Today marks the beginning of the third week of our new educational reality in America. Here is where things stand: 47 states have closed all their public school buildings. In the past week, many states pushed back their original end date for the closures from March to April, six states–Delaware, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina and Utah–pushed back their end dates into May and six more states–AlabamaKansasNew MexicoOklahomaVermont and Virginia–announced that they will stay closed for the rest of the school year. What began as something akin to an extended spring break looks increasingly like our long-term reality.

Last week, we put a spotlight on the urgent needs of getting meals to kids and getting students connected to their schools online. Across the country, local leaders and philanthropists stepped forward to help, including in Connecticut where philanthropist Barbara Dalio announced that she was purchasing and distributing 65,000 laptops for low-income students.

This week, we focus on what it will take to connect with and teach every child for however long this new reality lasts. If you want to know who the future leaders in education will be, look for the people saying, “We have to find a way,” rather than “this wasn’t part of my plan.”

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Reach every student, every day 

“After schools closed to limit the spread of the new coronavirus,” Eleanore Catolico reported in Chalkbeat, “advocates for Detroit’s vulnerable youth said the most frustrating part of trying to help them is finding them.”

We know that 56 million K-12 students no longer have school buildings to go to each day, but there is no reliable statistic on how many of those students have not been reached by their schools or districts since they were sent home.

A major challenge is the big gap in school record keeping. “Many districts do not have digital contact information (email addresses or cell phone numbers) for a significant portion of their most vulnerable families,” Todd Rogers and Jessica Lasky-Fink explain in an EdWeek article. What this means is that now, two weeks after many school building closures began, tens of thousands of students may be unaccounted for by their schools and districts.

In this new era of distance learning, daily connection records should be the new attendance. School networks like Success Academy are leading the way with a practice of twice a day check-ins between every elementary school student and their teacher.

  • The task this week is for every school to develop a practice of reaching every student at least once a day. Every district should report out publicly on how many of their students they have reached since the school building closures, as well as their daily connection rate to students.

Insist on innovative instruction and real learning

“What will missing weeks or even months of school mean for students?” asks Matt Barnum in a recent Chalkbeat article. Surveying the research, he finds “Missing 10 days of math class in middle or high school led to lower test scores and grades, one recent paper found, while reducing high school graduation by 6 percentage points and college enrollment by 5 points” while research on long-term school closures found “those students were more likely to be unemployed, and earned between 2 and 3% less. There was even evidence that the children of those who missed more school did worse in school themselves, many years later.”

Simply put: if we let the long-term closure of school buildings result in a long-term gap in schooling, we are creating an education disaster for our children.

Most state leadership to date has been focused on setting limits for instruction and learning. For example, in Massachusetts the State Department of Education released a plan late last week that recommended that districts develop plans for “productive learning for approximately half the length of a regular school day.” The New Mexico Department of Education went further with guidance that set the “maximum student commitment in terms of direct instruction” at just 45 minutes in first grade, 60 minutes in third grade and 90 minutes in fifth grade.

How will districts address these limited learning goals? Survey results released on Saturday by the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) found that “most districts are still not providing any instruction.” Further, CRPE found that “just four districts (less than 5% of those reviewed) provide formal curriculum, online instruction and student progress monitoring” and “none of the 82 districts we reviewed say they are attempting fully ‘synchronous’ learning.” They conclude: “A critical component of effective distance learning is monitoring and tracking student progress…the most inequitable thing a school district can do right now is nothing.”

It is clear that many of the plans rolled out to date fall short of what kids need. As the Washington Post Editorial Board put it on Friday: “Schools never prepared for this. But they better get ready now, fast.”

  • The task this week is for every school and every school district to put in place a plan for innovative instruction for the duration of the school building shutdown that prioritizes the most important content and commits to real results for their students in these areas.

“I feel like I have five jobs: mom, teacher, C.C.O., house cleaner, chef,” said Sarah Joyce Willey, in an article by Jessica Bennett in the New York Times. “My kids also call me ‘Principal mommy’ and the ‘lunch lady.’ It’s exhausting.” Across the country, our campaigns are hearing about the challenges of parents trying to implement uncertain learning plans from their schools while juggling all the other challenges created by this global pandemic. That’s why, over the past week, all of our local outreach teams have hosted virtual meetings with families and educators to better understand the concerns and focus on solutions.

ConnCAN created a comprehensive list of distance learning plans for each district. DelawareCAN generated the only comprehensive database in the state of food pick-up sites and is working to ensure clear safety standards for the state’s preschools. GeorgiaCAN hosted several parent calls, engaged with partners on maximizing distance learning and produced a parent resource guide. HawaiiKidsCAN brought together educators throughout the state for a virtual education gathering on how to best serve students in this time of need. NewMexicoKidsCAN highlighted tips from an online charter school student to help families navigate the transition to learning from home. Transform Education Now (TEN) in Colorado enlisted volunteers from their membership to make hundreds of calls to check on families. And in Miami, PS 305 is using social media to get out information to multilingual families.

The following are tools, tips and resources from partners released in the past week to help parents, teachers and school leaders respond to this crisis.

  • Chiefs for Change published a curated resources page for districts responding to COVID-19.

  • yes. every kid. launched a site dedicated to learning everywhere, including at home or in the yard.

  • Girls Who Code has released a fantastic set of coding activities that can be done at home.

  • MIT has put out their list of the best education resources for being at home with kids.

  • Uncommon Schools CEO Brett Peiser shared what the charter network is learning in the transition to distance learning.

  • Rocketship Schools published a video on how they are striving to bring fun to distance learning.

  • Partnership Schools launched a new blog focused on sharing their uniquely Catholic approach to distance learning, including an academic spotlight on topics like ELA instruction.

  • The UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute Autism Team released a comprehensive new report on supporting individuals with autism through uncertain times.

Carl Rogers, the American psychologist who founded the humanistic approach to the science, once said, “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn… and change.” In homes around the country, students are demonstrating they have learned how to learn, despite the sweeping changes occurring all around them. Some, like this wonderful kindergartner from Partnership Schools in New York City, are even demonstrating they have learned how to teach.


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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