As the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools, it opened homes as key places of learning for millions of students across the country. As a result, families became a part of the formal learning process in a way that they had never previously been, overseeing much of their children’s learning from kitchen tables, bedrooms, and couches.
In an effort to better understand the role families played in pandemic learning, Overdeck Family Foundation, in partnership with the Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund, the Louis Calder Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, supported the Center for Public Research and Leadership (CPRL) at Columbia University in engaging in research that sought to understand both the challenges and opportunities of family participation in student learning.
The resulting report, titled Fundamental 4: Pandemic Learning Reveals the Value of High-Quality Instructional Materials to Educator-Family-Student Partnerships, shows that despite enormous disruptions in education during the pandemic, there were examples of academic bright spots and breakthroughs that school districts and others can leverage in the future to benefit students.
Specifically, the researchers concluded that digitally-accessible high-quality instructional materials increased student learning and engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the additional challenges that students and families experienced due to remote learning—and even when the materials were not explicitly designed to bring families and educators together.
The researchers found that students from nine school districts and charter school organizations across seven states learned about the same—and sometimes more—than they would have in a “typical” year, as long as they had access to high-quality instructional materials and learning support from a caregiver. This finding stands in stark contrast to the narrative we’ve become used to hearing, which is that students experienced interrupted schooling that led to learning less than expected during the pandemic.
Digitally-accessible high-quality instructional materials increased student learning and engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The key is leveraging high-quality instructional materials and technology to support families to be active partners in student learning.
“In Hartford, we’ve learned how important it is for our students, the majority of whom are students of color and/or from low-income families, to have access to high-quality instructional materials on a daily basis to foster strong academic partnerships with families,” said Mario Carullo, Director of Mathematics at Hartford Public Schools, a study site.
Researchers from CPRL found that high-quality instructional materials were strongest and most impactful when dimensions of “high-quality” were expanded from only being aligned to standards to also include being 1) tech-enabled, 2) culturally responsive and sustaining, and 3) designed to enhance families’ ability to guide student learning and instruction.
The report recommends expanding the definition of “high-quality” to include these additional components. It also provides recommendations for dedicating federal pandemic relief funds, including:
- Adopting instructional materials that meet that expanded definition of “high quality.”
- Investing in curriculum-based professional learning that supports educators to implement high-quality instructional materials in ways that respond to student, family, and community needs.
- Creating systems and structures in schools to support continued collaboration between families, teachers, and students around academics and learning.
This research reveals possibilities for sustained partnership between schools and families moving forward for both remote and in-person instruction.
Students learned about the same—and sometimes more—than they would have in a “typical” year, as long as they had access to high-quality instructional materials and learning support from a caregiver.
Elizabeth Chu, Executive Director of CPRL, states that “instead of families being ‘passive recipients’ of instruction, it’s time for a new model in education that brings families fully into the instructional process by using high-quality instructional materials to help foster close coordination and collaboration between students, families and educators.”
The research report is based on more than 290 interviews conducted between February 2021 and June 2021 with administrators, teachers, and families from the following sites:
- Clarksdale Collegiate: Clarksdale, MS
- Detroit Public Schools Community District: Detroit, MI
- Excellence Community Schools: New York, NY and Stamford, CT
- Hartford Public Schools: Hartford, CT
- Hayward Community School District: Hayward, WI
- New York City Department of Education’s Community School District 11
- Richmond Public Schools: Richmond, VA
- Rocky Mountain Prep: Aurora, CO and Denver, CO
- Stoughton Area School District: Stoughton, WI
You can access the full findings of the report, titled, “Fundamental 4: Pandemic Learning Reveals the Value of High-Quality Instructional Materials to Educator-Family-Student Partnerships,” here.
About CPRL: The Center for Public Research and Leadership (CPRL) at Columbia University strives to revitalize public school systems while strengthening professional education. Since its founding in 2011, CPRL has provided research and consulting support to state agencies, school districts, charter school organizations, foundations and advocacy groups. In doing so, CPRL provides training to graduate students who are the next generation of education leaders.
Funding for the report was made possible by a collaboration between the Louis Calder Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Overdeck Family Foundation and the Robin Hood + Technology Fund.