There are many ways for districts across the country to spend the funding allotted to K-12 education in the recent rounds of federal stimulus. Learning loss, differentiation, and intervention are a few (important) terms that keep coming up. But what about the content and whole-child considerations that will get students in the right mindset for learning?
We’ve rounded up examples of spending guidelines and grant programs from 4 states that focus on meaningful learning experiences and supporting the whole child, particularly for students most vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic.
Connecticut | Addressing the engagement gap in vulnerable populations
The Connecticut State Department of Education recommends that spending be targeted for students disproportionately affected by the pandemic, including students with disabilities, English learners, and disengaged youth. Unlike Connecticut, most states did not include "disengaged youth" as a primary focus, which was surprising to us given the struggle to engage students throughout the pandemic. When we surveyed 2,600+ educators late last year, nearly 40% of survey respondents said that student distance learning participation during spring school closures was below 80%. However, the number is likely even lower because another 36% were unsure how their districts even measured student participation in the spring.
By investing their federal stimulus funding in engaging content, districts can mitigate the engagement gap (particularly in vulnerable populations) by grounding instruction in topics that are relevant to their lives.
Kentucky | Reprioritizing career and technical education
A Fordham Institute study showed that students with greater exposure to Career and Technical Education (CTE) are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages – and those from low income families are most likely to benefit. Unfortunately, CTE programs (which are typically hands-on) have been largely stalled during remote learning.
The Kentucky Department of Education suggests that districts consider using federal stimulus funding to continue offering students meaningful CTE experiences from wherever they’re learning. For high school students, this might focus on essential employability skills and connections to in-demand careers. For upper elementary and middle school, career exploration activities are a great way to get students excited for what’s to come. Wherever they are, students will be more engaged in learning when they see a direct through-line to their lives and futures.
Nebraska | Focusing on learning renewal and acceleration
Through the Launch Nebraska initiative, the Nebraska Department of Education is advising districts that resources be targeted towards investments in high-quality content, data collection to support the level of support needed for all students (particularly marginalized populations), and attending to whole-child needs like mental health.
We were impressed by Nebraska’s efforts to shift the narrative around learning loss and remediation to empower students and teachers most affected by the pandemic, and assert that learning is unfinished rather than lost. This includes a shift from remediation to acceleration, and a renewed focus on serving students who have been historically marginalized, including students of color, students with disabilities, the economically disadvantaged, and English learners.
New Jersey | Investing in mental health and social-emotional learning
With federal stimulus funding, New Jersey is running a $30 million non-competitive grant program to assist districts in implementing school-based mental health supports for all students, considering the trauma students have faced over the past year and how remote learning has made it even more difficult for teachers to get a pulse on how their students are doing. One way districts are supporting the mental health of their students is through investing in dedicated social-emotional learning resources and content-area instructional materials with embedded SEL supports. Particularly through remote learning, weaving SEL activities into content-area instruction can help teachers provide additional support to those who need it most.
The plans that we believe will be most effective are the ones that go beyond academics to also prioritize engagement, relevance, and social-emotional needs for every student. With Newsela, you don’t need to choose between alignment to academic standards or student engagement. You can do both. See our overview of why Newsela is an allowable use for many federal funding sources, and a deep-dive into specific product features that align with requirements of ESSER (I and II) and ESSA.