9 strategies to help shape a big district’s COVID recovery

Community group's report suggests LAUSD leaders focus on well-being, live teaching time and acceleration
By: | March 31, 2021
(AdobeStock/Tom Wang) (AdobeStock/Tom Wang)

Los Angeles USD leaders moved a half-million students online but now face challenges of inequitable learning gaps and high school graduation declines. , says a report on the nation’s second-largest district recovery plans.

For instance, publically available data indicates that 40% of the 13,000 of the district’s rising high school seniors may not graduate on time with the class of 2022 due to COVID’s disruptions, says the report by Great Public Schools Now, a Los Angeles nonprofit focused on access and student success.

And while two out of every three students are falling behind in literacy and math, students of color, low-income students, English learners, foster youth, students with disabilities and homeless students have been set back further, the report says.

“We must first acknowledge the learning loss and trauma students have experienced and do more to assess where our children are to best address their social, emotional, mental and academic needs,” Ana F. Ponce, Great Public Schools Now’s executive director, wrote in the report. “Recovery cannot happen to the students, families and staff of Los Angeles; but must be done with them.”

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The report recognizes that district leaders have also has scaled up COVID testing for students and staff, and that they expect to have vaccinated 25,000 elementary teachers and school staff by the end of March 2021.

Also, LAUSD may extend the 2021-22 school year next year and plans to invest heavily in additional student supports, such as its Primary Promise program for the elementary grades.

But the report also found that more than 13,000 middle and high school students were consistently disengaged from school in fall 2020 while an additional 56,000 did not actively participate on a daily basis.

As LAUSD leaders craft a recovery plan, the nonprofit’s report offers the following recommendations:

  1. Prioritize healing, mental health, and connectedness: Consider universal screenings for students to gauge their social, emotional and mental health needs, and provide the appropriate support.
  2. Develop a plan for differentiated learning:  Use assessments, grades and engagement data to track students’ academic progress at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, and set academic and social-emotional learning goals in plans that are shared with the public.
  3. Focus on learning acceleration rather than remediation: The report says that recent research has shown that preparing students for success at grade-level is more effective than the typical remediation approach of helping students master past concepts to fill learning gaps.
  4. Prioritize live time with teachers: Synchronous, appropriately structured learning with teachers is most effective at building students’ academic and social-emotional skills. Leaders should ensure time spent on platforms like Zoom is productive and interactive.
  5. Expand outside-the-classroom learning activities: This is one way to provide students with additional, one-on-one academic support to help them catch up or sustain academic progress.
  6. Deepen partnerships with families. During distance learning, parents and caregivers have become co-educators with teachers. LAUSD educators can build on this foundation of closer collaboration with parents.
  7. Make sure all students are connected. Consider how LAUSD can scale the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools’ broadband pilot or replicate Chicago Connected. These initiatives will require working with the philanthropy sector and nonprofits.
  8. Learn from other district’s best practices. One model can be found in the recovery and reopening framework developed by the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education. It covers promising practices such as clear and inclusive communications, and tailoring educational services for high-need students.
  9. Leverage external partners to provide additional services to highest-need students. The district should coordinate even more closely with nonprofit organizations that provide after-school and summer programs, tutoring, college and career guidance, mental health and social-emotional support, arts and STEM programs, family advocacy and other services.