Will our nation’s K-12 students be back in school this coming fall? We all hope so. In the midst of a global pandemic, many school districts across the country have shifted to remote learning, online classes, pass/fail assessments, and other ways to continue teaching students when school facilities are closed. What will that mean for the fall semester? How will students, teachers, and families catch up from all they will have lost to the COVID-19 pandemic?
As you might expect, some districts are better equipped than others to handle this kind of disruption. The “opportunity gap” between under-served students and their more affluent peers, already deep and persistent, is widening rapidly as more and more students are learning at home and are at risk of falling further behind in their studies. It is the epitome of inequity to provide mandatory classes that can’t be accessed equally. This situation is tough for everyone, but students from under-resourced communities are once again at a real disadvantage.
Some are calling for schools to remain open, or re-open, in the summer. This would prevent a nationwide learning loss of several months. But, with uneven homeschooling for most of a semester, youth in under-resourced communities are going to need much more than that. They are going to need individualized intensive academic and social health support.
Organizations, including ours, have built and refined exactly these kinds of programs for decades, and the results have been significant. Students don’t fall behind academically; in fact, most move ahead. The solution is a mix of targeted education focused on helping every child succeed. The CARES Act is a rare opportunity for states and districts to direct educational funding to leverage this expertise for their students who need it most.
When we emerge on the other side of this situation, where will we find ourselves? Students from every community will have a lot of catching up to do. Districts will not be able to do it alone. We encourage funders and decision-makers to partner with summer and out-of-school learning programs who have a proven track-record of narrowing achievement gaps so we all can make the path to academic and life success a far more equitable one.