It has been two months since the COVID-19 pandemic altered nearly every aspect of our lives. The pandemic has revealed stories of heroism, humanity and innovation, yet also exposed systemic inefficiencies and inequities. As a nation, we have been forced to reflect on the strengths and challenges inherent in the pre-COVID status quo while also anxiously imagining what the “new normal” means for ourselves, our families and our communities. This is especially true in education.
State and local education leaders have spent the past two months focused on quickly pivoting to remote and virtual learning and providing students with wraparound supports for the remainder of this school year. However, they have also been considering what education could look like for the 2020-21 school year and beyond.
It’s clear that decisions about reopening schools cannot be made in isolation. We learn more every day about the public health considerations of COVID-19 and the role schools might play in increasing or mitigating the impact of the virus on communities and populations within communities. At the same time, when and how schools resume is inextricably linked to efforts to “reopen” state and local economies in terms of parents’ ability to work outside the home. The rate and level of quality of student instruction during the pandemic has varied widely across the nation, states, regions and even from neighborhood to neighborhood; educators and parents are understandably concerned about the short- and long-term impacts of potential learning loss and missing student support.
New Resource on Reopening Schools
To support state policymakers and education leaders, ExcelinEd has developed Reopening Schools After COVID-19 Closures: Considerations for States, which was created with input and feedback from national, state and local leaders.
This resource outlines a variety of approaches and considerations for reopening based on the following questions:
- When and how should schools reopen? (After it is safe from a health perspective to do so)
- What could options for school schedules, student placement and educator staffing “look like” when we reopen?
- How should we provide supports to students, particularly those who are most in need, when schools reopen?
The document outlines a variety of options addressing each of these questions without promoting one option over another. Rather, ExcelinEd’s intent is to share ideas with state leaders and policymakers—all of whom are grappling with some version of these questions.
5 Trends from the State Leader Survey on Reopening Schools
During ExcelinEd’s conversations with education leaders, many expressed the desire to learn how other states are approaching the complex and multifaceted process of reopening schools in ways that support student safety, academic progress and whole-child well-being. We invited state education chiefs and governor’s offices in all 50 states to participate in an anonymous survey on reopening schools to capture the current directional thinking of state leaders.
Thirty-five state leaders responded, and we’ve published their responses in State Leader Survey on Reopening Schools: Survey Results. (As the survey is anonymous, none of the responses can be attributed to a specific state or state leader.)
The results contained five major trends:
- A majority of state leaders indicated they were going to allow local districts to determine their reopening schedules. However, several respondents are considering reopening school campuses early statewide or requiring a phased-in reopening schedule that would open campuses earlier than a normal fall schedule, at least for some students. Additionally, a majority of state leaders report considering multiple options for expanding school calendars to mitigate learning loss from this spring.
- There is shared agreement that students will not be going back to school exactly as they did last fall. While state leaders are considering several different options for grouping students and teachers, nearly all respondents report considering both the hybrid/asynchronous learning model and staggered attendance schedules. Additionally, most state leaders reported considering multiple solutions, suggesting that states may be considering a portfolio of approaches to student/teacher classroom assignments.
- There seems to be more clarity in leaders’ planning for the academic needs of students than for social/emotional, health and safety or wraparound services. Most respondents indicated that they are considering plans to require, recommend or support the assessment of student academic progress and learning loss when schools begin the 2020-21 school year. However, state leaders’ responses suggest states may be in earlier stages of planning related to meeting the social and emotional needs of students upon reopening schools.
- A majority of state leaders report considering more seamless transitions to virtual instruction by “practicing” required distance learning days, investment in infrastructure and supporting the development of plans to ensure continuity of learning. However, there were no discernible trends related to specific strategies.
- State leaders are still in the very early stages of planning for 2020-21, although the survey responses reflect deep thinking and careful consideration of many possible options. Many of the responses indicated ongoing conversations about specific options and approaches, as well as specific challenges they are working to address.
As state leaders continue to evaluate which options are most appropriate for their unique context, they will need to consider additional issues, including:
- Varying direct and indirect costs of implementing different models;
- Collective bargaining and educator contracts;
- Professional development to support high-quality implementation;
- State-level and district/school-level capacity to implement each identified model; and
- Strategies that set clear expectations for quality while promoting local decision-making and innovation.
ExcelinEd is committed to supporting states and leaders as they continue to navigate the complex decisions related to continuing instruction, reopening schools and supporting students, educators and families.
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About the author
Patricia Levesque @levesquepat
Patricia is the Chief Executive Officer for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She served as Governor Jeb Bush’s deputy chief of staff for education, enterprise solutions for government, minority procurement, and business and professional regulation. Previously, Patricia served six years in the Florida Legislature in the Speakers Office and as staff director over education policy. Contact Patricia at PatriciaLevesque@excelined.org