Tackling the Learning Gap: Schools’ Bold Strategies…

Tackling the Learning Gap: Schools' Bold Strategies

This year, some Houston-area children had a summer break of only three weeks. Twenty school days have been added to the school year at two elementary schools in Richmond, Virginia. More than 36,000 hours of tutoring were provided to youngsters in Indiana last year at no cost to their families.

Though it may not always be easy to get kids, teachers, or parents on board with a longer school year, summer school, or after-school tutoring, research has long shown that expanding quality instruction time can have a major influence on students’ academic progress.

Some schools felt the time was right to make significant adjustments because of the significant learning loss experienced during the Covid-19 outbreak and the historic federal investment in K-12 education. Approximately six times the annual federal allocation, Congress has authorised $190 billion for K-12 schools between March 2020 and March 2021.

These new initiatives in Virginia, Texas, and Indiana are still in their infancy, but they are showing promise and might lead the way to major reforms in American classrooms.
Some students in Richmond go back to class in the middle of August.

The majority of pupils in Richmond’s public schools went back on August 21. However, for about a thousand households at two elementary schools, the 2023-2024 school year began on July 24.

Elementary school pupils at Fairfield Court and Cardinal received an extra 20 days of instruction after the pandemic ended.

“It’s something that we had been discussing for some time but were a little bit wary of taking on pre-pandemic,” explained Jason Kamras, superintendent of Richmond Public Schools.

While recovering from the pandemic, “our children were really, really behind and we had to put everything on the table,” he said.

Only two of the twelve schools in the district that submitted for the pilot programme to extend the school year were able to demonstrate that they have the majority support of families and teachers necessary to proceed. Roughly 90% of Fairfield Court and Cardinal elementary school parents and educators approved of the proposal.

According to Kamras, the district relocated a few teachers and a dozen families that opted out of the school year extension.

“Most of the families I spoke with were absolutely thrilled to be able to have their kids back in school,” he said.

Many low-income and immigrant families, like those who attend Fairfield Court and Cardinal schools, may not have the financial resources to send their children to summer camp or pay for child care during the school break, Kamras said.

Presently, federal funding for the pilot programme comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, a comprehensive pandemic relief plan authorised by Congress in 2021. This provides teachers with a $10,000 incentive and the possibility of a second bonus if thresholds are fulfilled. In order to maintain extended school years after next September, additional cash will be required.
4 Reduced time off for Houston schools this summer

About 1,600 Houston elementary school pupils had a short three-week summer holiday.

The Aldine Independent School District on the far northern edge of Houston has extended the school year by 30 days for four of its elementary campuses. That means that classes resumed in the middle of July and ran all the way through the end of June. Even though pupils will have 30 more school days next year, adjustments to the calendar mean they could still get a six-week summer break.

Additional days have a different structure than a regular school day. Even though students spend the same amount of time in class, more time is spent on individualised instruction and group projects. Learning in both maths and reading can be boosted by 210 minutes each day.

More than 90% of children in the Aldine Independent School District come from low-income homes and are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch beginning in the 2021-2022 school year. As it became apparent that the epidemic aggravated problems at low-performing districts, two more schools joined them the next year.

Aldine Independent School District Superintendent LaTonya Goffney says early findings are encouraging. She noted that one of the elementary schools that had been the district’s lowest performer prior to 2020 is now among the top performers.

Additionally, enrollment remains higher than average at the schools that extended the academic year.

In 2019, the state legislature in Texas passed a measure that paved the door for an expanded school year. The more Days School Year programme was established by the law and provides funding for up to 30 more school days. Eligible institutions include pre-K through 5th grade classrooms.

The remainder of the bill will fall on the local school systems. According to Goffney, the federal Covid-19 relief money were not used to cover the expense of extending the school year at Aldine. However, the assistance did make it possible to use other funds to cover the cost of the expansion.

According to Goffney, the extra school days were the “perfect solution” to the problem of learning loss when Aldine began bringing students back for in-person instruction in 2021.

On the first day of school in July 2021, Goffney felt a lot of anxiety.

However, the parents were present, and they seemed content. And the youngsters were relieved to be away from home. She remarked that the people were eager to return.
Low-income families in Indiana can get free tutoring services.

Third through eighth graders from low-income families who are falling behind academically are receiving tutoring in Indiana thanks to federal pandemic money.

The programme, called Indiana Learns, helps families pay for tutoring by providing them with $1,000 scholarships. The state added another $500 to the $1000 previously given to families about six months after the programme began in October 2022.

Studies demonstrate that students in grades pre-K through 12 can greatly benefit from receiving tutoring in small groups.

The Indiana Learns website allows parents to find and book tutors for their children in subjects like maths and reading at their convenience. Each tutor can work with up to four students at a time in either in-person or virtual sessions.

“We wanted to really leverage the parents and families to also be a part of this solution in supporting their child,” said Katie Jenner, Indiana’s secretary of education.

It was a risky gamble. She continued, “But there are so many students who were not passing our state examinations, and whose families did not have the additional discretionary means to provide their child with tutoring.

The Mind Trust, a non-profit hired by the state to help administer Indiana Learns, reports that at least 15,000 students have enrolled and received more than 36,000 hours of tutoring, with over 20,000 more hours scheduled.

According to Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust, the tutors come from a wide range of sources including preexisting tutoring organisations, active and retired educators, and community organisations. The hourly pay for a tutor cannot exceed $100, and most charge under $50.

The American Rescue Plan Act stipulates that states must have spent the federal pandemic monies by September 2024, at which point funding for the programme will be cut off. However, if the programme is successful, the state may decide to fund it on its own.

It’s quite improbable that every kid will be up to speed by the beginning of the next school year.

Brown said that “learning loss during the pandemic is a national crisis” and that the United States should respond to it as such.

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