Week 150
February 6, 2023

It is week 150 of our new reality.

“​​To what extent has the learning progress of school-aged children slowed down during the COVID-19 pandemic?” ask the authors of a new article in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. Nearly three years after schools first shut down it may seem like a question that has already been asked and answered but the world of research moves slowly and each new study adds to our understanding both of what happened and what is likely to happen in the years ahead.

Through their systematic review of 42 studies across 15 countries they conclude that:

      • Kids lost more than one-third of a school years’ worth of learning.
      • Math skills suffered more than reading abilities.
      • Educational inequality increased significantly.
      • The learning losses that emerged during the pandemic persist and may never recover without a shift in strategy.


It’s that last finding that is the most important and it should put to bed the argument that if we wait long enough somehow the problems of learning loss will go away on their own. Unfortunately, when it comes to education, time does not heal all wounds.

“This isn’t going to be something that we catch up in a year or two, when everything is back to normal — I think this is going to be a decade long,” Amanda Neitzel, a researcher at the John Hopkins School of Education in Baltimore, Maryland, shared with Nature in reflecting on the findings. “We need to rethink schooling and make substantial changes to the structure and way that we do education to make this up.”

Last time in the New Reality Roundup, we took a closer look at 50CAN’s build and spark initiatives with a focus on the year ahead. This week we focus on how scaling up tutoring could help catch kids back up and how homeschooling has evolved into a mainstream element of the new American education system.


Study and scale up tutoring to address learning losses

In January of 2021, as the costs of extended school closures became clear, we released the policy memo “Tutoring as an Emergency Response and Recovery Strategy.” It argued that tutoring “is one of the few educational strategies that we know works for almost all kids in a wide array of implementation approaches.” Later that year we made “tutoring for all” one of the core promises to America’s students in our Believe in Better policy framework. But what will it actually take to make this promise a reality?

One promising strategy being pioneered by former Tennessee Secretary of Education Kevin Huffman is to pair ambitious pilot programs with rigorous research to find new ways to scale up high-quality tutoring for all.

“Huffman and Accelerate, the organization he now heads, are part of a unique effort to determine how to scale targeted, high-intensity tutoring (also called “high-dosage” tutoring) to mitigate COVID-related learning loss,” reports Connie Matthiessen for Inside Philanthropy. “The ambitious, multiyear research project, which will be conducted by the University of Chicago Education Lab, was launched with $18 million in funding from American Achieves, Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of the hedge fund Citadel and Arnold Ventures. The Education Lab will work with research nonprofit MRDC as well as Accelerate to partner with school districts around the country, including Chicago Public Schools. Tens of thousands of students will be included in the randomized control trial.”

“This is meant to be research that’s very practical — very rigorous, but also very practical — so school districts can learn which of these efforts are moving the needle and invest in approaches that are doing the most good, even during the course of the study,” Roseanna Ander, the executive director of the Education Lab, shared.

One way for states to contribute to this effort is to participate in the Accelerate’s Effective Action Grant Program, which provides grants to pilot and study new local tutoring initiatives.

To identify and support promising high-impact tutoring programs and use what we are learning to make tutoring for all an element of the school system of the future.

Shatter old archetypes of the families that homeschool their children

“By the time LaToya Brooks began homeschooling her three daughters last fall, the Atlanta mother had to ask herself: Why didn’t I do this sooner?,” writes Greg Toppo in The 74 Million. “A former public school band teacher, Brooks said she was largely inspired by the grim pandemic realities of her kids’ schooling.”

In the article, Toppo explores the ways in which America’s homeschooling movement is not only growing but changing:

“A November survey from the online education platform Outschool found that [parents who have chosen to homeschool are] increasingly concerned about the quality of education their kids are getting in school. They’re also more likely to be politically centrist or liberal and less likely to homeschool for religious reasons.”

One of the biggest shifts is in the diversity of families involved: “Homeschooling among Black families exploded in the school year following the start of the pandemic, from 3.3% in spring 2020 to 16.1% that fall.”

Why is this happening now?

Toppo quotes 50CAN National Voices Fellow and Bellwether Associate Partner Alex Spurrier to gain insight: “Recent polling shows the pandemic has helped break a kind of psychological link in parents’ minds between education and a five-day, in-person school week. For many families, learning from home ‘worked really well and probably opened their eyes to a different way forward.’ As a result, he said, ‘it doesn’t look like we’re on a path to heading back’ to pre-pandemic ideas about homeschooling.”

As homeschooling continues to grow, the kinds of models available to parents continue to diversify. Organizations such as the VELA Foundation and the National Microschooling Center are producing regular content that shows the vast opportunities available for kids, while homeschool collaborative sites such as the Cath Fraise-founded Workspace are providing similar proof points to what high-quality CMOs did for the charter movement during their rapid growth in the 1990s and 2000s.

To spotlight the opportunities for children in homeschool programs–and the diversity of families that are seizing them and look for ways policymakers can continue to expand access for all.


50CAN announced the fellows selected for the fifth cohort of the National Voices Fellowship, a program that brings together educators, advocates and thinkers from different geographies, political affiliations and backgrounds to spark the ideas for the future of education. We couldn’t be more excited to see the ideas they spark in 2023. Meanwhile, 2022 fellow Kate Wisniewski has an op-ed in the Star-Telegram and Cooper Conway has one in The Hill.

The GeorgiaCAN annual School Choice Expo was a success, with over 400 families in attendance to meet with school operators. GeorgiaCAN Outreach Director Steven Quinn shares: “I got a call this morning from a mom who attended the expo over the weekend. She literally told me that the event opened her eyes to options that she felt her family didn’t have. She just wanted to thank our team. Moments like this are why I do this work.”

Congratulations to NewMexicoKidsCAN for hitting their online fundraising goal in celebration of their 5th anniversary. The team is already hard at work turning that goodwill into action, as they work toward bringing the science of reading to the Land of Enchantment, launching a parent-driven petition. Executive Director Amanda Aragon also appeared on The Bob Clark Show to discuss board passage of new student outcome goals.

As HawaiiKidsCAN’s David Miyashiro gears up for the launch of major tutoring and FAFSA initiatives, he took the time to met with the next generation of advocates, delegates from the state student council, to discuss how they could turn their policy dreams into reality.

ConnCAN’s student-based school funding reform proposal is now front-and-center in discussions between Governor Lamont and the legislature. “It’s critical. The time has come,” Speaker of the House Ritter declared. Meanwhile, Bilingual Organizer Luis Ortiz appeared on La Voz Hispana alongside Rep. Juan Candelaria to discuss progress on their bill codifying an ELL Bill of Rights.

Key Resources

Urban Institute looks at the equitability of how school renovations funds are dispersed, finding that students from low-income backgrounds are more likely to go to a school in significant need of repairs.

Robert Pondiscio interviews Dr. Ashley Berner at the Fordham Institute on her book No One Way to School, where she shares her views on how America can embrace pluralism.

CRPE’s report on navigating political tensions over schooling finds that political polarization and culture war issues have actively disrupted schooling.

New polling from Pew Research indicates that 4 out of 10 parents are extremely or very worried about their children’s mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

ExcelinEd put out an interactive map ranking states on how many of the organization’s principles of early literacy are being acted upon.

Brookings suggests the shrinking number of corps members at Teach For America represents a real threat to teaching quality, as outcomes-agnostic providers take their place.

Chad Aldeman has the data in the 74 Million: schools are adding teachers despite seeing year-over-year drops in student enrollment.

Bellwether’s semi-annual report, Common Ground, analyzes the political trends of education. The newest issue is out now.

Moment of Resilience

“I think the unplugging and the getting offline is … something that hopefully this generation will take on,” 17 year old Logan Lane shared with the New York Times. “I know I have some regrets about how early I got my phone and how early this addiction was instilled in me.” To fight back against an explosion of screen time that started during the school closures of the pandemic, Lane started a “Luddite Club” at her school. Lane is emerging as a voice in a growing movement to push back on the dominance of technology and social media in the lives of teenagers. “I definitely feel more confident. My social anxiety has gone down,” Lane reflected. “I have more of a grasp on reality, whereas I was living in a sort of fantasy world before.”

More of The New Reality Roundup
Share This