State of the American Student: 3 big ideas for ‘better days’

Nothing short of a comprehensive transformation of the education system is needed, experts say.

Big, bold ideas are critical to solving the “truly wicked problems” K-12 leaders face in getting their students, staff and schools back on track over the next several years. Several of those solutions are detailed in “The State of the American Student: Fall 2022” report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education think tank.

“A magical catch-up did not happen last year,” the Center’s director Robin Lake says. “When we talk about the state of the American student, there is not one state of the American student.”

The report goes further, saying the “situation could be significantly worse than the early data suggest.” There is not yet enough data on several fronts, including on how severely the pandemic affected the most vulnerable students and how students are performing in science, civics, foreign languages and other key subjects not covered by standardized assessments. There are also concerns that evidence collected so far “may understate inequitable impacts or underestimate the long-term effects on students,” Lake says.

Nothing short of a comprehensive transformation of the education system is needed to prepare today’s students for college and careers, Lake adds. “We could act like this is a national crisis and mount an unprecedented effort to give students what they are owed,” Lake says. “New and better days are possible if set our sights high and act with urgency and creativity.”

The “State of American Student” report details several of the Center’s big ideas for academic recovery:

1. Individualized, “boundary-spanning” solutions for every student

The Center on Reinventing Public Education’s researchers believes that giving families comprehensive information about each student’s specific needs and progress is the only way those students will recover and advance in their education. “Every student and their family should have a full account of what they are owed, what it will take to meet their future aspirations, and how their education system will deliver it.” This includes providing funds for out-of-school tutoring, mental health services, and other supplemental learning opportunities.

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Idaho’s Empowering Parents program and Texas’ Supplemental Special Education Services grants were cited as examples of states that are offering students flexibility in accessing resources. Community organizations will also be key in helping districts provide critical assistance. Oakland REACH, which has partnered with Oakland USD, operates a virtual learning hub that focuses on literacy.

“During the recovery, such collaborations should continue and expand, not recede,” the report says. “If communities can marshall resources during a crisis, imagine what they can do with time to plan, strategize, and invest federal COVID relief dollars.”

2. Ambitious national goals for recovery

The federal government and philanthropic organizations now pumping unprecedented levels of funding into schools can hold those schools accountable by setting ambitious goals and promoting large-scale efforts to track progress. This would encourage states, districts and communities to also determine post-pandemic priorities and goals. Educators should also be tracking student welfare and college and readiness at the same time they are assessing academic performance.

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At the moment, there is no comprehensive national data on students who dropped out or disappeared during the pandemic, how students with disabilities are faring, and how many high school students will graduate in the coming years unprepared for college and careers, the report says.

3. Large-scale research and development on innovation

Schools must seriously consider shifting from the “one classroom, 30 kids” model to building diverse teams of educators who can design rich learning experiences inside and outside school. This could reduce workloads for teachers and give them more time to collaborate and innovate new instructional approaches.

Mesa Public Schools is putting together teams of educators who share rosters of students. The model prioritizes personalized learning and takes advantage of each teacher’s areas of expertise. In the Denver area, the African Leadership Group has formed learning pods to fill gaps for immigrant students whose needs are not being met by school districts.

Simple recovery, however, is not enough, the report concludes. “if we only focus on repaying what they have lost, we will fail the next generation of students,” the researchers write. “We owe them not only recovery and restitution but also a new and better system that prepares every student to thrive in an increasingly interconnected and turbulent world.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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