not count on getting the same waivers from federal testing mandates for this school year that they got last spring as the pandemic shut down schools,” writes Andrew Ujifusa in Education Week. “In statements issued Thursday, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate education committees, respectively, backed DeVos’ stance.”

The statement puts to an end speculation that these testing requirements may have been on their last legs and upholds a key policy recommendation in our Measure Everything brief: “Protect the 2020–21 state assessments by ensuring that they are administered on-time in the upcoming school year … While there may be differences of opinion on how to use this data to improve schooling, there is no question that this data is needed during a time of major academic disruption.”

At the same time, we can’t wait for this spring to understand how our students are doing. That’s why the Measure Everything framework also calls for free diagnostic assessments for all students this fall. A number of states are now moving forward with plans to do exactly that and advocates are making a difference in raising their voices in support of this important goal. As TennesseeCAN Executive Director Victor Evans reports “We recommended that the state make an early-year assessment available to families and are happy to see that, with its Start of The Year Checkpoint program, it will do just that.”

  • The task this week is to insist that each state move forward with a plan to administer the 2020-21 summative assessments on-time and to also support fall diagnostic tests with results sent directly to families.

Make Pods and Microschools an Option for All 

“At the end of the 2019-2020 school year, the average student likely fell months behind due to COVID-related learning disruptions,” write Rebecca Klein and Emily Peck in Huffington Post. “Low-income students and students of color likely suffered from the greatest learning loss … All parents are in a tough spot. But not all parents have the resources that make private school an option.”

Klein and Peck report on how many wealthy parents are pulling their children out of the distance learning offered by their local districts and putting them into the small group, in-person learning that is most likely to ensure they stay on track. The trend “is just one more way the coronavirus is widening existing inequalities in the U.S.”

Yet, this growing disparity isn’t inevitable. As we argue in Fund Everything, there is no reason we can’t respond to this crisis by expanding access to in-person learning for low-income families through both direct payments and tax credits that can be used for starting pods or attending microschools.

Momentum is growing to do just that. At the federal level, Senators Scott and Alexander have introduced The School Choice Act, which would provide billions of dollars in support for low-income families. At the state level, the North Carolina legislature passed HB1105, a bill the governor is poised to sign that will create more options for families than ever before in the state’s history. Thanks to CarolinaCAN’s advocacy efforts, parents in the state will be extended a tax credit for educational needs, see caps lifted on the Opportunity Scholarship program and removing special needs and low-income students from wait lists.

Meanwhile, there’s innovation happening out west. In Idaho, the state is providing direct aid to students, with $4,125 going to seventh grade students to allow them to customize their high school education. In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey is using GEERs dollars to fund innovation microgrants, which will expand access to learning pods.

  • The task this week is to push for both federal and state funding for low-income families to expand opportunities for small group, in-person learning and reduce the growing opportunity gaps.

Our state campaigns across the country are prioritizing getting information on student progress and learning loss into the hands of parents and ensuring that families have as many educational options as possible for an unprecedented school year.

In Colorado, the TEN team is leveraging their 180 Days of Learning web portal to provide parents with information on what students for each grade level are expected to know by the end of the year, allowing them to determine the extent to which their children are receiving appropriate instruction.

Other states campaigns, including GeorgiaCAN, HawaiiKidsCAN and TennesseeCAN, are focused on ensuring that diagnostics are provided as students are welcomed back into school. In Hawaii, executive director David Miyashiro testified before the board on the importance of early assessment. The team at HawaiiKidsCAN also started a petition–one that received local press coverage–for the state to provide $10 million in direct support for families with school-age children.

In Tennessee, the team achieved an important victory when the governor included diagnostics in the Schoolnet school assessment system, something the team advocated for over the summer. Meanwhile in Georgia, the team scored a big win when the Georgia Department of Education announced a plan to make assessments available for all students this fall with immediate results to help inform instruction.

The NewMexicoKidsCAN team is pushing both for fall assessments and for a requirement that schools meet with parents. They surveyed families, created an email template for families to help reach out to their schools and provided families with the top five questions to ask in those meetings.

The GeorgiaCAN team worked with 450 parent advocates across the state to call on the governor to provide microgrants to students with special needs to ensure they have an appropriate learning environment. As one Cobb County mother who is part of GeorgiaCAN’s parent advocacy group wrote in the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “We don’t have time to waste — kids are falling through the cracks.”

  • yes. every kid. published a letter with dozens of partners calling for direct educational aid to families instead of institutions. They also have started a petition at so individuals can add their voice.

  • Civis Analytics released a nationwide survey of parents. Among the findings: 39.7% of respondents say they disenrolled their children from the school they were originally supposed to attend this year.

  • A series of lessons from leading charter networks in the transition to remote learning were gathered and analyzed by the Fordham Institute.

  • Alexander Russo explores how journalists should write about Covid-19 cases in back-to-school coverage.

  • Michael Horn examines the rise of pods in Education Next and examines how likely they are to last.

  • Jess Gartner of Allovue does the math on what a robust, nationwide investment in learning would actually cost.

  • The Urban Institute released a report looking at the connection between housing policy and K-12 educational access and equity.

  • Alex Spurrier of Bellwether examines how accountability policy priorities should change in a new policy brief.

  • Relay Graduate School of Education continued their series of seminars for educators on effective distance learning techniques. A past version of the session is available on Vimeo.

  • Californians Together is out with a new brief on how English Language Learners experienced Covid-19 school closures and what can be learned for the future.

In Houston, Texas, Nwamaka Unaka created her own microschool for her daughter and four other preschoolers. The pod, which Unaka named “Black Girl Magic School,” is staffed by a former preschool teacher with a weekly cost of $250 per student. As Unaka’s efforts show, we can adapt quickly to expand opportunities if we commit the resources to #FundEverything.

Marc Porter Magee Ph.D is the CEO and founder of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.


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