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New & Noteworthy: February 2022

This month we are reading about the inequitable impacts on children of disruptions to learning due to the pandemic on student learning; the challenge of supporting older students who struggle with reading; lessons on how to foster student agency in schools; the supply of teacher talent by state; strategies for ensuring Black and Latino students have access to experienced and qualified teachers; and predictions about the economic impact of the pandemic and the need to systematize learning recovery efforts.

An analysis from McKinsey & Company, Covid-19 and education: An emerging K-shaped recovery, finds that some U.S. students are catching up on unfinished learning due to the pandemic, while others are falling further behind. Students in majority-Black schools remain five months behind their historical levels in both math and reading, while students in majority-White schools are now just two months behind their historical levels, widening pre-pandemic achievement gaps. This means that in math, students in majority-Black schools are now a year behind their peers in majority-White schools, as they started the pandemic nine months behind. The analysis also finds that more students are arriving at school significantly below the expected learning level. For example, in math, the share of students who are two or more grade levels below has increased by nine percent. Despite a massive allocation of federal funding to address unfinished learning, many students are not receiving targeted support, such as tutoring, summer school, after-school programs, and counseling and mentoring. Given that disruptions to learning continue, it remains important to focus on equitable student recovery.

In a related piece, Education Week covers “How Schools Can Support Older Students Who Lag in Reading”, acknowledging the pandemic’s impact in intensifying reading challenges for some students. The article explores the challenge facing teachers in addressing foundational literacy skills that older elementary- or middle school-age students may have missed while also teaching grade-level content and skills. Finding the right assessments and age-appropriate materials for older students can make it even harder, especially for teachers who may not have been trained how to teach reading. One teacher calls it a “tricky balancing act” to make time for solidifying fluency and foundational skills along with moving ahead with the grade-level curriculum.

The Centre for Strategic Education in Australia has released a new paper Learning on purpose: Ten lessons in placing student agency at the heart of schools authored by Charles Leadbeater and the Student Agency Lab. Leadbetter formed the Student Agency Lab in 2019, which brought together a cohort of schools in a series of meetings over three years to explore how to make student and teacher agency central to their work and give purpose to learning. This paper reports on lessons learned across the participating schools and discusses the importance of system-level conditions to allow and encourage schools to help students develop agency. Find a brief video discussion as well as the paper itself here.

In State of the States 2021: State Reporting of Teacher Supply and Demand Data, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) reviews what labor market information state education agencies are currently providing that could help schools understand and respond to their teacher labor market. Key findings include: information on teacher supply is much more readily available than information on teacher demand; only a small number of states supply the data needed to identify teacher shortages; just 20 states track and publish teacher retention and mobility data; and most states’ reporting policies are inadequate when it comes to determining how teacher talent is distributed among schools.

Getting Black Students Better Access to Non-Novice Teachers and Getting Latino Students Better Access to Non-Novice Teachers, new reports from The Education Trust, show that Black and Latino students are already more likely than other student groups to be in classrooms with teachers who are in their first years of teaching. As the nation confronts severe teaching shortages, the reports offer recommended actions for state and district leaders to address this inequity. This includes setting clear goals and identifying and addressing barriers to preparing, recruiting, and retaining strong and racially diverse teachers. School leaders can take steps to create working conditions that ensure teachers, including teachers of color, remain in schools and hone their craft.

The World Bank, UNESCO, and the UN Children’s Fund estimate that the pandemic could cost the world’s children $17 trillion in lost earnings. Interruptions in schooling translate into students learning fewer skills and therefore being ineligible for higher-paying jobs. The report, The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery, estimates that more students will not be able to reach the very basic benchmark of reading a simple sentence in their native language by age 10. This expected uptick in “learning poverty” has been triggered in part by the gaps and flaws in remote learning, even in the wealthiest countries. The report suggests that countries make efforts to build more resilient systems and learning recovery efforts that include acceleration strategies, extension of instructional time, and attention to equity and efficiency.