K-12 Momentum: January 2022

Dear Friends,

As we all struggle to open schools in the face of omicron and address student learning loss over the short term, school leaders face a unique challenge—parents do not want to return to the status quo. How can we help leaders balance urgent short-term realities with the desire for longer-term change? A new brief by the American School District Panel (ASDP) captures the complexity of the moment. ASDP is a nationally representative standing survey panel of public school leaders comprising more than 950 school districts and charter management organizations. The ASDP partners—Center on Reinventing Public Education, RAND Corporation, Chiefs for Change, the Council of Great City Schools, and Kitamba—created the survey panel to ensure that decisions about education policy are informed by the leaders tasked with putting policy into practice.

According to 292 superintendents surveyed for this report, policy leaders must provide educators with greater flexibility to meet student and family needs on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis, while also addressing issues they’ve been working on over the long haul. The challenges are significant: 

  • Surveyed school leaders say that pandemic-driven technology shifts have led to lasting changes that have rapidly accelerated districts’ ongoing technology initiatives.
  • Districts are focused on social emotional learning like never before.
  • Districts need outside support from trusted intermediaries and the community.

Says one school leader, Kira Orange Jones, vice president of the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, “I believe we’ve come to a moment where people can agree that things need to change, and structures and systems need to be redefined and reinvented, and therefore there’s a real opportunity to actually address those things.”

But we must also do our part. Short-term funding is driving the expansion of staff and services, but many districts anticipate hard times ahead as they face a funding cliff when COVID-related aid from the federal government expires. We must work with school leaders to ensure that short-term strategies lead to enduring change.

These issues raise fundamental questions of balance. Today’s day-to-day decisions promise to cast a long shadow on all of us in the future. It’s critical that we listen to educators and lend a hand as they navigate the road ahead.   

In partnership,
Bob Hughes


Quick Takes

  • The State of the American School District: Policy Recommendations for the Road Ahead

    The American School District Panel is a nationally representative standing survey panel of public school leaders from more than 950 school districts and charter management organizations. To date, the panel has contributed to four surveys, six case studies, and a webinar bringing together district, state, and community leaders that shed light on how public schools are navigating the COVID landscape and planning for pandemic recovery. A new ASDP brief summarizes key findings from their research and highlights five important takeaways that have implications for state policy and practice: 1. Parents don’t want to return to the status quo. 2. Districts need partners to help them meet the growing range of student needs. 3. Sustainable services that supplement district efforts can mitigate the funding cliff. 4. Big bets at the state level could yield big dividends. 5. Districts need support—and guardrails—on virtual schools and online learning.
  • Making Students Partners in School Improvement

    Imagine students as active leaders in school improvement. Across the country, schools are moving to center the experiences and perspectives of students whose voices have been underrepresented in our systems. A new website by Community Design Partners shines a spotlight on initiatives that make students partners in school improvement efforts – offering 15 case studies that show how partnering with students through empathy, involvement, and shared decision-making is equity.
  • Research Shows Impact of Teacher Diversity on Students of Color

    A new study by David Blazar at the University of Maryland finds that teachers of color have significant and lasting causal effects on students of color – and that teachers’ growth mindset, beliefs, and their relationships with students and families serve as key mediators. Blazar found large effects of teachers of color on the short- and longer-term social-emotional, academic, and behavioral outcomes of their students. Random assignment to a teacher of color in upper-elementary grades resulted in improved self-efficacy and classroom engagement, end-of-year math, and ELA test scores, and school attendance. The study found that “teachers of color are more likely than their White colleagues to view student intelligence as malleable versus fixed, build interpersonal relationships with students and their families, spend more time planning for instruction and differentiating pedagogical approaches to individual students’ needs, and lead well-organized classrooms.”