K12 Momentum: January 2021

Dear friends,

Can we regain some optimism in 2021? As more teachers are vaccinated and more school districts plan for reopening and in-person learning, we are finally beginning on the long path to our new normal. So cautious optimism is in order.

Critically, we can now begin to think about what’s ahead as we recover in many cases from virtual instruction. New reports sponsored in part by the foundation from the RAND American School District Panel and Common Sense Media sketch out some of the promise and pitfalls of blended instruction for the world we are rebuilding.

As the RAND report makes clear, district leaders believe digital learning has a future in public education. A reflection from a respondent says it best: Though the profoundly devastating impact of COVID marches on, I am heartened by the lessons we have learned as educators in this moment. What’s most energizing to me is how we will continue to use the power of virtual instruction to disrupt barriers like staffing, space, and time to optimize student learning and experiences (and educator experiences, too). 

But to fully realize the promise of the moment, we must deal with the disparities created by the digital divide. Common Sense Media’s report sounds the alarm about what lies ahead.

  • 15 million to 16 million K-12 public school students across are caught in the digital divide.
  • The divide disproportionately affects southern, more rural states (40% to 50% of students in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Oklahoma are affected); Black, Latino, and Native American students (55% of disconnected students while representing about 40% of total students); and families with incomes less than $50,000 (50% of disconnected students).
  • The costs of inaction are profound -- an average of 7 to 14 months of learning loss for disconnected students and an additional 232,000 high school students dropping out.
You have done so much in the face of the pandemic; it seems unfair to ask for more. But we must.  If we can figure this out, we can build back with new, more powerful infrastructure to support learning and advance innovation for students and teachers alike, particularly at the secondary level. I'm optimistic we can make a difference by working together, as we have in the past, on this critical issue.
Bob Hughes
P.S. Our 2021 annual letter is out this week. Bill and Melinda write about two areas that are essential for building that stronger, more resilient future: Prioritizing equity and preparing for the next pandemic. Check it out here.

Quick Takes

  • Making Instructional Materials Engaging, Challenging, and Usable

    Over the past few years, our partners have made significant progress in increasing the number of standards-aligned curricula available on the market and in increasing the percentage of districts who have adopted those curricula. However, we have also learned that standards-alignment is a necessary but insufficient characteristic to meet the needs of educators and students. This study by RAND highlights and begins to define the characteristics that educators look for in their instructional materials.
  • The Cost of COVID

    A new report out from partner Education Resource Strategies (ERS) uses district data to model the full financial impact of COVID-19 on school districts. The study looks at the bigger picture, including new COVID-response costs, revenue loss from state revenue/declining enrollment, and the cost impact of learning loss and greater student need. 
  • Results from the New #AEP American School District Panels

    The American School District Panel just launched their website and data explorer, which is rife with key data from districts on topics critical to them. The featured data, which covers budgeting, instructional resources, social emotional learning and learning strategies during COVID, among many others, is a critical input to better understand what districts need to support the students at the center of our work.

What We're Reading

  • What if deep listening was a top priority occupying new teachers' busy minds? Learn how Susan Atkins, a lecturer in teacher education at the University of Michigan, uses photographs to get children talking and teachers listening in our latest guest blog. 
  • Check out our newest What We're Learning blog post highlighting Leading Educators and Baltimore City Public Schools’ professional learning partnership, highlighting some of the rare bright spots that have come out of the COVID-19 crisis. 
  • Read more about our Algebra 1 Grand Challenge announcement at the 74 and EdWeek.