State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond today outlined priorities and investments needed to address the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on students, laying out critical next steps for ways the California Department of Education (CDE), state leaders, and school districts can work together to support student success.
The priorities, discussed during a virtual media briefing today, build on the work of the CDE since the onset of the COVID-19 public health crisis and outline additional goals designed to jump start schools’ recovery and close equity gaps.
“Our educators, parents, and communities have never worked harder to support students during this crisis, and we all are deeply concerned by the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated impacts on our highest-need students. Our actions and investments moving forward must be bold, meaningful, and targeted to accelerate learning and advance educational equity,” said Thurmond. “The priorities we choose in the weeks and months ahead will not only help our schools accelerate a return to safe in-person learning but also address and prevent ongoing impacts of this global crisis on students.”
Among the next steps State Superintendent Thurmond outlined today:
Develop additional strategies for accelerating academic growth
As experts predict the current COVID-19 surge to continue to swell throughout the holiday season, and with most of California under stay at home orders, most school districts are pausing or pushing back their plans for phased, safe reopening in the new year. Growing evidence shows that the pandemic is exacerbating educational inequities and worsening access and opportunity gaps among students who have been historically underserved.
To build on its ongoing published guidance, professional learning, and assistance to date, the CDE is working with equity leaders, practitioners, and educational stakeholders on additional strategies for accelerating academic growth designed to provide educators and school systems research-based strategies—and identify new resources—for addressing, offsetting, and preventing learning gaps in multiple instructional models (distance learning, hybrid learning and in-person).
In the meantime, school leaders are encouraged to use the variety of local, school, and district-based diagnostic tools and resources provided to them this year to help measure where students are in their learning and to design interventions to support them during the pandemic. Resources can be found on the Implementation Tool: Guidance on Diagnostic and Formative Assessments web page.
Prioritize Teachers and School Employees for Vaccines
The State Superintendent agrees with educators and families that the best place for students to learn is in the classroom. Unfortunately, multiple conditions have made it challenging for most schools to fully open, including:
- High community infection rates
- Staffing shortages at schools that have implemented hybrid learning
- Abrupt shifts back and forth between in-person and distance learning due to COVID-19 exposures, further disrupting student learning continuity
With many educators and school employees falling into high-risk categories—and the families of socioeconomically disadvantaged students disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus—the State Superintendent said he is grateful for the work of Governor Gavin Newsom and state health leaders on early vaccine distribution.
State Superintendent Thurmond urged state leaders to place teachers and school employees “at the front of the line” for vaccines to better prepare schools for a safe reopening.
Expand frequent and rapid COVID-19 surveillance testing
COVID-19 vaccines alone, however, may not be administered fast enough to enable the safe reopening of school campuses in the 2021 spring semester. While vaccines offer hope, California will need to greatly accelerate frequent and rapid coronavirus testing of asymptomatic school staff and students in order to help students return to in-person learning sooner.
The State Superintendent expressed gratitude to Governor Newsom and state health agencies for their continued collaboration to expand access to the state’s COVID-19 testing lab in Valencia to school districts across California. About 15 local educations agencies are currently utilizing the lab and more are preparing for onboarding.
In the meantime, the Legislative Analyst’s Office projects greater-than-expected one-time revenues for K–12 education, and the State Superintendent said he is committed to working with the Governor’s Office and lawmakers to explore using any available funds to secure greater COVID-19 testing capacity for schools.
Encourage Schools to use $2.1 billion in remaining CARES Act funds to address learning gaps, safety, and mental health
As part of the CARES Act relief package allocated to education, public schools in California have $2.1 billion remaining to spend in 2021. The State Superintendent is calling on school districts to prioritize these funds for addressing and offsetting learning gaps, implementing adequate safety precautions such as COVID-19 testing, and supporting students’ social emotional wellness.
More information can be found on the CDE’s CARES Act Funding web page.
Continue to address learning gaps and reconnect with disengaged students
To help schools prepare for the next phases of learning in 2021 and improve student outcomes, the State Superintendent is tapping the expertise of leading equity organizations and educational practitioners to design and scale successful strategies for improving student outcomes.
In January, the State Superintendent will convene school administrators and educators whose primary roles are to advance equity in their school systems for a roundtable summit to share and amplify existing, successful strategies in schools that can be replicated across the state.
Additionally, recent partnerships include two professional learning webinars this week—coordinated in collaboration with organizations such as Beyond Differences, the California Association of Bilingual Education, the California Teachers Association, the Education Trust-West, the Parent Institute for Quality Education, and the Social Emotional Learning Alliance for California—that drew thousands of educators across California to discussions on social emotional learning strategies and best practices in distance learning.
The State Superintendent has also launched an equity-focused mini grant programfunded by a $200,000 contribution from the Stuart Foundation. Under the program, the CDE will award grants of up to $20,000 each to schools, districts, and charter schools that can demonstrate how they will address equity and opportunity gaps by utilizing the funds to target educators’ or students’ needs in distance learning, in-person instruction, or hybrid models.
To help reconnect students who have not checked in during distance learning, the CDE has built out a Family Engagement Unit that is working with districts to support attendance outreach.
Pass a universal broadband measure
Through the State Superintendent’s Closing the Digital Divide Task Force, hundreds of thousands more students now have access to computing devices and internet connections. But gross inequities to high-speed internet access still exist, and the need for connectivity will not end after the pandemic.
The State Superintendent is encouraged by recent legislative proposals to create universal broadband access and will continue to work with state leaders to identify and implement solutions that close the digital divide once and for all.
The steps outlined today build on the CDE’s ongoing commitment and support to schools during the pandemic, including helping secure months’ worth of personal protective equipment (PPE); working with the Governor and the Legislature to allocate $5.3 billion in Learning Loss Mitigation Funds, expanding computing and internet access for hundreds of thousands of students, and identifying mental health and counseling resources for students in crisis.
Additionally, the CDE has provided continuous professional development and support for educators throughout the pandemic, including dozens of webinars (these can be found on the CDE Coronavirus Webinars web page, on the CDE Facebook page, and the CDE YouTube channel); published guidance; and the distribution of weekly resources to school districts.