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States Overlook Academics in School Reopening Plans, Analysis Finds

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State guidance on reopening schools largely focuses on health and safety practices without adequately addressing the challenges of keeping students on-track academically following extended coronavirus closures, a new analysis of state reopening plans finds.

The report, released Wednesday by education organizations the Center for Reinventing Public Education and Public Impact, urges states to provide more direction to districts as they face another unprecedented school year. Many districts plan to start the year with remote instruction, and others are preparing to transition to remote learning in the case of spiking virus rates, adding hurdles to academic plans.

But just 15 state plans require districts to prepare for a remote-only option, and just 11 states expect specific practices from districts to support students during remote learning, the analysis says.

States plans defer to districts on issues like "access to instruction in the face of building closures, action on the digital divide, and plans to address student learning loss, the report says.

"The absence of clear expectations is certain to contribute to inequities across school and district responses," CRPE writes in a summary of the findings. "With a large fraction of American students—if not all—expected to learn remotely for at least part of the school year, states must step in to address the gaps in learning students experienced this spring, avert a worsening educational crisis, and help local leaders manage the massive challenges posed by the pandemic."

CRPE has tracked state and local responses to school closures since the spring, when an analysis of sample district plans found "just one in three districts expected teachers to provide instruction, track student engagement, and monitor academic progress for all students." The new analysis suggests more state directives are necessary to ensure those issues are addressed as schools reopen.

Some state education leaders have argued in favor of giving districts more control over when and how to reopen and how to address health, safety, and academics. They've cited differing public health conditions and community needs.

States urged districts to consider multiple learning scenarios (remote, hybrid, and in-person) and often provided resources and recommendations toward this end. But making recommendations won't ensure that districts adopt a strong plan.

The new analysis says "the lack of decisive state action on remote learning is a missed opportunity."

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Among the findings:

  • 10 states' plans detail requirements to support students with disabilities in remote learning.
  • Seven states' plans detail requirements to support English-language learnings in remote learning.
  • Most states failed to create "concrete plans to address the digital divide," by outlining ways to ensure internet access for students who lack it.
  • Five states require districts to conduct diagnostic assessments to gauge students' learning progress.

While sounding alarm bells, the analysis also praises the features of some states' plans.

"Rhode Island's reopening plan requires districts to submit evidence of comparable levels of rigor between online and in-person instruction," the report says."In California, the state legislature enacted a variety of new remote learning requirements to address gaps that emerged in the spring. Districts are required to align remote instruction with grade-level standards, provide support to address the needs of students who are not at grade level, and offer daily live interaction with certificated employees and peers for the purposes of instruction and progress monitoring."

You can dig into states' learning plans in this CRPE database.

Photo: Terrell Bell, wearing a protective face mask, looks at a learning guide he picked up last spring for his little sister at John H. Webster Elementary School in Philadelphia. --AP Photo/Matt Rourke


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