How Miami-Dade aims to tackle the ‘COVID slide’

Three-phase plan offers personalized summer school, early start and extended school day to 'most fragile' students
By: | May 27, 2020
Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, shown here handing out meals to students, is the latest Florida schools leader to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on school mask mandates.Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, shown here handing out meals to students, is the latest Florida schools leader to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on school mask mandates.

Personalized learning in summer school and an early start to the 2020-21 academic year anchor Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s equity plan to close achievement gaps caused by the coronavirus.

“It is our goal to turn what has been a very disruptive health crisis into an academic opportunity,” Carvalho tells District Administration. “Our goal is to reach academic stabilization, by the end of 2020-21 school year, for groups of students who have always demonstrated achievement gaps.”

Even before schools shut down, educators in the nation’s fourth-largest school district were growing concerned that closures would further widen achievement gaps for its most fragile students, including English-language learners, students living in poverty and students in special education.

The first phase of Securing Opportunities for Academic Recovery, or SOAR, is a two-part summer school that will begin online on June 8 and be highlighted by low teacher-to-student ratios and personalized instruction.

More from DA: CDC releases more extensive safety guidelines for schools

The focus will be on credit recovery, summer reading and remediation for students with disabilities, students with an excessive amount of absences, and students who did not engage in distance learning. While the district distributed 114,000 digital devices and achieved close to 100 percent connectivity for online learning, not all students attended online classes regularly, Carvahlo says.

[VIDEO: Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho outlines the district’s plan to tackle the ‘COVID slide’ and close achievement gaps.]

If the coronavirus outbreak eases and health restrictions are loosened, students would return to classrooms for portions of the second summer session. These classes will provide extra support for students who will be moving up grade levels without passing end-of-year proficiency tests, all of which were canceled.

“We fear, based on academic fragility, that if we do not accelerate these students to their full potential, they may be at risk of being held back next year or not graduate,” Carvahlo says.

Miami-Dade’s early start offers equity

In phase two, all of the district’s schools will open early, on  July 27, for a two-week session serving about 46,000 students who are demonstrating low levels of academic performance, as well as for students with disabilities and English language learners.

This represents about 25% of the district’s enrollment.

Delivering some instruction in person would be “ideal” during this phase, which also will feature low student-teacher ratios and individualized instructions, Carvahlo says.

Finally, the school day will be extended in 2020-21 at 25 schools where administrators have the highest concerns about students performing below expectations.

Students will get extra support and remediation, and also be assigned a virtual tutor to help drive academic progress.

Long-term impact of online learning

The online-learning experience has not only given parents much appreciation for the jobs teachers and educators do but has also gotten many families more involved in their children’s educations.

Carhavlo says he doesn’t expect to see a reversal on either count.

“I don’t think the normal we abandoned 7-8 weeks ago is ever going to come back,” he says. “Parents will now be making decisions in terms of the models for education that they feel suit their children best.”

When the school year begins, for instance, some parents may want their children to remain home to participate in online learning while others will want their students back in classrooms. Still, others will choose a blend of the two, Carvahlo says.

Social distancing guidelines in place when school resumes will almost certainly require districts to bring students in on alternate days. But some of these approaches may remain even after the coronavirus is controlled.

“I envision for this school year and for years to come that more and more parents will exercise their voice for how, when and by whom their children are educated,” he says.

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