As a child, I loved school. I would go to school early, ask for extra homework, stay late, and join clubs led by teachers who were passionate for their craft. On the weekends, I would find academic projects to engage in and spend hours at the library. And in the summer, I benefited from the privilege of attending STEM summer camps. School was a place where teachers supported me in feeling safe and where I felt successful and engaged (most of the time).

I can’t help but feel a great deal of sadness that children this year aren’t getting these same opportunities and that families are feeling so much hesitation about the coming school year. Loneliness and disconnection have increased dramatically, and children feel academically behind and unprepared for the future. This is especially true for BIPOC students and families.

Setting students up for success is crucial every year, but particularly so following the trauma and disruption caused by the pandemic. Here’s what we predict will be critical in ensuring students can both recover and accelerate in the upcoming academic year.

  • Children entering school for the first time will need more support than ever. A 2020 nationally representative study from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) found only 10 percent of 3-to-5-year-olds continued in the same program on the same schedule they had before the pandemic, meaning much of early education responsibilities fell to families, who were already stretched thin. This makes quality early learning environments even more important, particularly the critical pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten transitions. Kindergarten readiness can have an impact on how successful a child is in high school and beyond, leading to better grades and lower dropout rates as well as better health and lifestyle habits. Organizations like LENA, which helps parents ensure that children show up to school meeting academic and socio-emotional benchmarks, and efforts like those offered by ParentCorps, which involve parents in their children’s pre-K experience, will be key to supporting the youngest learners.
  • Families will continue to be crucial components of children’s success, even if school is less disrupted than SY 20-21. Research has shown that parents’ involvement in their children’s learning has a greater impact on students’ test scores than parents’ education level or socioeconomic status, and that family engagement efforts can increase children’s attendance and academic achievement. Yet engaging families effectively and equitably in their children’s learning is no small feat. Enabling two-way communication is an essential first step; several nonprofits are addressing these challenges through technology, including TalkingPoints and FASTalk. Educators are also rethinking both the importance and impact of family involvement, with organizations such as Springboard Collaborative leaning in to the idea of families as essential partners in supporting student learning. Both these themes will continue to be crucial given the uncertainty of the upcoming academic year.

Setting students up for success is crucial every year, but particularly so this year following the trauma and disruption caused by the pandemic.

  • High-quality instructional materials will become more essential than ever, ensuring engaging and rigorous learning experiences for all students. Schools and districts that choose high quality instructional materials as designated by EdReports, with aligned professional learning and ongoing coaching, will see the most improvement in teacher practices and student outcomes. Organizations like Teaching Lab, Leading Educators, and Instruction Partners are already seeing surging demand for their services. Given the evidence about teachers being the number one driver of student achievement, we predict states and districts will use ESSER funds to better support teachers to address the unfinished learning in their classrooms.
  • Technology-enabled solutions will be crucial to personalizing learning for students at different grade-levels in the same classroom. In June 2020, a new study layered NWEA estimates of pandemic learning losses on top of existing gaps to predict that the array of student needs in individual classrooms would widen further—spanning up to seven grade levels. Personalized solutions, adaptive curricula providers, such as Zearn and  ST Math, and high-dosage tutoring provided by organizations like Saga Education will be key in ensuring that all students have access to grade-level content that both accelerates and addresses unfinished learning depending on a student’s individual strengths and challenges.
  • We’ll continue to see schools expanding the services they provide to students, including out-of-school programs and opportunities. These will be key in increasing student engagement and passion for learning, especially if classroom time is used more for remediation. We know that families desperately want more high-quality afterschool and summer programs for their children—for every child in an afterschool program, three more children are waiting to get in. We predict that the availability and accessibility of high-quality out-of-school programs will impact how engaged students are both in and out of the classroom, and that participation in such programs will improve not only academic but socio-emotional skills.

The past 17 months have been difficult, but now is no time to give up. We are committed to working together with the philanthropy and education sectors, and especially grantees in the Overdeck Family Foundation portfolio, to create a school year that enables children to look forward to school with anticipation and joy, and with the promise of learning, growing, and fulfilling their academic potential.

– Anu Malipatil, Vice President, Education