A healing-centered community school implements a whole child approach to teaching and learning to address the fundamental physiological and safety needs of students as central to their cognitive development and growth. Strengthening and sustaining such strategies require intentional, complementary investments in policy, funding, and resources across general education, early learning, special education, health, and community development.
Growing inequities and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic together with billions of dollars in new funding present an opportunity to make substantial changes to K–12 education to better serve all students in California. In May 2021, PACE and USC Rossier School of Education fielded our annual poll of California voters, which sought to gain clarity about voters’ priorities on public education issues during this period in which Californians are beginning to look towards a postpandemic future. The following are 10 key findings from the poll.
Since spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has been abruptly interrupting regular instruction in almost all schools in the U.S. One year later, policymakers, district administrators, and educators are still balancing the benefits and risks of returning K–12 students to fully in-person school. Many are concerned about the pandemic’s disruption to students’ academic progress.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all students; however, its impact has been particularly devastating for students of color, students from low-income families, English learners, and other marginalized children and youth. As transmission rates decline and vaccination rates increase in California, many are eager to return to normalcy, but we must all recognize that even the prepandemic normal was not working for all students. The 2021–22 school year, therefore, constitutes a critical opportunity for schools to offer students, families, and educators a restorative restart.
This brief was developed by California-based family and student engagement organizations, associations representing educators and system leaders, research institutes, and civil rights and equity groups. The recommendations arise from the evidence that has collectively emerged from focus groups with educators, parents, and students; polls and surveys of stakeholders; a deep review of the literature; and original research conducted on COVID-19’s impact on schools and students.
In March 2020, school districts across California closed their doors, rapidly adapting operations and instruction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Efforts to understand the immediate impact of the unprecedented closure of schools prompted grave concerns about meeting students’ needs, particularly for the most vulnerable. In fact, recent research indicates that learning loss related to school closures in the spring and fall of 2020 was disproportionately experienced by younger students, low-income students, and English learners.
Communities in California and around the country are implementing learning hubs to provide in-person education supports to students who are distance learning. In this brief, we explore a prevalent learning hub model and raise considerations for local policymakers, schools, and expanded learning partners. We include guidance for the design and operations of learning hubs, and identify the policy levers that support the model.
Strong partnerships between schools and expanded learning programs lay the foundation for building stronger, more equitable support systems for children and their families. Building on prior investments in the expanded learning system, California’s school reopening guidance encouraged intentional coordination across schools and expanded learning providers to best meet the needs of students during this unprecedented time.
This brief is one in a series aimed at providing K-12 education decision makers and advocates with an evidence base to ground discussions about how to best serve students during and following the novel coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the EdResearch for Recovery Project and view the set of COVID-19 response-and-recovery topic areas and practitioner-generated questions here. The central question of this brief is: How can schools and districts monitor students’ social and emotional well-being across the year?
As California’s elementary schools reopen after prolonged physical closure due to COVID-19, attention to healing the school community will be essential. Although there is wide variation in the timing and formats with which schools plan to reopen, it is clear that when students reenter school buildings they will be eager to reconnect with friends and teachers. Because elementary school-aged children learn and grow through play, recess is an ideal time to support healing and to prepare students to return to the classroom ready to learn.
California districts were forced to shift to distance learning models in the spring of 2020 and the transition to distance learning for students in the early grades—transitional kindergarten through third grade (TK–3)—has proved difficult for students, parents, and teachers alike. As distance learning persists, administrators and teachers can continue to adapt their practices to meet the needs of students and families.
This brief highlights the need and ways to transform—systematically—how schools address the overlapping learning, behavioral, and emotional problems that can interfere with learning and teaching. The aim is to provide a blueprint to enable the state, Local Education Agencies (LEAs), and schools to play a greater role in providing student and learning supports, and to do so in ways that enhance equity of opportunity.
In March 2020, most schools in the U.S. transitioned to distance learning. During the transition a significant number of students did not fully engage in learning opportunities. This brief uses administrative panel data from the CORE Districts in California to approximate the impact of the pandemic by analyzing how absenteeism has affected student outcomes in the recent past. We show wide variation in absenteeism impacts on academic and social-emotional outcomes by grade and subgroup, as well as the cumulative effect of different degrees of absence.
The educators of Ayer Elementary in Fresno Unified School District began their continuous improvement journey in 2016. The stability of their underlying organizational conditions to engage in improvement work—a shared purpose, mutual trust, structures and resources that foster collaborative work, and preparation and mobilization of improvement capabilities—was put to the test as their focus pivoted in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
How can schools provide high-quality distance and blended learning during the pandemic? This brief includes a mix of rigorous evidence from extant studies, data from interviews with practitioners who described their learnings from informal experimentation during the spring of 2020, and expert researchers who thought about how to apply research to the current context.
Breaking Down the Issues
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of school districts in California will not have in-person teaching in fall 2020. Over the months ahead, parents, educators, and the public will have to navigate uncertainty in weighing the costs and benefits of opening schools versus supporting learning remotely. This brief offers the questions that parents, educators, and the public should ask about the education, health, safety, and social-emotional needs of children and adults when considering plans for reopening during the pandemic.
When California’s students return to school this fall, schools can play a pivotal role in preventing, assessing, and addressing trauma in order to support students’ well-being. We summarize the existing evidence base on multi-tiered trauma-informed practices that offer increasingly intensive tiers of support. Although many multi-tiered models of trauma-informed approaches have been implemented in schools, the evidence base demonstrating their wholescale effectiveness is limited. The most compelling evidence comes from approaches within the more intensive tiers.
Community school strategies have emerged as a promising approach to mitigate the social and learning impacts of COVID-19. This brief draws on how the crisis-motivated responses of educators and school leaders might serve as integral investments in successful and sustainable community schools. Schools and districts interested in such an approach need to examine and reform the underlying classroom, school, and district behaviors and systems that get in the way of student-centered collaboration, partnership, and teaching.
Though the delivery of instruction in the 2020–21 school year will be altered to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a long-standing research base on high-quality instruction can inform decisions about students’ learning and engagement. The following ten recommendations distill the key findings from the PACE report Supporting Learning in the COVID-19 Context, which offers a framework for educators and district leaders to use in their preparation to provide quality instruction through distance and blended models.
On July 17th, 2020, Governor Newsom announced that all K–12 schools in California counties with rising COVID-19 infections would be required to teach remotely. Without a strong focus on improving the quality of remote education at scale, students could lose up to a year’s worth of learning, and as many as 1.1 million students could fail to graduate high school. That academic impact would be felt most acutely by low-income, Black, and Latinx students. California’s leaders must act now to prioritize equity and ensure quality across all of the state’s districts.
Prior work has shown that levels of self-reported student social-emotional learning (SEL) predict student achievement levels—as well as student achievement gains—but little has been done to understand if within-student changes in student reports of SEL are predictive of changes in theoretically related academic and behavioral outcomes.
COVID-19 has disrupted California’s education system in fundamental ways. Districts across the state are quickly creating strategies to serve all students, and many are designing their response around the needs of their most vulnerable students. This brief highlights the response of Mother Lode Union School District (MLUSD) to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which district staff and teachers were able to collaborate—despite the unprecedented crisis—to meet student needs.
More than 725,000 of California’s K-12 students qualified for special education services in 2018-19, but they entered a system that is often ill-equipped to serve them. This brief summarizes the findings from the PACE Policy Research Panel on Special Education: Organizing Schools to Serve Students with Disabilities in California. We find opportunities for improvement in early screening, identification, and intervention; transitions into and out of special education services; educator preparation and ongoing support; and availability of mental and physical health services.
In this brief, we leverage data from eight school districts, known as the CORE districts, to describe students with disabilities (SWDs) by their characteristics, outcomes, and transitions into and out of special education. We found that the most common disability type was a specific learning disability. Relative to their representation among students districtwide, males, African Americans, English language learners, and foster youth were more highly represented among SWDs. In terms of outcomes, chronic absence was more prevalent among children with multiple disabilities.
This brief identifies the steps necessary to realize an integrated system of care, reviews two current approaches, and makes recommendations—including specifying policy reforms that would promote interagency collaboration, integration, service delivery, and improved outcomes for California’s children, both with and without disabilities.