“The life-long consequences of a year of lost or disrupted learning are stark. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, a 17-year-old who was seven at the time of the event is more likely than his same-age peers in all but two other cities to be unemployed and not in school. ” Preventing this from happening nationwide as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is paramount for educators.
States, school systems, and school leaders are facing a tremendous and urgent need to plan, launch, and sustain a strong school year — setting up every student for success in the wake of COVID-19-related closures, while prioritizing health, safety, and equity. To support states and school systems as they plan to restart schools and recover student learning loss, Carnegie grantee the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) developed Restart & Recovery: Considerations for Teaching & Learning at the request of state leaders and with the input of a wide body of organizations and experts, including educators from nearly 30 states.
In the report, state departments of education and local school systems, which have primary responsibility for the education of our nation’s students, focus on the questions and answers that matter most for student learning:
- What do students most need to learn?
- How will they learn it?
- What support do teachers need to teach effectively and meet the needs of each student — whether in-person or remotely?
CCSSO’s report includes a fully customizable series of vetted resources addressing system-level conditions, academics, and student well-being. In addition to identifying the questions and issues around which educators and communities can organize their decision-making, key actions to consider are provided for the next academic year in support of three teaching and learning scenarios: in-person learning, remote learning, or hybrid learning. The guidance also organizes actions into three phases for the work: planning (summer 2020), launching (two weeks before the start of school), and sustaining (school year).
State and district education officials, who already have access to numerous reports and websites offering resources and limited time to evaluate them, requested specific recommendations reflecting the best thinking of the expert contributors. In response, CCSSO’s guidance lays out precise recommendations. Here are three that serve as the foundation for the entire report.
Focus on essential knowledge for each grade and resist the temptation to think that students need to learn everything from the prior grade before taking on current grade-level work.
The 2020-2021 Priority Instructional Content in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics issued by Carnegie grantee Student Achievement Partners outlines the essential knowledge for each grade in ELA and math. In science, priority instructional content is not defined as specific topics or ideas but rather as an approach for integrating three dimensions: disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and cross-cutting concepts. The Board on Science Education of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, another Corporation grantee, is drawing on its research portfolio to develop additional guidance for schools on maintaining evidence-based approaches to science education in the context of increased use of virtual and remote learning and reduced instructional time, which will be released in August 2020.
Provide a high-quality curriculum (particularly for literacy, math, and science) to all teachers.
High-quality instructional materials support coherence and offer consistency as students move between remote and in-person learning scenarios. While launching a new curriculum under these circumstances may not be ideal, early adopters of new curriculum last school year report it worked better than expected, and teachers were generally pleased with the accessible resources embedded in high-quality instructional materials and curriculum.
Provide support to individuals and teams of teachers.
A key to successfully implementing a high-quality curriculum will be the time allocated to teams of teachers to study, prepare, co-plan, and assess the impact of the new curriculum with students. Sharing a common curriculum across courses and grade levels will position teachers to focus on priority instructional content and determine which units and lessons or parts of lessons are best suited to face-to-face learning and which can be best adapted to remote learning settings.
“The success of any back-to-school plan rests with the frontline educators charged with implementing it,” said Jim Short, program director of the Leadership and Teaching to Advance Learning portfolio for Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Education program. “School system leaders must continue to allocate the resources and time essential for teachers to meet the needs of their students using high-quality instructional materials supported with curriculum-based professional learning. A common curriculum can help teachers work in teams and plan collaboratively, support one another, and offer coherent guidance to ensure continuity of learning for all students during the upcoming school year.”
Stephanie Hirsh, former executive director of Learning Forward, is an author and consultant specializing in professional learning, leadership development, and organization improvement.
 "The Devastating Effect Hurricane Katrina Had on Education" by Lisa Wade, Pacific Standard Magazine. Originally published September 1, 2015; retrieved June 11, 2020.