Category Archives: Research

The 3 Million Who Never Showed Up for Virtual Schooling

For some students, the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic on education goes far beyond coping with the difficulties of distance learning. For these students, a day in March or April marks the last day of their formal education altogether. Out of the approximately 53 million K-12 students in the United States who stopped attending in-person school in the spring, an estimated three million may have never showed up online at all.

That figure comes from a new Bellwether analysis that estimates the number of students who, due to various barriers, did not make the transition, remaining disconnected even as schooling continued online. Just as the pandemic has disproportionately affected our most vulnerable and marginalized communities, this “disconnected” population is more likely to be composed of English learners, students in foster care, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and students with disabilities. Three million students is approximately 1 out of every 4 of these student populations combined — and also roughly equivalent to the entire school-age population of Florida.

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, social unrest, and a general election, it’s easy to miss what’s happening here. But just like the pandemic itself, the defining feature of this crisis is the scale — this is something that every district, in every state, is struggling to address. Once a young person leaves school, it can be very difficult to re-engage them. The long-term implications of even a short period of learning loss are serious, and the outcomes associated with dropping out of high school are even more dire.

We could be witnessing the beginning of an event that has lifelong implications for this generation of students, in much the same way that the Great Recession has hamstrung millennials’ accumulation of wealth relative to previous generations. And among the young people of this new generation, the harshest impacts fall, time after time, on communities of color, students with disabilities, and those living in poverty. 

That’s a gloomy picture to paint, and it’s easy to feel as though we can’t grapple with this problem the way we would want to, given the enormity of everything else happening in the world. But there are concrete steps we can take right now to mitigate the damage being done, from improving attendance data collection — and data sharing — across public agencies to implementing interventions that meet the most vulnerable students where they are. Many teachers and leaders have identified a need for collaboration with social service providers and telecommunications firms to provide Internet connectivity to those in dire need. And states must provide stronger guidance, funding, and resources for schools and social services that can be spent flexibly, effectively, and in a timely manner.

Above all, the number one thing public officials can do to start to repair the damage done — and to prevent the unimaginable harm of a “lost generation” — is to develop and effectively implement the public policies needed to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic by reducing community transmission to levels negligible enough to permit a return to the normal school environment. There is no sustainable education policy workaround that can surmount a public health crisis of this magnitude. Back on March 13, seven months ago, it was difficult to imagine we would find ourselves in this position; our best course of action now is to take aggressive action on behalf of the roughly three million students whose educational futures are in the balance.

Assessment Myth-Busting During COVID-19

Assessments get a bad rap. Many educators express concerns that assessments are just an exercise in compliance, and especially with COVID-related cancellations, some seem ready to throw assessments out the window altogether. But during COVID-19, educators are likely to face classrooms with a wider-than-usual range of academic abilities due to disruptions in learning that occurred in the spring. 

Assessments are actually the best tool to help identify and narrow those gaps between students that have inevitably widened during this pandemic, as they enable us to gather evidence about where students are in the learning progression. In developing our new book, Bridging Research, Theory, and Practice to Promote Equity and Student Learning, my co-editors and I drew on the experiences of educators across the United States to illustrate how assessments can be used to identify where students are with regard to learning goals, communicate with students and families about learning goals, and support student learning. And during COVID-19, it is even more important to take these steps to ensure that students are on the right track.

 Myth Truth Assessments just let you know if you get the content or not Assessments are a tool that can be used to support learning Assessments are just tests Assessments include a variety of different types of evidence of where students are with regard to learning goals Assessments are just used by teachers and administrators Assessments are useful for students and parents as well as teachers and administrators

That said, assessment alone is not sufficient to enable all students to reach their learning goals. We need educators at all levels to use assessment data to inform next steps in instruction (in the classroom) and resource allocation (at the district, state, and federal level) to ensure that every student has the opportunity to meet learning targets.  Continue reading

Four Speakers and Four Themes From Our “Lost Year” Webinar

The pandemic is not behind us. Delivery of education in schools continues to vary from state to state, district to district, and even school to school. 

Research will be critical for figuring out what methods are working, how much learning is actually happening, and what innovations are showing early promise.

On October 5th, Bellwether Senior Adviser Allison Crean Davis gathered four accomplished education researchers to discuss how the pandemic has impacted education research, the emerging significant equity issues, and the future of education research. Complete captioned video is available here or below:

As researchers articulated how they are making sense of this moment, a few key themes emerged:

Missing Data — and Missing Students

Education researchers are already busy developing statistical models and simulations to account for “missing data,” i.e.,the lack of data from state assessments in spring 2020, which is typically used to measure student achievement from year to year. According to Megan Kuhfeld, Research Scientist at NWEA, researchers are discussing the multitudes of caveats and asterisks that will follow any conclusions based on what happened during the 2019-20 school year. The studies, models, and data will have to include significant nuance to capture the varied impact on students by subgroup, learning setting, access to technology, and attendance. 

More pressing, though, than missing data is missing students. As Constance Lindsay, Assistant Professor at UNC School of Education pointed out, there are students who have not “shown up” since schools physically closed. We need to know where they are and who they are. From an equity perspective, it is important to understand the exacerbated effects of the pandemic on missing students’ learning and outcomes. 

The 2019-20 and current school year are emerging as a new baseline to begin to capture “what happened.” Studies are being published, by Kuhfeld and others, with early estimates of learning loss in general and by some subgroups.  Continue reading

FAQs for Future Applicants to the Federal Charter School Program Grant

As applicants anxiously await the results of the FY2020 Charter School Program (CSP) State Entities grant competition, we want to offer some tips for prospective future applicants. As my Bellwether colleagues recently wrote, the CSP is a discretionary grant that provides federal resources to create, replicate, and support high-quality public charter schools. Developing a strong CSP application takes significant time and forethought. Although future funding of the CSP hangs in the balance, charter networks thinking about applying should plan far in advance to develop a strong application. 

Bellwether has partnered with a number of charter management organizations to develop winning federal education grant proposals, including CSP Replication and Expansion grants. The Frequently Asked Questions below explain what differentiates a successful application and provide advice on developing a winning proposal. 

Logistics of applying 

When should I start thinking about applying for a CSP grant? 

Six-to-eight-week turnarounds are fairly common: in 2019, the notice inviting applications appeared on November 26, 2019 and the deadline for transmittal of applications was January 10, 2020. Because the turnaround is pretty quick, occurs at a time of year when many staff may be planning time off, and the applications themselves are often over sixty pages long, preparing in advance is very helpful. 

As you think about applying, consider your network’s readiness to grow and increase impact. Indicators of readiness to grow can cross multiple dimensions, such as quality of programming, strength of student outcomes, clarity of instructional and cultural visions, student and staff retention and satisfaction, and financial health and sustainability. Bellwether offers a “Readiness to Grow” diagnostic tool that can help organizations assess their strengths and areas for focus before or during a growth process (see case study that used this tool here).  Continue reading

Student Absences Get Worse When Juvenile Justice Systems Step In: A Q&A With Josh Weber

The Council of State Governments Justice Center recently published a new report sharing their findings from a study of South Carolina’s probation system and probation’s negative effect on student attendance. I asked the report’s author, Josh Weber, a few questions about the goals of the study and what he thinks it means for schools. I also asked his thoughts about the impact of distance learning in light of the recent news about young people being referred to law enforcement for not attending online classes. 

What motivated the research behind this report? What were you hoping to better understand?

Nationwide, juvenile arrests and court referrals have declined substantially over the last decade, but referrals for truancy have remained largely stable and actually increased to over 60,000 in 2018. In addition, over 288,000 young people are placed on some form of probation every year, at least some of whom are placed under system supervision primarily due to concerns about their school attendance. Likewise, for almost all youth placed on probation, daily school attendance is a mandatory condition of their supervision, and youth can be incarcerated for their failure to comply. 

We conducted this study because we felt that most jurisdictions were not questioning whether the use of the juvenile justice system to intervene in youth’s education in these ways is an effective approach. We wanted to understand whether being placed on probation actually led to improvements in youth’s school attendance.   

What is the key takeaway for schools and educators? Is there something they should be doing differently? Continue reading