Week 48
February 5, 2021

It is week 48 of our new reality and after 11 months of disrupted education for the majority of American school children, local leaders in communities across the country are moving forward with plans to reopen schools to students.

At the same time, the cost to students is becoming increasingly clear. A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University looking at third grade reading scores in the state found that average achievement “declined by approximately 0.23 standard deviations between fall 2019 and fall 2020. This is roughly equivalent to one-third of a year’s worth of learning … Black students experienced test score declines that were nearly 50% larger than white students—for a total decline of approximately one-half of a year’s worth of learning.”

These learning losses are why we recently published the policy memo Tutoring as an Emergency Response. On Wednesday at 2:30pm ET we will be hosting a forum on tutoring featuring 50CAN board chair Pastor Michael Phillips and three local leaders speaking on the work they are doing to expand tutoring in their states. Click here to RSVP for the event.

In this week’s New Reality Roundup, we talk with TennesseeCAN executive director Victor Evans about what we can learn from recent wins in the Volunteer State. We also look at what needs to be done to provide all students with the option to return to in-person schooling.



Learn from Tennessee

“As a result of a call to action between literacy, learning loss and obviously accountability, our governor and legislature convened a special session … It only lasted four days, but you had three historic, monumental pieces of legislation that passed at the end,” Victor Evans, executive director of TennesseeCAN tells me in a new video interview.

The three bills signed into law are major victories for Tennessee’s families. One is dedicated to combating student learning loss and establishes a statewide tutoring corps. Another law, focused on literacy, ensures that a phonics-based approach will be used with students across the state. The third protects assessments and accountability, ensuring that statewide assessments will be administered on-time this year while simultaneously holding schools and districts harmless for 2021 results.

In a wide-ranging interview, Victor and I look at these wins, discuss the ways students have fallen behind during the pandemic and explore Victor’s ambitious 2021 policy agenda.

to learn from the legislative accomplishments of Tennessee to demand similar leadership from other states.

Stand with leaders working to reopen schools

Last week, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam became the latest public official to set a deadline for reopening schools, announcing his expectation that all schools will reopen by March 15. “We are now equipped as a society to safely open schools and operate them in ways that protect students, teachers and staff members,” he stated. “Now, we must work together to bring students back to school.”

The bipartisan superintendents’ nonprofit Chiefs for Change reinforced the rationale behind this stance in a new statement announcing support for the reopening of schools: “There is no scientific reason to delay efforts to open our schools in a way that assures the safety of our students and their teachers. The need to do so is urgent, especially for our students of color, low-income students and students with disabilities. We simply cannot wait any longer to attend in-person to their learning, their health and their wellbeing.”

Yet, in districts across the country, local leaders are facing pushback from teachers’ unions. In Chicago, Public Schools Chief Janice Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have been engaged in a tense standoff with the teachers’ unions over a plan to open schools. “Members of the teachers’ union have said they will not report to buildings until there is an agreement. They have been defying orders to return since Jan. 25, when they were supposed to return to prepare for elementary school classes to resume,” reports Sarah Karp for WEBZ. On Sunday, the persistence of Lightfoot and Jackson paid off with a tentative deal to reopen classrooms in stages over the next four weeks.

to stand with leaders who are standing up for students by insisting they have the choice of returning to in-person education.


HawaiiKidsCAN is making progress on two bills that have now moved out of committee and were the subject of a KITV 4 News interview with Executive Director David Miyashiro last week. One bill expands computer science education across the state and the other, a “ready to work” bill, addresses career and technical education. At the same, the team’s WiFi on Wheels program continues to garner media attention with a recent feature in Issuu Magazine.

In Colorado, Transform Education Now’s parent survey has sparked a conversation across the state with several earned media hits, including this column in the Denver Post. They’re building upon this momentum to advocate for increased measurement and new strategies to address learning loss.

GeorgiaCAN has been advocating for months for the creation of a summer school program that prioritizes students experiencing dramatic learning loss as part of a suite of urgent policy interventions. The Atlanta school district has now acted and will be running a five-week intensive program this summer.

New Mexico will open up schools at 50 percent capacity this month, a goal championed by the NewMexicoKidsCAN team. “This is an important step forward in making sure that every student and family has the option to choose what is best for them,” Executive Director Amanda Aragon told the Associated Press.

Key Resources

  • Track The Recovery analyzes student participation in online math coursework, finding that high-income students are completing more work than before the pandemic while low-income students are completing dramatically less work.
  • Educators 4 Excellence released their 2021 survey of educators. Among the findings: teachers are expressing concern over lack of student engagement and are split on whether students should be formally assessed this year.
  • FutureED is out with a new study on innovative school staffing strategies during the pandemic, including ways to extend the reach of exceptional teachers.
  • The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released their 2021 policy recommendations for the Biden Administration, including support for state assessments, promotion of a more diverse teacher workforce and equitable funding for charter schools.
  • The Annenberg Institute at Brown University released new recommendations for effective tutoring, including evidence that highly effective tutoring involves three or more sessions each week.
  • Writing in Scientific American, Prof. Aldon Morris explores the power of social justice movements and the lessons for today’s advocates.
  • CRPE released a report, “Public Education Will Never Be the Same,” that dives into innovative practices embraced by school district leaders in the wake of Covid-19.
  • The 74 Million takes a closer look at what is in the $130 billion Biden proposal for schools. They conclude that it invests a lot in safety and teacher retention but may not address learning loss.
  • A new study by Mathematica and the RAND Corporation finds that weekly Covid testing can reduce in-school infections by 50 percent.
  • Brookings Institution senior fellow Jon Valant explores what a civic agenda for education could do to help strengthen our democracy.
  • A new Urban Institute report by Kristin Blagg projects that the learning loss from school closures, if not addressed, will lead to a significant decrease in both post-secondary degree attainment and lifetime earnings.

Moment of Resilience

5-year-old Wade Williams of Atlanta, Georgia, recently published “Wade Through the Pandemic.” He wrote the book to help other kids struggling with social distancing and stay-at-home orders. “I like to draw pictures and write,” the young author told NBC News. The book shares Wade’s experiences during Covid-19, including when his grandmother got sick with the virus.

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