Washington, DC, Aug. 26, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Education firm EAB has identified five strategies that K-12 leaders should pursue to keep students and teachers safe while making academic progress this school year. EAB sourced these recommendations from interactions with more than 100 district leaders following the onset of the pandemic, including scenario-planning workshops, plan reviews, discussions, and interviews.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher for students, teachers, and families this fall,” said EAB Associate Director Ben Court. “To fulfill their educational mission, school district leaders must focus on five key areas regardless of whether students are in school, learning from home, or some combination of both.”
1. Plan to Maximize Periods of In-Person Instruction
Safety must remain the top priority, but continued virtual instruction risks long-term harm to student development and well-being. Changes in the virus’s spread could lead to cycles of school closures and partial reopenings. Therefore, EAB recommends that schools plan now for how they will quickly transition some students from a virtual environment to face-to-face instruction during periods when a reduction in coronavirus caseloads indicates that it is safe to reopen.
Start by identifying types of students—perhaps younger students and those with learning disabilities—who should be given priority access to classroom instruction. Also, develop plans to minimize student traffic and contact in common spaces, clean and disinfect the school, and get select students to and from school safely. The playbook for accomplishing these tasks will vary from district to district. For example, bringing younger students back first will work better in districts where there is not a big disparity in home access to computers and the internet. Still, every district must establish clear plans and guidelines now so they can make the most of brief opportunities for in-person instruction in the future.
This EAB blog post can help district leaders develop a clear plan to maximize periods during which face-to-face instruction is allowed.
2. Focus Finite Instructional Time and Energy on the Highest-Value Academic Content
Projections of learning regression among K-12 students, dubbed the “COVID-19 slide,” suggest that many are starting the school year far below expected grade-level proficiency in reading and math skills. To best promote student progress over the coming months, schools should streamline the curriculum to remove content deemed nonessential for grade-level progression.
“Missing important educational milestones like reading by the fourth grade or completing advanced algebra classes in high school has been shown to have negative long-term ramifications for students,” said Court. “Given the less-than-stellar educational experience of last spring and the challenging environment that lies ahead, schools have little choice but to focus finite instructional time and energies on the highest-value academic content.”
Additional resources and guidance on academic recovery can be found here.
3. Engage Community Leaders to Address Systemic Racism
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the drastic inequities that exist throughout American society. At the same time, the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and too many others have created a tipping point, and the public is acknowledging that many of these inequities are rooted in systemic, structural racism. In order to make real progress this school year, superintendents should publicly acknowledge the profound effects of systemic racism on student achievement and engage community leaders to address these issues head-on.
A recent EAB blog post answers five common questions that school and district leaders have been asking about how to engage the broader community on this topic. The post includes suggestions for hosting community forums and conversations on racial injustice as well as guidance on discussions about the role of school policing.
4. Protect Student Mental Health
Before the pandemic arrived, rates of adolescent anxiety and depression had been rising for a decade. Since social-distancing began, seven in ten American youths report experiencing clinically significant symptoms of depression. Growing demand for already scarce community mental health services will force schools to shoulder an even larger share of the burden of supporting student mental health.
It is more important than ever for districts to use universal screening and other assessment tools to proactively identify students in need of mental health support. Districts also need to ensure that every student can access appropriate care. To make that possible, EAB urges districts to build the capacity to provide group-based cognitive behavioral therapy and facilitate access to teletherapy for both students and staff. Other EAB recommendations include forming behavioral health intervention teams, designating a case manager for students in crisis, and establishing family education campaigns to help reduce stigma surrounding the discussion of mental health issues or asking for help.
5. Retain and Support Principals and Teachers
Even prior to the current crisis, teachers, principals, and other staff reported high levels of stress and burnout. Surveys show that stress and anxiety are higher than ever among educators as the new school year begins, with many considering leaving the profession altogether.
To avoid teacher shortages and widespread burnout this year, schools must prioritize teacher well-being. District leaders should begin by making accommodations for medically vulnerable staff, training staff to recognize signs of burnout, and ensuring they have access to facilitated peer groups and support networks. Teachers who are medically vulnerable or cannot return to the classroom under present conditions should be shifted to online tutoring roles whenever possible.
“Teachers are quitting because they’re scared and frustrated,” Court observed. “We have always asked a great deal of our teachers, but there are limits, and we risk exceeding those limits this year.”
Additional guidance on school district preparations for the fall term will be shared in an upcoming EAB webinar.
EAB partners with 1,700 colleges, universities, and K-12 schools across North America and abroad to foster student success at every level. Our work with K-12 districts is focused on identifying the most innovative, scalable, and proven strategies to address top challenges. Our research and implementation toolkits focus on topics such as narrowing the third-grade reading gap, college access, career readiness, teacher recruitment, district communications, and school safety. By equipping schools with best practices to solve critical problems, we are making education smarter and our communities stronger.