Week 208
March 24, 2024

It is week 208 of our new reality and we are thinking about the fourth anniversary of the Covid-era school shutdowns.

Is there any point in looking backward when we are working so hard to move forward?

“Four years ago, the country was brought to its knees by a world-historic disaster … It shut down schools and forced people into social isolation. Almost overnight, most of the country was thrown into a state of high anxiety,” write George Makari and Richard A. Friedman in The Atlantic. “The pressure to simply move on from the horrors of 2020 is strong. Who wouldn’t love to awaken from that nightmare and pretend it never happened?”

Yet, they conclude that ignoring what happened and trying to forget about the long-term consequences of the choices we made only gets in the way of our efforts to address them.

As we argue below, we believe that keeping the magnitude of the crisis we face present in our discussions can provide the needed urgency to keep pushing forward in building the future our children deserve.


Last time in The New Reality Roundup, we looked into the legislative progress in Hawaii, including a workforce development bill that may prove a model for other states, and checked in with Derrell Bradford in the latest AdvocacyLabs video on the power in provoking a reaction. This week we explore some of the analyses published on what we now know about the costs of the school shutdowns and take stock of one of the biggest reforms to emerge out of this crisis.


Tell the truth about what the shutdowns cost kids

Four years ago this week the WHO declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, cities shut down across the country and millions of American children found their lives and education upended. Despite the voices calling for the nation to move on and move forward, we believe it’s critically important to look back to the decisions made by adults in that moment and in the recovery that has followed.

“Today, there is broad acknowledgment among many public health and education experts that extended school closures did not significantly stop the spread of Covid, while the academic harms for children have been large and long-lasting,” The New York Times’ Sarah Mervosh, Claire Cain Miller and Francesca Paris write in a new article for The Upshot. “While poverty and other factors also played a role, remote learning was a key driver of academic declines during the pandemic, research shows — a finding that held true across income levels … Comparing districts with similar remote learning policies, poorer districts had steeper losses. But in-person learning still mattered: Looking at districts with similar poverty levels, remote learning was associated with greater declines.”

New Jersey Governor Murphy deserves praise for releasing a 900-page, first-in-the-nation analysis of government response during the pandemic. Published earlier this month, the report slammed the prevalence of misinformation, including in the debate surrounding schools. “School closures not only led to lost learning for students, but huge burdens on families with school-age children whose parents had to figure out how to keep their children happy, healthy, and learning,” the report concluded.

to motivate other states to follow New Jersey’s lead in establishing clear accountability on the decisions made and their cost and use that focus to push for clear, concrete support to help kids recover.

Embrace a better future

The crisis our students have faced has led to a number of important efforts at the state level to do more for kids. Behind that energy is the belief that now is the time to build a better education system for all.

It was this realization that led our network to publish our Believe in Better policy framework, centered on five promises we can make to families about the experience their children deserve from American education. We are inspired by the progress made and hopeful of the promise of even bigger changes to come.

State Senator Dolezal, who sponsored the Georgia ESA bill, meets with students from Ladies of Favor Dream Academy before the vote.

More students than ever before have the opportunity to seek out the education that’s right for them, with landmark ESA bills happening in states across the country. Last week, Georgia joined North Carolina to become the second state in our network to pass a statewide ESA, following wins by partners in Texas, Iowa, Utah, Alabama and others. And more states aren’t far behind. In Tennessee and Louisiana, universal ESA bills have begun clearing committee hurdles with the full support of their governors. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in tutoring and summer camp programs in Tennessee, New Jersey and Louisiana, where local advocates are working to enshrine tutoring with permanent state dollars as the ESSER cliff approaches. New career programs, including innovative new approaches to computer science, are launched each month. The country is in the midst of a literacy revolution. And as parents demand answers to how much learning their children lost and how funds are being spent to rectify it, our coalition of partners has continued to fight for transparency and accountability to families.

HawaiiKidsCAN Executive Director David Miyashiro held a work-based learning event at the Hawaii State Capitol where they continued to advocate in support of HB1654, which will incentivize businesses and employers to offer internships and apprenticeships to high school students. That bill, along with two other priority pieces of legislation focused on improving literacy, have passed the House and have crossed over to the Senate.to celebrate the efforts of countless individuals who are fighting–and winning–in bringing about real change for kids.


HawaiiKidsCAN Executive Director David Miyashiro held a work-based learning event at the Hawaii State Capitol where they continued to advocate in support of HB1654, which will incentivize businesses and employers to offer internships and apprenticeships to high school students. That bill, along with two other priority pieces of legislation focused on improving literacy, have passed the House and have crossed over to the Senate.

Louisiana Kids Matter is focusing on shepherding Governor Landry’s universal ESA bill through the statehouse, which would provide Pelican State families access to an ESA starting in 2027.

After creating a revolving loan fund for charter facilities, JerseyCAN continues to make progress on their two remaining priority bills, which will establish literacy screeners for every student in every school and ensure students free access to the college entrance examination.

Key Resources

The 74 Million looks at the explosive growth of microschooling in Tennessee, finding that there’s more demand than supply and parents are eager for an even more diverse suite of microschool options.

Former Superintendent of Newark Schools Cami Anderson authors a piece for Education Next on the lessons the modern education reform movement can learn from the Newark reforms of the 2010s.

Ed Working Papers hosts research suggesting that Black students gain statistically significant effects from having a Black teacher, including in self-efficacy, classroom engagement, test scores and absences.

Chalkbeat continues investigating tutoring programs across the country, finding that in addition to academic boosts, matching a student with a tutor increases school attendance by 7%.

Brookings finds that outside of student government activities, schools are failing to offer a set of extracurricular clubs, activities and events focused on civics and civic engagement.

Urban Institute released a new, searchable tool that graphs changing demographic data for every public school in the country.

Charter authorizers can predict the eventual success of new charter schools, and distinguish between strong and weak schools in advance, according to new research from the Fordham Institute.

The 74 Million reports on a new study from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that shows a significant increase in student interest in “on the job” training programs.

Moment of Resilience

The New York Times profiles the rural Maysville High School in Missouri, where alongside math and English coursework, students are taking hands-on learning to a whole new level with an elective “farm-to-table course” where they learn to hunt, butcher and cook livestock and wild game. The eighth graders in Ms. Eggleston’s science class prepared for a dual lesson in dissecting and then cooking a recently culled deer.

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