Editor’s note: This was the first-place submission, out of twenty-five, in Fordham’s 2021 Wonkathon, in which we asked participants to answer the question, “How can schools best address students’ mental-health needs coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic without shortchanging academic instruction?”
Cumulative effects: How Boston’s exam school enrollment pipeline locks out too many students of color
Editor’s note: This was the first-place submission, out of twenty-five, in, in which we asked participants to answer the question, “How can schools best address students’ mental-health needs coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic without shortchanging academic instruction?”
“Grades are a good indicator of how a student is doing, but if you just look at grades, you miss a lot of things: social changes, friend-group changes, attendance, health, all of a sudden a student is getting too skinny. It's like a puzzle, and everybody holds a piece of the puzzle so when we are all together, we can see the whole kid.”
—Janice Eldridge, Director of Schools, BARR Center
Over a year has passed since the Covid-19 pandemic forced the extended closure of thousands of schools across the nation. As districts plan and resource the safe reopenings of schools, students, families, and educators continue to face daunting tribulations from the Covid-19 pandemic. From months of isolation, fear and uncertainty, and varying levels of trauma, Covid-19 undeniably took a toll on most Americans—with specific harm to students’ mental health. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency room visits for children’s mental health concerns increased 24 percent for children ages 5–11 and 31 percent for children ages 12–17 from April 2020 to October 2020, as compared to the year prior. Unfortunately, for young people in the United States, mental health concerns are far from new or unique. Over the last several years, this generation of students saw record anxiety, depression, and suicide rates. In fact, one out of every five students are diagnosed with a mental health diagnosis—which most often goes untreated.
The ongoing youth mental health crisis in this country is something school administrators and educators know all too well. With scarce resources and qualified professionals, schools faced this ongoing battle even before Covid closures. Now, as so many others in unknown circumstances, school officials are challenged as students plan to re-enter their buildings in the Fall. With this in mind, school administrators, educators, and staff are faced with the daunting question: How do we help students and ourselves to connect, heal, and learn?
Status quo approach to student mental health
Currently, our education system narrowly focuses on a fragment of a student’s overall self—mainly academic and cognitive development. Issues linger concerning the role of districts, schools, and educators in providing and facilitating the appropriate mental health supports and needs of students. Is it the school’s responsibility to provide a comprehensive mental health framework? Is the mental health of students and staff central to the mission and goals of the school system? Research and practice would indicate “yes.” The intentional support of mental and emotional health positively affects students’ ability to succeed within the classroom, resulting in increased social-emotional skills, higher academic achievement, and decreased emotional and behavioral problems. Thus, students’ emotional and social health need to be considered as prerequisite to academics. Students must be seen as “whole” beings. Districts and schools should reinforce the importance of the “whole student” by acknowledging shared responsibility of student mental health as much as the other essential student supports and needs provided by schools.
Disrupting the system: A new approach to teacher teams
To disrupt the status quo, school leaders need to seize the opportunity created by Covid-19 to reimagine “whole student” support and the role of teachers within its framework. As an innovative approach, the creation of structured, cross-disciplinary teacher teams and meetings allows schools to leverage existing staff and resources to effectively address and maximize student learning and well-being. Teacher teaming in education is not a new concept, but the intentionality and structure of teams needs refreshing. Teachers too often work in “silos,” which promotes a singular focus on one’s own classroom and expertise. During teacher meetings, time and focus are reserved for discussion of curriculum, instruction, or specific subject matters. As a typical, standard approach in practice, this often overlooks the students, classes, and areas most in need. Taking away the siloed experience and linear focus of teachers will result in positive impacts on both students and teachers.
To capitalize on the potential of teacher teams and meetings for addressing the “whole student,” I outline below a set of recommendations to guide the creation, structure, and functions of effective teacher teams and meetings followed by policy implications for schools, districts, and educational policymakers.
Teacher teams and meetings: Multiple perspectives, holistic focus for student mental health
Whole student focus and considerations
- Teacher teams discuss each and every student within cohort and/or grade.
- Teacher team discussions focus on all levels of learners from “at-risk” to advanced. Students must also be identified for acceleration, moving average learners to a higher level, and moving advanced learners into more advanced coursework, such as advanced-placement classes.
- Teacher teams are trained and supported to be attentive to the whole student and building relationships.
- Teacher teams conduct root cause analyses of student concerns to understand the multiple systems and factors impacting the student and the student’s environment.
- Teacher teams co-construct understandings of the students to fully assess and address students’ individual needs.
- Teachers leverage knowledge of the whole student to impact classroom instruction and relationships by understanding student’s strengths.
Data- and transparency-based practices
- Teacher teams collect, share, and analyze qualitative and qualitative data in meetings. Quantitative data includes grades, course assignments, attendance, suspensions, and standardized test scores. Qualitative data includes changes in the student’s appearance, peer group, demeanor, life events, information from family/peers, and student strengths.
- Teacher teams discuss each student from multiple points of view to provide a range of perspectives and to challenge potential bias and stereotypes.
- Teacher teams discuss each student by leading with the student’s strengths, and if needed, end with a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goal and intervention plan. The intervention plan is shared with the whole team and the student.
- Teacher teams check on the status of each student intervention on a weekly basis, based on data collected, and either modify the plan or scale it to other students.
- Teacher teams participate in training, receive coaching, and are equipped in continuous improvement practices to effectively collect and use real-time data.
Bolstering teacher efficacy and wellbeing
- Teacher teams foster stronger relationships among teachers and other school staff.
- Teacher teams report increases in knowledge about students and their learning or support needs, and strengthen teachers’ professional self-esteem and, ultimately, well-being.
- Teacher teams report affirmation of knowing that their actions have a positive impact on students helps to foster educator resiliency.
Stronger teacher collaboration
- Teacher teams report enhanced collaboration with other teachers and higher levels of self-efficacy in affecting students’ learning, motivation, and behavior through this team and meeting structure.
- Teacher teams are cross-disciplinary cohort-based teams that break down typical department-level silos and foster collaboration among teachers and staff to better understand and serve students.
- Teacher teams’ collaboration encourages teachers to be vulnerable and hold each other accountable, with meeting times being required and team members holding equally important roles within the meeting.
- Teacher team relationships are reinforced through the collaborative nature of brainstorming interventions and developing strategies as a team.
- Teacher teams with a shared lens, belief system, and vocabulary prioritize relationships and use of data to empower all individuals within the system including students, teachers, and other school staff.
Policy Implications for schools, districts, and educational policymakers:
- Integrate professional time/adequate scheduling for teachers to meet during the workday.
- Incentivize and highlight connections of mental health, social-emotional learning, and academics.
- Adopt policies and programs grounded within the “whole student” approach.
- Establish adequate and flexible funding for SEL-related practices.
- Advocate for training and professional development opportunities to support student SEL.
Editor’s note: This was the second-place submission, out of twenty-five, in Fordham’s 2021 Wonkathon, in which we asked participants to answer the question, “How can schools best address students’ mental-health needs coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic without shortchanging academic instruction?”
It is (hopefully) clear to all in education by now that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought on significant mental health challenges for our K–12 students. But it has long been understood by many in education that way before the novel coronavirus, the mental health of our students was being neglected on a pervasive scale. To no one’s surprise, these challenges were more widespread in traditionally underserved communities. That trend appears to be steady in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The silver lining of the pandemic, perhaps, is that there is much more willingness and political capital to address students’ mental health needs as we slowly find ourselves on the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There are, however, several ways in which the education world can mess this up. For one, we cannot develop social and emotional learning supports that take away from academic instruction. In the education policy world, I have begun hearing more and more ideas to tackle mental health challenges of our students that knowingly and without hesitation take away from academic instruction. The gaps that exist in learning, particularly reading and math, have grown to a scale that borders on a crisis. Neglect for academic instruction will do us no good. Secondly, expectations must remain high. This goes for both academic expectations, as well as behavioral. And lastly, the student must be at the center of their own education. The last point is the most important and should be the foundation for how schools address the mental health needs of their students. Here’s how we can do that.
Schools need to develop in-class programming that is focused on teaching students the purpose of school and their education. In other words, help students understand the “bigger why.” Right now, we simply do not do that enough or in an effective way, and it results in students feeling alienated every day when they walk into the front door of the school. When I was a teacher in West Dallas, I experienced this with my students on a near daily basis. And I taught juniors; we need to have this type of programming at much, much younger ages. We don’t need to be the world’s most recognized youth psychologist to know that students lacking a clear purpose struggle with mental health challenges. We’ve known that for years when it comes to designing engaging curricula and developing new classroom management systems. When students understand why they are doing something, engagement spikes and discipline plummets. Our teaching practices should focus on and learn from the richness of skills, networks, abilities, and cultural knowledge that our students and families have that often go ignored and unutilized. This “richness” can be considered cultural capital, meaning there is significant value in the cultural experiences and knowledge that exist within students’ own lives. These types of capital can draw on the experience and knowledge of our students and allow for that capital to have a place in the classroom. After the alienation experienced during the last year, on top of how alienating school can be pre-pandemic, this approach could do wonders for re-building and co-creating senses of belonging across schools and communities. And incorporating more student experience and removal from the often-repressive nature of the learning process could have significant positive effects on student engagement, motivation, and the ability to manage behavior.
This practice could include a wraparound framework for communities and educators that includes ethnographic research of a student’s home, interviews with family and community members, development of an in-school or after-school program that incorporates out-of-school experiences, and then potentially a way of altering education and curriculum based on this research. This kind of practice would place a heavy emphasis on the personal narratives of students and their families, which will be more important after the past year than ever before. This could be very beneficial for utilization in the urban classroom specifically. Households can contain ample resources—both cultural and cognitive—that could have potential utility in the classroom.
Part of the problem is that too often when discussing our students’ futures, such as college and career readiness, academic factors or benchmarks are the sole focus. What is regularly ignored is the importance of mindset and self-efficacy on the path towards future success for our students. Time and again, research shows that in low-income and low-education households, positive social self-efficacy is linked directly to more positive beliefs about future education and career outlook. Our policies on teaching and learning should recognize this and solve for it: Students that feel that they understand the purpose of their education and connect with peers and adults in the building develop more intrinsic aspirations for college and career and are more likely to meet academic standards for admission into college.
This “re-thinking” of our cultural and instructional approach to teaching and learning can ensure that schools are in a position to best address students’ mental health needs coming out of the pandemic. The reality is that we need to admit that school can be alienating—to both students and families—and do whatever we can to fix that.
Editor’s note: This was the third-place submission, out of twenty-five, in, in which we asked participants to answer the question, “How can schools best address students’ mental-health needs coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic without shortchanging academic instruction?”
When district leaders in Washoe County School District, Nevada, worried this year about supporting mental health and academics, they knew which experts to turn to. It was the same group of experts whose ideas in past years helped them decrease dropout rates, improve classroom instruction, and develop statewide standards—students.
This February, they brought together more than 200 students in a virtual conference to analyze data, discuss the challenges, and develop solutions for supporting students’ mental health. Working alongside district leaders, they’re planning how to build on the districts’ long-term implementation of social and emotional learning (SEL), including integrating academics and SEL in an existing tutoring program, supporting teachers in providing a space for students to discuss difficult topics, and developing strategies to connect students and families in the summer.
Coming out of the pandemic, there will be plenty of talk about how best to address students’ mental health needs without shortchanging academic instruction. But rather than gather school system leaders in a room to debate competing priorities, look toward systemic, long-term solutions informed by those who are most impacted by educational decisions.
If we truly want to support students’ mental wellness and academic growth, then we need to work with students, educators, families, and community partners to create a systems-wide approach to social, emotional, and academic learning.
To envision a systems-wide approach, think bigger than a one-off program that teaches coping skills, and ask how SEL will show up throughout all students’ educational experiences as a foundation for their learning and development. Draw connections between standalone teacher trainings on trauma-informed practices to broader structures and policies that allow educators to feel supported, connected, and empowered. And when you look to hire much-needed mental health professionals, ensure that they’ll be surrounded with school systems that prioritize SEL throughout students’ education. Without a systemic approach, any attempt to address mental health will inevitably run the risk of shortchanging other priorities or becoming unsustainable.
So how do you promote SEL and academics systemically? Education leaders will need to: 1) create the infrastructure to align often competing priorities, 2) strengthen adult competencies and capacity, 3) create environments and experiences that fully support all students’ learning and development, and 4) use data and assessment systems to more holistically measure students’ outcomes and experiences.
Here’s how to get started:
Build the relationships, partnerships, and infrastructure needed to align social, emotional, and academic priorities. With so many concerns and priorities that will shape the coming years, education leaders will need to create cohesion and coordination across their many stakeholders. This will require deeper partnerships with students and families in order to develop responsive plans that truly address the social, emotional, and academic needs of all students. To build this foundation:
- Create structures to better connect with families and students who have been traditionally left out of school decision-making and those who have not been well-served by existing efforts. For example, work with community partners who have existing relationships or create cross-role teams with well-connected staff, family, or student volunteers to double-down on personalized outreach efforts.
- Set up two-way communication channels that keep all staff, students, families, and community partners informed and engaged around SEL and academic priorities.
- Examine where SEL, mental health, and academic efforts have been impactful and where more support is needed. Determine whether strategies equitably support all students, whether school and community resources are efficiently leveraged, and which programs or practices you should continue, modify, or stop.
- Build a broad coalition—with representation from educators, mental health professionals, community partners, families, and students—to develop a systems-wide plan for supporting students SEL and academics.
Design opportunities where educators can connect, heal, and build their capacity to support students. There will be plenty of talk this summer and fall about the types of professional learning that educators will need to support students’ mental health, make up for academic “learning loss,” and implement new programs. On the heels of one of the most difficult years educators have ever faced, these efforts need to also account for educator’s own social, emotional, and mental health needs. To strengthen adult SEL competencies and capacity:
- Establish dedicated space and time for staff to come together to build relationships, practice self-care, and engage in adult SEL practices.
- Ensure access to mental health support for educators as needed. Check in regularly with staff, and establish a process to identify and provide support for adults at higher risk for significant stress or trauma.
- Create opportunities for innovation and educator leadership. Build consistent time into the schedule for staff to collaborate and share successes and challenges with each other. Explore new ways to team teachers to play to their strengths to deliver instruction and student support.
- Work with educators to design embedded professional learning to build educators’ capacity to support students’ social, emotional, and academic growth. Define professional learning priorities aligned to academic and SEL goals, and identify metrics that track observable, measurable progress in staff’s professional development. Provide educators with coaching and feedback on their SEL practices, including enhanced opportunities for peer coaching and learning.
Create safe, supportive, and equitable learning environments that promote all students’ social, emotional, and academic learning. Brain science tells us that students learn best in emotionally safe and stimulating environments, through trusting relationships, and when they have opportunities to make connections between social, emotional, and academic learning. A large body of research has also demonstrated that high-quality SEL opportunities contribute to students’ academic growth, mental health, and long-term success. To create environments and experiences that promote SEL to support students’ mental health and academics:
- Build structures that cultivate supportive adult-student and peer relationships. For example, examine and revise daily schedules and adult assignments to maximize relationship-building, such as “looping,” student advisory groups, and pairing adults with students to ensure every student has at least one adult at school who checks in with them daily.
- Weave in opportunities for students to develop, practice, and reflect upon social and emotional competencies throughout the day—through explicit instruction of social and emotional skills, SEL integrated into academic instruction, and community-building opportunities. Evidence-based SEL programs help ensure high-quality opportunities for all students.
- Identify and implement a comprehensive system of support for students with additional needs. Determine what resources exist to meet mental health needs and where additional staffing or community partnerships are needed. Establish a process to identify and provide students with additional support when needed, and work in partnership with families and students to monitor interventions.
- Create opportunities for students to express their voice and work together on solutions to issues they care about. This offers students meaningful ways of practicing their social and emotional skills, and supports educators in designing more effective SEL and academic plans informed by students’ perspectives.
Expand data practices to more holistically measure student growth and well-being. A commitment to ongoing continuous improvement will help ensure that existing and new strategies translate into intended academic, social, and emotional outcomes. This will mean collecting and reflecting on data that provide a fuller picture of students’ strengths and needs, beyond single measures of academic test scores. Students, educators, and families will be essential to rethinking assessment systems that better support social, emotional, and academic learning. To rethink assessment systems and promote continuous improvement:
- Review and update existing assessment policies and data infrastructures to more holistically measure students’ social, emotional, and academic development, and address inequities in opportunities and experiences across classrooms and schools. For example, consider data on school and classroom climate, social and emotional competence, and student and family experiences.
- Ensure structures and resources that support schools in the regular collection of data on student outcomes, student and family experiences, and school climate. Establish data systems that support analysis of data disaggregated by key subgroups (e.g., race, income, gender) to allow issues of equity to be addressed.
- Establish systems for sharing and involving educators, students, families, and communities in data reflection and planning for continuous improvement of SEL and academic efforts.
Rather than position mental health and academics in competition, leverage SEL to create a throughline that supports all educational priorities. By working with students, educators, families, and communities to systemically implement SEL, we can create the foundation for all students to thrive socially, emotionally, and academically.
Cumulative effects: How Boston’s exam school enrollment pipeline locks out too many students of color
Exam schools are under increased scrutiny for their admission policies and how those affect diversity in the schools. Thus, this recent study, conducted by scholars from Harvard and Boston University, is particularly timely, as it examines how both the pipeline and the admissions process for Boston’s three exam schools affect racial diversity in the schools and racial gaps in enrollment.
Boston Public Schools (BPS) has three exam schools serving students grades 7–12. Together, these enroll 25 percent of BPS students in the eligible grades. Nearly 75 percent of BPS students are Black or Hispanic; in the exam schools, it’s less than 40 percent, and just 20 percent at Boston Latin School, which is the oldest school in America and considered the most selective and prestigious of the three. During the study period, analysts tracked students through the admissions pipeline to determine which aspects of the process may contribute the most to the racial gaps in enrollment. Specifically, they examine test taking, test scores, GPA, exam school preferences by students, exam school invitations, and enrollment.
At the time, BPS required that potential exam school enrollees in the fall of sixth grade take the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE)—a third-party exam popular in independent private schools—and also rank the three schools in order of their preference. The authors examine the BPS fifth-grade classes of 2006–07 through 2012–13, including demographic data. Because over 95 percent of BPS students are listed as recipients of free or reduced-price lunches, the researchers utilize a zip-code-based measure of poverty instead, indicating whether a student lives in a zip code with an average income in the bottom 50 percent of the sample. They run multiple models but find that the most stable and preferred of these includes scores from the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) as a primary control.
Descriptively, they find that although Black and Hispanic students comprise nearly 80 percent of BPS fifth graders, they are less than half as likely as their White counterparts to take the qualifying test and less than a quarter as likely to be invited to enroll at one of the exam schools in seventh grade. However, across all subgroups, acceptance rates among invited students are similar (exceeding 80 percent), and once enrolled in an exam school, Black/Hispanic students are as likely to remain there through twelfth grade.
The large racial gaps in enrollment are driven in part by large gaps in baseline academic achievement. Black and Hispanic BPS fifth graders score, on average, at the 43rd–45th percentile of the BPS distribution on the MCAS, while White and Asian students score 20–30 percentiles higher. But the enrollment gaps are also due to differences in test-taking rates, as even among those kids with similar top-quartile MCAS scores, Black and Hispanic students are roughly 20 percentage points less likely than white students to take the ISEE at all. And when they do test, they score 10 percentiles lower than their White peers. The score gap significantly narrows—as do differences in GPAs—when looking at high achievers from the same primary/elementary schools, but it doesn’t disappear entirely. The analysts also find that Black and Hispanic test takers are less likely to rank Boston Latin as their first choice. The cumulative effect of these differences throughout the pipeline is that Black and Hispanic students are less likely to be invited to an exam school, especially Boston Latin. If no invitation is offered, neither acceptance nor enrollment can follow.
What can be done to solve the problem? The researchers simulate a number of different scenarios in which racial diversity in enrollment might be increased and find that the most effective would be to use an MCAS-based admission by school rather than the GPA/ISEE combination. Specifically, invite the top 17 percent of fifth graders at each BPS primary school to attend exam schools in seventh grade, with the top 7 percent receiving invitations to Boston Latin. This method increases Black and Hispanic representation among invited students overall from 38 to 49 percent and among those invited to Boston Latin from 21 to 38 percent.
It would be a cost and time saver, as no additional outside exam would need to be purchased or administered, and it would mean that every student would be required to take the “entrance exam” (i.e., MCAS) rather than needing to opt in to start the process. But it would also mean that less-qualified students from certain schools would replace more-qualified students, because there’s a scarcity of exam schools (unlike using local norms such as “top 10 percent” for gifted and talented programs that can simply be expanded to serve more children). That may (or may not) be a trade-off worth making.
Either way, some steps toward a new framework have already been made, with BPS easing access to the optional ISEE administration in 2019 and temporarily removing the exam portion of the entrance requirement in response to Covid testing restrictions in 2020. The latter move has thus far stood up to legal scrutiny, but the parents group that brought the suit has promised to appeal. As the pandemic eases and in-person testing can soon resume, the lawsuit will likely be moot, but the problem of underrepresentation of minority students will not, nor will the problem that school systems need to do much more to address the huge achievement gap that arises for Black and Hispanic students by the time they emerge from the elementary grades.
This report offers a road map to a possible fix that would identify more capable students and help move them through the pipeline to enrollment. But it is far from perfect.
SOURCE: Melanie Rucinski and Joshua Goodman, “Racial Diversity and Measuring Merit: Evidence from Boston’s Exam School Admissions,” Education Finance and Policy (February 2021).
As post-pandemic life cautiously starts to take shape here in America, uncertainty abounds. Will our systems and processes and activities eagerly snap back to their 2019 forms? Or will our lives in 2021 and beyond take on new contours influenced by what we have learned, for good and ill, during the challenges forced upon us by 2020?from the Afterschool Alliance that addresses students’ summer experiences might provide a clue.
“America After 3pm” is a periodic, nationally-representative survey of randomly selected parents of school-aged children. Pre-pandemic, this survey was conducted with nearly 30,000 households between January and mid-March 2020, providing baseline data on students’ summer experiences in 2019 as they had done in years past. These experiences are broadly defined to include camps, classes, vacations, work, and more.
Five additional data sources, two smaller parental surveys and three questionnaires of summer and afterschool program providers across the country, were obtained between August 2020 and mid-March 2021.
In 2019, 47 percent of families surveyed reported that at least one of their children participated in a summer program, continuing the upward trend seen in 2008 (25 percent) and 2013 (33 percent). Most common was a non-STEM specialty program (such as visual arts, sports, or drama), followed by voluntary summer programming run by schools or districts. STEM programs, jobs and internships, and mandatory or voluntary summer school brought up the rear. Overall, 95 percent of parents reported satisfaction with their child’s summer experience. While less than half of parents in 2019 said they preferred summer experiences to be “different” than the school year, three in four of those surveyed said that it was important that those experiences “helped keep their child from losing academic ground.” More physical activity, life skills, and access to the outdoors led the list of differences preferred, but differences varied between low-income and higher-income parents and between different racial and ethnic groups.
Forty-two percent of higher-income families reported that their children did not participate in summer programming due to “other family activities,” such as in-home supervision or vacation travel, while 35 percent of low-income families reported the same. But parents also reported that nearly one in three children not in a structured program during the 2019 summer would have been enrolled if one were available to them. “Availability” is not strictly defined, and that does raise some questions. It would be interesting to know, for example, how many parents forewent an available but undesirable opportunity (say, a baseball bootcamp) because a truly desired opportunity (say, a poetry camp) was not on offer near them. Using the general terminology, the report determines that up to 13.9 million children nationwide were unable to access a desired opportunity. Expense was the most commonly cited barrier to participation, with the average cost of activities estimated at $758 to $900—or approximately $200 per week—based on type and length of program. Transportation to and from programs and simple lack of awareness of available opportunities were also cited as barriers, but future surveys would do well to better define that term.
During the pandemic summer of 2020, participation in summer activities predictably declined. Thirty-four percent of families surveyed reported that at least one of their children participated in a structured summer experience. Thirty-seven percent reported that programming was fully virtual, 36 percent report that it was in fully in-person, and 26 percent reported a hybrid model. Participation in in-person programs was affected by social distancing requirements; 40 percent of in-person program providers reported running a waitlist in 2020. Satisfaction dipped a little but remained high, with nine in ten parents reporting that they were happy with their child’s summer program overall. Interestingly, the average cost for summer programming in 2020 was reported at about $120 per week, down more than $80 from the previous year. This was likely due to a combination of reduced cost to conduct virtual versus in-person programs and the availability of Covid relief funding to assist schools, organizations, and families. Forty-eight percent of parents reported that their child’s 2020 summer experience came at no cost to them. Schools provided about 30 percent of summer programming, community-based organizations provided about 23 percent, and cities and towns provided 21 percent. Unmet demand for summer programs remained high once again, with 57 percent of families who reported not having a child in a summer program saying they would have liked to have enrolled their child in one if they could have, although the caveats around the definition of “availability” remain.
What might all this mean for the summer that is now upon us? That’s far from clear, but what we can see so far is troubling. Seventy-nine percent of program providers surveyed in February and March 2021 said they would be providing structured activities this summer, but 36 percent of those said that they are most concerned about their ability to meet the demand from families. This despite the fact that the American Rescue Plan provides more than $1 billion for summer enrichment activities and allows state and local education agencies to target billions of additional dollars to summer learning programs to help students recover from the pandemic. Not to mention the, which parents could choose to use on enrichment activities like summer camp. , but even those with robust programs are from calling it “summer school” and from mandating attendance for even those students with the clearest needs. Despite the fact that many of the barriers to access reported in previous years—cost, transportation, awareness—might be swept away in the tsunami of money available, and despite the need for more and better programming following more than a year of disrupted learning, the survey data seem to point to more of the same: sizeable numbers of students missing out on summer opportunities.
Even though the desire to return to pre-pandemic norms may be strong, we must be clear-eyed about whether those norms were good enough to begin with. And despite the obstacles we faced in 2020, they could help inform improvement so that a better version of systems and activities can go forward. How this summer’s programming for students fares could be a harbinger of what more is to come. Here’s hoping for detailed data and robust analysis thereof.
SOURCE: Afterschool Alliance, “” (May 2021).
On this week’s podcast, Derrell Bradford, newly appointed president of 50CAN, joins Mike Petrilli and David Griffith to discuss whether New York City and other major districts should still offer a virtual option this fall. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines how well Arkansas’s middle and high school postsecondary-readiness metrics predict college outcomes.
Amber's Research Minute
Candace Hester, Stephen Plank, Chenna Cotla, Paul Bailey, and Dean Gerdeman, "Identifying Indicators that Predict Postsecondary Readiness and Success in Arkansas," Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest (June 2021).
If you listen on Apple Podcasts, please leave us a rating and review - we'd love to hear what you think! The Education Gadfly Show is available on all major podcast platforms.
- Leading mayoral candidates in New York City strongly support charter schools, a welcome shift from DeBlasio’s position. —Politico
- “You shouldn't need a college degree to have a decent life.” —LA Times
- Louisiana’s board of education is considering giving more weight to growth in school ratings to reward improvement. —AP
- Yes, Boston parents and community members should follow teacher union contract negotiations, especially to have a say with how federal relief funds are used. —Boston Globe
- Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz’s son just graduated from one of her schools. —New York Post
- Here are principles for teaching about respectful discourse in classrooms as an antidote to the culture of censorship. —Greg Lukianoff
- California’s education department is contemplating removing math tracking, which may slow down talented students. —Washington Post
- Without proper supports for disadvantaged students, California’s proposed math changes are little more than “toothless guidance.” —Washington Post
- “Pandemic relief money is flowing to class-size reduction but research evidence for it isn’t strong.” —Hechinger Report
- A defense of the Educating for American Democracy proposal —National Review
- New data reveal a 432-hour in-person learning gap produced by “the politics of pandemic schooling.” —The 74 Million
- “Chances grow that Supreme Court will take up Maine’s ban on religious school funding.” —Bangor Daily News
- One of the nation’s leading school districts, Fairfax, Virginia, has been under fire from parents this year who resent the board’s resistance to reopening and some of its members’ woke positions. —Christian Science Monitor
- History textbooks omit the Tulsa Race massacre and countless instances of organized violence against Black Americans. It’s time to teach those stories. —Tom Hanks
- Despite Illinois’s efforts to create quality summer school programs and incentives to participate, districts are struggling to recruit teachers and students for them. —Chicago Tribune
- This Brookings survey shows key reasons why some parents want to keep kids virtual in the fall, with thoughts on how schools can engage with them. —Brookings