Author Archives: Indira Dammu

Three Ways to Improve Education Finance Equity in the Southeast for English Learners

English learners (ELs) are an incredibly diverse group of students, representing about 400 languages spoken, and a wide range of ages and fluency in English. As EL enrollment in U.S. K-12 public schools grows, education systems must keep up with these students’ unique learning needs. EL language proficiency, length of time spent in U.S. public schools, age, and grade level are all factors that affect learning needs and the amount of funding required to meet those needs. But, a commitment to equitable funding for EL students is too often missing or minimal in state education funding formulas.  

This commitment is especially needed in the Southeast where ELs make up approximately 15% of the U.S. EL population, growing from 657,612 students in 2015 to 713,245 students in 2019. The number of ELs enrolled in the public school system in the South is rapidly increasing. Between 2000 and 2018, South Carolina experienced a more than a nine-fold increase in EL student enrollment — a rate of growth that is 24 times higher than the national average. Despite this increase in enrollment, the resources available to EL students in the Southeast have not kept up with students’ needs. 

In Improving Education Finance Equity for English Learners in the Southeast, Bonnie O’Keefe and I examine state funding systems for EL students across nine Southeastern states ​​— Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee — and offer a set of three key policy recommendations for how states can better support EL students.

  1. State funding formulas should move toward weighted, student-based systems with multiple EL weights. EL students with greater needs must receive more funding support through state funding formulas. For states that already have a weighted, student-based funding formula, policymakers should consider how to differentiate among a diverse array of EL needs. 
  2. The federal government should increase Title III funding of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). While increasing EL allocations at the state level holds the most promise for meeting the needs of EL students, federal funding has plateaued in recent years. Federal commitments must also keep up with the growing enrollment of EL students in the Southeast region and across the country. 
  3. State education agencies and the federal government should improve transparency of EL data. Although ESSA mandated annual reports of school-level spending, policymakers should increase the level of publicly available state and district data about funding for EL students. 

The region has an opportunity to be a national leader in providing more funding for EL students that is aligned to their unique learning needs. Tennessee and South Carolina are already considering funding reform proposals this spring, and there is room for other states in the region to follow suit and consider proposals to increase the resources available to EL students. Our analysis finds that just two states in the Southeast region — Florida and South Carolina — incorporate EL student weights in their funding formula. 

States have a federal obligation to ensure that EL students receive a high-quality education that allows them to meet their full potential. Although there are bright spots in many of the nine states we examined, more work must be done by policymakers to elevate the needs of EL students in the Southeast. 

Improving Education Finance Equity for English Learners in the Southeast is part of an ongoing Bellwether examination of how finance and inequity in education shortchange millions of students and families. 

Revisiting Missing in the Margins: Recommendations for Policy

In October 2020, Missing in the Margins: Estimating the Scale of the COVID-19 Attendance Crisis estimated that as many as 3 million K-12 students across the country were at high risk of experiencing minimal or no educational access from spring through fall 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Fast-forward one year later, and available data on 2020-21 enrollment, attendance, and engagement suggest massive missed learning opportunities, especially among the most marginalized students.

Changes to practices, policies, and resource allocation can help support all students — especially those with limited access to learning opportunities in 2020-21. This blog post is the second in a series for 2021 where we will expand upon our recommendations, linking practices with policies.

In addition to school and district practices, policies play an important role in facilitating learning acceleration, especially for marginalized and underserved students. Policymakers have already responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by either providing flexibility to schools so that they can remain student-centered in their decision-making or by removing barriers that limit the ability of schools to better serve the needs of students. However, we know that additional policies are needed to ensure that schools and districts can better identify students who need more support. These policies should also ensure that students receive effective interventions that are personalized to their unique needs. Similar to school and district practices, students and their family or support unit should be at the center of every policymaking decision. In particular, four policy areas can support learning recovery efforts: 

1. Data Transparency
Most state and district policies related to enrollment, attendance, and engagement data have not kept up with the new demands of the COVID-19 era. These policies are typically set at the federal and state levels but local school districts should do more to collect these data at the student-level. Without more accurate and disaggregated data that are shared publicly, especially related to attendance and engagement, schools are at risk of not identifying the students who need the most support. 

2. Accountability
In response to the pandemic and its impact on student learning, states put in place “hold harmless” provisions around attendance, grade retention, and high school graduation, and amended accountability systems with federal waivers. Based on the lessons learned from the past two years, the federal government and states should conduct a comprehensive review of those temporary policies, make thoughtful decisions for the current and upcoming school years, and communicate clearly about their goals for students in order to create predictability for schools and encourage a focus on learning acceleration.

3. Comprehensive and Targeted Interventions
Since the start of the pandemic, the consequences of uneven local capacity to address ongoing national crises without effective policies and guidance have been clear. State and federal policies should enable every school and district to create an effective system of comprehensive and targeted learning interventions to meet the needs of each student. Importantly, this system should incentivize collaboration and partnership with other child-serving systems, organizations, agencies, and community partners.

4. Additional Time for Learning
One of the most important ways to make up for missed learning opportunities is through additional learning time. This could include extended school days and years, summer and out-of-school tutoring and supplementary learning, or extending time in school for older students before a transition to postsecondary learning. Any of these initiatives will require policy changes. For example, staffing for extended school days or years are likely to implicate collective bargaining agreements with teachers unions, and transitional years or “year 13” high school opportunities will affect the reporting of graduation rates used for accountability purposes.

These policy recommendations, in combination with effective school and district practices, can help students accelerate their learning. However, these policy recommendations also rely on adequate resource allocations, up next in this series. You can catch up here

Revisiting Missing in the Margins: Recommendations for Practice

In October 2020, Missing in the Margins: Estimating the Scale of the COVID-19 Attendance Crisis estimated that as many as 3 million K-12 students across the country were at high risk of experiencing minimal or no educational access from spring through fall 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Fast-forward one year later, and available data on 2020-21 enrollment, attendance, and engagement suggest massive missed learning opportunities, especially among the most marginalized students.

Changes to practices, policies, and resource allocation can help support all students — especially those with limited access to learning opportunities in 2020-21. This blog post is the first in a series for 2021 where we will expand upon our recommendations, beginning with practices.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, young people across the country have experienced profound disruptions to their educational trajectories. This is particularly true for young people furthest from opportunity, including undocumented students and those in foster care or who are experiencing homelesness. These young people need intensive support from their schools in order to accelerate their learning and address their socio-emotional needs. How can schools, community partners, and child-serving systems work together to implement practices at a local school and community level that can accelerate learning for students with differing needs and experiences over the past year and a half?

In order to determine the most appropriate support, schools, districts, and community partners must listen to and center the needs of young people and their families, with the goal of more effective coordination of services and practices. While an individualized, collaborative case management approach for students would be resource intensive, there must be a focus on practical and innovative supports that are developed in partnership with each student’s family or support unit. 

In addition to a case management approach, schools should also supplement in-person instruction with strategies that combine additional staff and resources including: 

  • Support outside of the traditional school day, like evening and weekend high-impact tutoring or instructional time. When designing additional instructional time, schools should consider an appropriate frequency and length of time, in addition to adequate professional development for tutors.
  • Small, cohort-based intensive acceleration academies to focus on large skill gaps. As part of this strategy, small groups of students would receive support in a cohort model, typically during holiday and summer breaks and weekends. 
  • Structured partnerships with families to collaboratively set annual, quarterly, and monthly goals. Such a partnership is similar to the case management model for students with disabilities who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or young adults receiving intensive counseling. As part of the partnership, these goals would align to a personalized learning plan that is based on the needs of the student. The benefits of such a plan include student ownership, more flexible content, and data-driven decisions.
  • Evidence-based literacy instruction, especially for younger students and English language learners. This can also be coupled with effective parent empowerment resources and tools. 
  • Leveraging innovative instructional models, such as blended learning models, flipped classrooms, or project-based learning models.

While a safe return to in-person school will support the needs of many young people, there may also be opportunities to provide interventions outside a traditional classroom. Some of these interventions could include alternative high schools, high-quality virtual learning, mastery or competency-based learning models, learning pods, and micro-schools or homeschooling. These interventions would be especially beneficial for students whose needs were not being met by traditional in-person school prior to the pandemic. 

In the coming months and years, schools, districts, and other partners must ensure that they center the needs of all students, especially the most marginalized students, when making instructional decisions. These practice-based decisions should be supported by coherent policy recommendations, up next in this series.