Week 58
April 18, 2021

It is week 58 of our new reality and for many students around the country, we have entered the last two months of this fragmented and disrupted school year.

Even as we look to the summer and beyond, it is important to remember that we are still likely losing ground due to school closures. For example, according to the most recent data released by the Biden administration, just 29% of eighth-graders are attending in-person classes five days a week. And, as Lauren Camera explains in US News, “while all students are suffering, the country’s most disadvantaged – those who came into the pandemic with the fewest opportunities – are on track to exit with the greatest learning loss.”

What America’s students deserve is not a return to a normal that left so many students behind, but a return to better.

Last time in The New Reality Roundup, we looked at a key win for GeorgiaCAN in expanding the special needs scholarship along with a recent report on learning loss from JerseyCAN that is driving important conversations across the state.

This week, we explore how reimagining summer could help make up for lost time and we put a spotlight on the importance of empowering families and communities with information on how students are doing to better inform our recovery plans.



Reimagine summer

“For summer 2021, we are thrilled to share that we will operate Camp Uncommon and AF Camp (in its inaugural year) in person at beautiful Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island,” Change Summer CEO Josh Phillips announced in an email last week. Founded by Josh in 2018 and building upon his experience as Uncommon Schools’ chief operating officer, the nonprofit has partnered with charter schools to provide “students from under-resourced communities with a summer experience that increases independence, curiosity, confidence and responsibility.” In a series of online videos, the Change Summer team explores how they are adapting their approach to best meet students’ needs in light of such a challenging year.

Similar initiatives are being undertaken across the country, including New York City’s new Summer Rising initiative, which partners the city’s education department with the Department of Youth and Community development to pair academic enrichment with sports, games, field trips and art. In Washington DC, the 74 Million reports on a new effort that will pay high school students for their participation in a program that includes both academics and on-the-job training. Similarly, Kansas City’s mayor is calling on the business community and local nonprofits to employ students from the most disadvantaged communities this summer with internships and career development. While in Louisiana, the Department of Education is encouraging districts “to approach summer learning in a new way” by focusing on “tutoring in small groups … field trips, the arts, library visits, recess and well-being supports.”

The key recognition is that these programs must move beyond the typical “summer school” approach to summer months. “We absolutely believe that in order to engage kids in this kind of learning, it’s got to be fun,” Melissa Morse, Henry County Schools’ chief learning and performance officer, told GPB in a report on Georgia’s push toward “camp-like” summer programming.

to embrace a new conception of summer in partnership with nonprofits, civic groups, universities and businesses that speaks to the needs of the whole child.

Measure what matters

In the face of requests from states for waivers from annual federal testing requirements, US Secretary of Education Cardona and education officials “have painted the debate as a civil rights issue, insisting that state and district leaders and the federal government need a good understanding of how much the pandemic set back students academically and which students need the most help,” reports US News’ Lauren Camera. “Without that information, they say, the tens of billions of dollars pouring into states from the most recent coronavirus relief package won’t be effective in helping students recover.”

Yet many states and districts haven’t given up their fight to effectively pause most academic testing. After New York’s request for a waiver to cancel assessments was denied by Cardona, the nation’s largest school district announced that all students would need to ‘opt-in’ in order to be assessed. When Washington State’s plan to assess only a representative sample of students was shut down by the Department of Education, the state postponed assessments until the fall. With Oregon moving ahead with testing after their own waiver was denied, the two largest districts in the state said they would not assess under any circumstance, risking federal legal action.

In an interview with the Data Quality Campaign, University of Southern California Professor Morgan Polikoff makes the case for giving state assessments: “Having comparable assessment data for this year will allow us to investigate which students have been negatively impacted by Covid-19 and where supports are most needed … we don’t actually have a good understanding of how the pandemic affected student learning.” At the same time, he argues for a broader approach to measurement that includes “local assessments and interim assessments” that can “provide more immediate, actionable results to support instruction,” as well as “data on social-emotional learning—especially considering the trauma that many students experienced this year.”

to stand up for the important role measurement will play in supporting our students during this period of recovery and put in place a comprehensive plan that measures what matters.


Following up on their major win in expanding the state’s scholarship for students with special needs, advocates at GeorgiaCAN secured another victory when Atlanta Public Schools agreed to give all of the district’s students access to a four-week intensive summer school program, at a cost of $15 million. The decision came after an ambitious campaign of phone calls and meetings driven forward by GeorgiaCAN’s parent advocates.

In Colorado, the team at Transform Education Now continues to make progress toward their goal of supporting greater equity in achievement by championing legislation to direct federal and state dollars to establish and expand high-impact tutoring programs across the state. The bill has advanced from the House Education Committee and now moves to Appropriations.

After authoring an op-ed on programs that will be needed to address learning loss that was picked up by newspapers across the state, TennesseeCAN’s Victor Evans celebrated a strong response from the Governor. “We applaud Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn’s clear call today that federal Covid-relief funding be spent in direct support of growing student achievement,” Evans wrote. “We believe that high-dosage tutoring directly tied to regular classroom content may be the most cost-effective solution and offer the most immediate results to address learning loss and help students catch up.”

David Miyashiro, executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN, was selected as a finalist for Hawaii’s 2021 Champions for Children Award for his steadfast work on behalf of the Aloha State’s families.

National Voices Fellow Arthur Samuels penned an op-ed for the NY Daily News, detailing how the Big Apple can recover and return to better next fall. Fellow Sana Shaikh shared her story and passion for educational equity with the South Asian Stories podcast, and fellow Isis Spann was named one of Brightbeam’s 2021 Rising Women in Education.

Key Resources

  • Cadence Learning launched the 2021 National Summer School Initiative, partnering with districts and CMOs to provide summer programming for students and resources, curriculum and professional development for teachers.
  • The Hunt Institute created a menu of options for states and districts to determine how to spend the $54 billion in ESSER-2 funds appropriated last December.
  • Bruno Manno and Lynn Olson, writing for FutureEd, propose a new bipartisan education framework for advocates to rally behind over the coming years, focusing on opportunity and access.
  • Brookings Institution published a new case study in a series that looks at the success of computer science initiatives around the world. This study focused on the Canadian province of British Columbia.
  • Brookings is also hosting a forum on teacher diversity and student success today, April 19 at 2pm ET.
  • Writing for the Fordham Institute, Sarah Broome of Thrive Academy outlines the steps schools should take to support the mental health of returning students.
  • AEI visiting fellow John Bailey analyzes the American Rescue Plan and provides a look ahead at opportunities and challenges, including Biden’s Infrastructure plan.
  • The Heritage Foundation hosted a virtual event on redlining, featuring 50CAN’s own Derrell Bradford.
  • Transcend is out with a new report, Responding, Recovering, Reinventing, exploring how the coming months may unfold for schools and how to resist a return to the status quo.
  • Teach For America looks at the importance and effects of increasing girls’ access to STEM education.

Moment of Resilience

Educators in Willis, Texas gather to plan and prepare for the district’s summer enrichment camps, which will feature programs ranging from culinary arts to dance and STEM. As a RAND report determined, making summer programs work for kids requires months of planning from dedicated staff.

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