We’ve now reached the sixth week since school buildings have been shuttered and the country was forced into a new educational reality. Right now, 32 states have announced that schools will be shut down for the rest of the year, with 13 more states making that announcement in the past week.

At the same time, attention is shifting to what the fall may bring. In a report published in Science magazine, a team at Harvard University concluded that “prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022.” Large corporations like Facebook have already made the decision to cancel gatherings with 50 or more people through June 2021. When it comes to this fall, Jocelyn Gecker and Carolyn Thompson report for the AP that right now there are more questions than answers: “Will there be staggered start times? Will students be asked to wear face coverings? Will class sizes be cut in half? What about school assemblies and sports and school buses and lunchtime?”

Last week we shined a spotlight on the logistics needed to make distance learning work for kids and how we can aim higher in our response to this crisis. This week we focus on how we can prepare for an uncertain future and the importance of prioritizing the needs of students in how federal stimulus funding is put to use. 

With six weeks of efforts documenting this new reality under our belt, we have also launched a new section of our website that provides all the interviews, resources, newsletter and media in one place. 

If you were sent The New Reality Roundup from a friend or colleague and would like to receive future issues every Monday, you can sign-up here.

Prepare for an Uncertain Future

“We don’t know what the fall will bring,” Jessica Sie, the director of literacy and history at Success Academy Charter Schools told us in a new video interview. “We might be in buildings, we might not be in buildings. So our first priority is how can we make sure that even if we do it remotely, teachers are really effectively trained, and they have great support for teaching virtually. And then whether the school year brings us to a brick-and-mortar location or continued remote learning, that our teachers will be ready to support their kids and have the support they need to really shine.”

The 45 schools in the Success Academy network have risen to the challenge of this new reality and the work they are doing now will help ensure they can continue to adapt to whatever happens in the months ahead. But according to Robin Lake of CRPE, more than a month after most school buildings were closed, this approach is still far too rare. Less than half of school districts are providing any instruction and only a quarter of districts are reviewing and grading student work.

A key part of being prepared is knowing where students stand. At Success Academies sometimes that understanding will be gathered informally. “Just as you and I are on this call right now,” Sie shared “the teachers can call kids and then do a reading assessment with them to understand what they’re learning.” Those informal efforts will be combined with end-of-year assessments “to understand what kids have learned and where they need more support so that we’re prepared to give the best instruction in the fall.”

  • The task this week is to finish the work of bringing instruction and learning online with an understanding that these skills and habits will likely be needed in the fall and to deploy a variety of efforts to assess where students are so that this data can inform the work with teachers to prepare for the future.

Watch the full video interview here.

Put Student Needs at the Center of Stimulus Spending

“The most recent stimulus bill contains $13.5 billion to aid K-12 schools… the challenge now is to allocate this funding quickly, effectively and equitably,” writes Nina Rees, CEO of NAPCS, for the 74 Million. As the money from the federal CARES Act makes its way from Washington to states, in the next few weeks key decisions will need to be made around how the funds can best be spend to support America’s students.

The CARES Act has provided tremendous flexibility for state and district leaders to determine how the funds will be spent, though some states like Kentucky are strongly encouraging district leaders to only use the funds for one-time expenses, noting that recurring costs, such as payroll, will likely not be sustainable in the economic downturn. The guidance for districts around the emergency funding provides broad suggestions of how the money can be used: to purchase technology, to serve the needs of low-income children, to build teacher skill in online instruction, to ensure that school buildings are clean and safe once schools open. One stipulation from the Department of Education, however, as reported by Kalyn Belsha in Chalkbeat: stimulus money may not go to teacher unions.

The debate about federal stimulus should be spent is particularly important given state cuts on the horizon. As Joshua Eaton and Ilana Marcus report for Roll Call: “A budgetary time bomb for public schools is likely to explode long after the pandemic ends.”

  • The task this week is to engage with state and local officials on stimulus spending, bring parent voices into the process, and advocate for plans that ensure the stimulus money is spent in a student-centered way.

“The coronavirus crisis,” report Christina Maxouris and Alice Yu for CNN, “spotlights the inequalities in American education… many students aren’t just taking a hit from their inability to log on to class. Children from communities of color or low-income neighborhoods often depend on their school for a lot more.”

Across the country, our campaigns are working with students and their families to understand what is working–and not working–about the state and district educational responses to the pandemic. In The First State, DelawareCAN has created a database and issued a report that allows parents to compare distance learning plans from district to district, giving families the opportunity to see how their children’s district stacks up against the rest of the state. NewMexicoKidsCAN is also tracking district-by-district plans by releasing an update to their distance learning report. Townhalls with parents and educators are also continuing, such as ConnCAN’s discussions with families across the state.

Campaigns are also working with local journalists to help keep families informed. For example, in North Carolina, Executive Director Marcus Brandon was featured on a podcast discussing homeschooling. And TEN, in Colorado, continued their local media appearances by offering helpful tips for families on CBS News as well as resources for parents.

  • The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a 50 state analysis on how well prepared states are for the coming recession.
  • The Wide Open School initiative, curated by Common Sense Media, has launched a list of digital academic resources and activities for parents, searchable by grade level.

  • Braven has provided a curated selection of resources for low-income families and first generation college students, including food, internet access and tutoring resources.

  • NCTQ released an analysis of teaching and licensure in the times of coronavirus.

  • The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools teamed up with Bellwether Education Partners to create a portal for charter school leaders to understand legislation on Covid-19.

  • Cato published a brief that explores the ways in which the economic downturn may hit private schools enrollment particularly hard.

  • Teach Like a Champion released a series of free, online video seminars called Techniques and Principles for Remote Learning.

  • The EdWeek Research Center released the findings of a new survey of 1,720 educators.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me,” C.S. Lewis wrote, capturing the feelings of so many people who have fallen in love with the transporting magic of reading. While much of the discussion about distance learning has focused on the role of devices, sometimes the best learning will happen when a child’s imagination connects with the right book–and, as is the case with this Success Academy scholar, it doesn’t hurt to pair that book with the right cup.


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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