Changing Thoughts on School Opening in the Fall

School districts all over the U.S. are planning how they will safely open schools next fall. Depending on Covid-19 infection rates, schools in some states and districts might not open at all, at least until conditions improve. However, there will also be many schools opening when the dangers of Covid-19 are relatively low, and schools can be reasonably safe if they are careful. This is the situation state and district leaders are mainly trying to plan for.

For the past several months, I have been reading about and hearing about plans to partially open schools in the fall. These plans have involved reducing the number of students in each class to allow for social distancing among students. Reducing the numbers of students in these plans usually requires having students attend schools on alternate days (“A Day”/”B Day”), and working online at home on the non-school days. Another often-discussed plan has students attend school either before lunch or after lunch.

Such plans are likely to be educationally damaging, because it is becoming widely acknowledged that online learning is simply no match for in-person teaching, especially for disadvantaged students, who often do not have access to adequate technology for online learning. However, these plans are based on the assumption that social distancing is the key to protecting students from getting or transmitting Covid-19. Social distancing is in fact highly effective with adults, but children rarely get or transmit Covid-19, and in the rare cases when they do, they almost never die from it. Further, while it is possible to maintain social distancing during well-organized class time, it is nearly impossible to keep students apart during recess, much less waiting for busses or walking to and from school. In a news story from Sydney, Australia, an eighth grader described how his school started the school year with strict social distancing, but within a week, it completely broke down, because students found so many ways to get together at times other than class time. Based on informal stories from schools opening this spring in the Southern Hemisphere, China, Singapore, and Europe, it seems that this is a widespread problem.

blog_7-02-20_covidstudents_500x333Recently, a major policy document from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out squarely against plans that involve students being required to rely on distance learning all or some of the time:

“The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”

The AAP’s rationale depends in part on concerns that social distancing cannot be maintained, in part on the evidence that children are at very small risk for Covid-19, and in part on the health and mental health hazards of having many children staying at home for long periods, especially if adult supervision cannot be arranged. These dangers, note the AAP, include dangers of isolation, physical and sexual abuse, substance use, depression, food insecurity, and lack of physical activity.

The AAP does recommend as much social distancing as can be feasibly arranged within schools. It also notes the importance of maintaining social distancing among staff members, for example, by restricting meetings to electronic communications. It suggests masks for staff and students, especially in secondary school, as much as possible, as well as testing students and staff.

The AAP recommendations seem sensible and flexible, and would maximize effective learning time, not a minor factor. Their document provides additional details to consider at each grade level.

I do not know how influential the AAP guidelines have been, and perhaps other trusted organizations are making similar recommendations. However, districts around the country are beginning to announce their school re-opening plans, and some I have heard about are aligned with the AAP approach (i.e., fully open, with care). There are districts proposing A Day/B Day schedules, and other means of reducing the numbers of students in each class to allow social distancing, but many others are proposing that when numbers of new cases get low enough, they will fully open, and let schools do as much social distancing in class as they can within whatever space their facilities allow. Plans I’ve heard about are generally allowing parents to keep students at home if they wish, and will provide these students remote learning opportunities. I think all plans include the flexibility to closely monitor the health consequences of each plan, and be ready to change course, even to close schools again if disease rates spike for staff or students.

In the U.S., we have the luxury of being able to learn from the many schools around the world that have opened their schools before we will have to do so (or not) in August or September. These include schools in the Southern Hemisphere and East Asia, which open in our spring, as well as schools in Europe, where many countries have chosen to open schools in June and July. At this very moment, these schools are actually implementing a wide variety of the same strategies U.S. schools are just thinking about. Do other countries find out that school opening strategies emphasizing social distancing are effective? Which combinations of strategies turn out to be most effective, for both the health of students and staff and the education of students?

Our research group is collecting newspaper articles, government reports, and formal studies around the world, and we are asking teachers, parents, and students in these schools to tell us what they are seeing on the ground (we have friends all over). This effort will be less than systematic, but what we report will be timely and unvarnished. I sincerely hope that researchers are systematically studying outcomes of alternative plans. However, we also need immediate on-the-ground information on what other countries are experiencing.

The Covid-19 crisis has put educational leaders into positions of terrible responsibility for the lives of children and staff. They are seeking and heeding advice from medical and public health professionals, and have been struggling to balance educational and health needs. I think everyone owes these leaders enormous respect for the decisions they are having to make. As the summer progresses, I hope school leaders will be paying attention to the experiences of countries that have opened their schools, learning from their successes and setbacks, before implementing the best plans possible for all of our children.

This blog was developed with support from Arnold Ventures. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Arnold Ventures.

Note: If you would like to subscribe to Robert Slavin’s weekly blogs, just send your email address to thebee@bestevidence.org

Large-Scale Tutoring in England: Countering Effects of School Closures

The government of England recently announced an investment of £1 billion to provide tutoring and other services to help the many students whose educational progress has been interrupted by Covid-19 school closures. This is the equivalent of $1.24 billion, and adjusting for the difference in populations, it is like a U.S. investment of $7.44 billion, even larger than the equivalent of the similar Dutch investment recently announced.

Both England and the Netherlands have Covid-19 disease and death rates like those of the U.S., and all three countries are unsure of when schools might open in the fall, and whether they will open fully or partially when they do. All three countries have made extensive use of online learning to help students keep up with core content. However, participation rates in online learning have been low, especially for disadvantaged students, who often lack access to equipment and assistance at home. For this reason, education leaders in all of these countries are very concerned that academic achievement will be greatly harmed, and that gaps between middle class and disadvantaged students will grow. The difference is that Dutch and English schools are taking resolute action to remedy this problem, primarily by providing one-to-one and one-to-small group tutoring nationwide. The U.S. has not yet done this, except for an initiative in Tennessee.

blog_6-25-20_brittutor_500x425The English initiative has two distinct parts. £650 million will go directly to schools, with an expectation that they will spend most of it on one-to-four tutoring to students who most need it. The schools will mostly use the money to hire and train tutors, mainly student teachers and teaching assistants.

The remaining £350 million will go to fund an initiative led by the Education Endowment Foundation. In this National Tutoring Programme (NTP), 75% of the cost of tutoring struggling students will be subsidized. The tutoring may be either one-to-one or one-to-small group, and will be provided by organizations with proven programs and proven capacity to deliver tutoring at scale in primary and secondary schools. EEF is also carrying out evaluations of promising tutoring programs in various parts of England.

What Do the English and Dutch Tutoring Initiatives Mean for the U.S.?

The English and Dutch tutoring initiatives serve as an example of what wealthy nations can do to combat the learning losses of their students in the Covid-19 emergency. By putting these programs in place now, these countries have allowed time to organize their ambitious plans for fall implementation, and to ensure that the money will be wisely spent. In particular, the English National Tutoring Programme has a strong emphasis on the use of tutoring programs with evidence of effectiveness. In fact, the £350 million NTP could turn out to be the largest pragmatic education investment ever made anywhere designed to put proven programs into widespread use, and if all goes well, this aspect of the NTP could have important implications for evidence-based reform more broadly.

The U.S. is only now beginning to seriously consider tutoring as a means of accelerating the learning of students whose learning progress has been harmed by school closures. There have been proposals to invest in tutoring in both houses of Congress, but these are not expected to pass. Unless our leaders embrace the idea of intensive services to help struggling students soon, schools will partially or fully open in the fall into a very serious crisis. The economy will be in recession and schools will be struggling just to keep qualified teachers in every classroom. The amount of loss in education levels will become apparent. Yet there will not be well-worked-out or well-funded means of enabling schools to remedy the severe losses sure to exist, especially for disadvantaged students. These losses could have long-term negative effects on students’ progress, as poor basic skills reduce students’ abilities to learn advanced content, and undermine their confidence and motivation. Tutoring or other solutions would still be effective if applied later next school year, but by then the problems will be even more difficult to solve.

Perhaps national or state governments or large private foundations could at least begin to pilot and evaluate tutoring programs capable of going to scale. This would be immediately beneficial to the students involved and would facilitate effective implementation and scale-up when government makes the needed resources available. But action is needed now. Gaps in achievement between middle class and disadvantaged students were already the most important problem in American education, and the problem has certainly worsened. This is the time to see that all students receive whatever it takes to get back on a track to success.

 This blog was developed with support from Arnold Ventures. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Arnold Ventures.

Note: If you would like to subscribe to Robert Slavin’s weekly blogs, just send your email address to thebee@bestevidence.org

Are the Dutch Solving the Covid Slide with Tutoring?

For a small country, the Netherlands has produced a remarkable number of inventions. The Dutch invented the telescope, the microscope, the eye test, Wi-Fi, DVD/Blue-Ray, Bluetooth, the stock market, golf, and major improvements in sailboats, windmills, and water management. And now, as they (like every other country) are facing major educational damage due to school closures in the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the Dutch who are the first to apply tutoring on a large scale to help students who are furthest behind. The Dutch government recently announced a plan to allocate the equivalent of $278 million to provide support to all students in elementary, secondary, and vocational schools who need it. Schools can provide the support in different ways (e.g., summer schools, extended school days), but it is likely that a significant amount of the money will be spent on tutoring. The Ministry of Education proposed to recruit student teachers to provide tutoring, who will have to be specially trained for this role.

blog_6-18-20_Dutchclass_500x333The Dutch investment would be equivalent to a U.S. investment of about $5.3 billion, because of our much larger population. That’s a lot of tutors. Including salaries, materials, and training, I’d estimate this much money would support about 150,000 tutors. If each could work in small groups with 50 students a year, they might serve about 7,500,000 students each year, roughly one in every seven American children. That would be a pretty good start.

Where would we get all this money? Because of the recession we are in now, millions of recent college graduates will not be able to find work. Many of these would make great tutors. As in any recession, the federal government will seek to restart the economy by investing in people. In this particular recession, it would be wise to devote part of such investments to support enthusiastic young people to learn and apply proven tutoring approaches coast to coast.

Imagine that we created an American equivalent of the Dutch tutoring program. How could such a huge effort be fielded in time to help the millions of students who need substantial help? The answer would be to build on organizations that already exist and know how to recruit, train, mentor, and manage large numbers of people. The many state-based AmeriCorps agencies would be a great place to begin, and in fact there has already been discussion in the U.S. Congress about a rapid expansion of AmeriCorps for work in health and education roles to heal the damage of Covid-19. The former governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, is funding a statewide tutoring plan in collaboration with Boys and Girls Clubs. Other national non-profit organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, City Year, and Communities in Schools could each manage recruitment, training, and management of tutors in particular states and regions.

It would be critical to make certain that the tutoring programs used under such a program are proven to be effective, and are ready to be scaled up nationally, in collaboration with local agencies with proven track records.

All of this could be done. Considering the amounts of money recently spent in the U.S. to shore up the economy, and the essential need both to keep people employed and to make a substantial difference in student learning, $5.3 billion targeted to proven approaches seems entirely reasonable.

If the Dutch can mount such an effort, there is no reason we could not do the same. It would be wonderful to help both unemployed new entrants to the labor force and students struggling in reading or mathematics. A double Dutch treat!

This blog was developed with support from Arnold Ventures. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Arnold Ventures.

Note: If you would like to subscribe to Robert Slavin’s weekly blogs, just send your email address to thebee@bestevidence.org

Opening Healthy Schools

It seems that every educational leader in America, and every health professional involved in any way with children, is currently trying to figure out how to open schools safely this coming fall. This is a very complex problem, and I would not presume to offer solutions to all of it. But I would humbly offer some thoughts on key health aspects of the school opening problem, beyond the purely educational issues I have been discussing in previous blogs (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

I am not an epidemiologist. I don’t even play one on television. However, I do know a little bit about school health, from working with very talented colleagues at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the Baltimore City Health Department, and the Baltimore Cuty Public Schools, on projects involving ensuring that all students who need them receive, wear, and benefit from eyeglasses. Also, I checked this blog out with colleagues who do know what they are talking about.

First, I will start with an observation. So far, it seems that Covid-19 rarely harms children. Using Maryland data, only 2.2% of cases, and no deaths, have involved children ages 0-9, and 4.2% have involved children and teens ages 10-19, and there has been one death statewide, in a state of six million people.  As a point of comparison, about four Maryland children die of asthma each year. In contrast, teacher-aged people, ages 20 to 59, represent 66.8% of Covid-19 cases, and 243 deaths (I would assume that these rates will be much less by September, or the schools would not be opening in the first place). Keeping children safe from the virus is essential, even if they rarely die from it, but from a public health perspective, the problem is not only what opening schools could mean for the health of students. It is also what opening schools could mean for the health of staff, parents, and other adult relatives and friends of staff and parents.  Unless the disease is completely gone by September, or unless there are widespread vaccines or cures, which seem very unlikely, any solution to limit negative health effects of opening is going to have to focus on staff and parents, not just students. Beyond the importance of protecting the health of the adults closest to the children, it is important to be aware that children who do get the disease probably get it from their families or other adults, not just from other children, so keeping these particular adults healthy is going to be a key way to keep children safe. Further, if staff members, parents, and other family members do become ill, this can have a profound impact on children even if the children do not get the disease themselves.

What these observations mean is that to be truly safe after re-opening, each school should create and implement plans to keep their entire community safe and healthy. One aspect of this might be to have schools build capacity to serve as a local health information and referral center, at least as regards Covid-19, for children, staff, and parents. My proposal would be first, to make sure that each school has a full- or part-time school nurse (currently, approximately 25% of America’s schools do not have even a part-time nurse). Then, I would propose that states, local health departments, or school districts assign one or more well-trained school health aides to each school, to work in partnership with other school support staff under the direction of the school nurse. These health aides might be people with college degrees, such as recent college graduates, trained specifically for this role. They would need to be paid for with federal funds intended to provide employment.

The purpose of the school health aides would be to use whatever resources are available by next fall to ensure that every child, parent, family member, and school staff member, is free of Covid-19, or if they have the disease, they are being directed to local health professionals for isolation and treatment. School health aides might take temperatures of anyone who enters the school, and take appropriate actions if anyone has a high temperature (as hospitals are doing now for everyone who enters). They could provide up-to-date information to parents, staff, and students about social distancing, symptoms of Covid-19, and sources of care. When a cure becomes available, the school health aides’ function could include notifying school community members about the availability of the medication, making sure that all who need it are receiving it, taking their medicine as directed, and doing whatever else is medically necessary. As vaccinations become available, they could help notify school community members about the vaccinations, and help keep track of who has been vaccinated and who has not. The health aide would not be expected to directly provide medical services, of course, but would be charged with keeping track of the health status of the whole school community (with all due concern for confidentiality consistent with HIPAA) and coordinating with local health providers to provide information to parents and staff on available services.

blog_6-11-20_sickgirl_500x333

Why is the school the right place to house health aides to serve the school’s own children, parents, staff, and community? One answer is that schools, especially elementary schools, are available in every community, and they are trusted and familiar places.  In inner city and poor rural areas, they may be the only trusted institution in the community. A key function of the school health aides would be to form positive relationships with children, parents, and community members. This is easiest in schools, where concern for community health can clearly be seen as concern for children, something that every community values. Providing services to school staff members would allow schools to help staff members stay safe. Services to parents would be purely voluntary, and would hopefully supplement services parents might receive in other ways. People who are not involved with schools should be able to receive similar information services from hospitals or community health centers, but the school community has unique needs and strengths that a health aide could help mobilize.

Covid-19 will, we hope, diminish in numbers and impact, so after schools have successfully opened and the virus begins to affect fewer and fewer people, the role of the school health aides could change. At least in high-poverty communities, many children have chronic health problems that seriously interfere with school success. Examples include students who have vision problems, students with asthma, and students with auditory problems. Especially in disadvantaged communities, children may not have treatment for these problems, and even if they have been prescribed eyeglasses, inhalers, medications, or other necessary treatments, they may not be using them regularly, so the problem remains unsolved. In addition to whatever they need to continue to do to keep Covid-19 under control, school health aides could take on roles in which they ensure that students who need eyeglasses receive them and wear them, students who need asthma inhaler medication are observed every school day to ensure that they are taking their medicine, and so on. I have proposed these functions previously, but in the age of Covid-19, the need for people in the school who can help make certain that all children are receiving needed health interventions has become even more important.

School health aides would provide a front line of information gathering, dissemination of information to school community members, relationship formation, and referral to established health providers.  As children or adults are found to need services, the school health aides would help link them up with hospitals or community health centers, as appropriate.

I am only roughing out what a system might look like, and there are many aspects that could be done differently, or adapted to local circumstances. My hope is just to provide an overview of a system of supports, based in schools, capable of helping entire school communities do the detailed family-by-family work necessary to eliminate Covid-19, and at the same time build up a trusted, capable, and community-friendly network to improve the health of all children. Whether or not this is the right system, something much like it will be necessary if we are to be able to strengthen the health of our schools and our communities in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.

This blog was developed with support from Arnold Ventures. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Arnold Ventures..

Note: If you would like to subscribe to Robert Slavin’s weekly blogs, just send your email address to thebee@bestevidence.org

Thorough Implementation Saves Lives

In an article in the May 23 Washington Post, Dr. John Barry, a professor of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane, wrote about lessons from the 1918 influenza epidemic.  Dr. Barry is the author of a book about that long-ago precursor to the epidemic we face today.  I found the article chilling, in light of what is happening right now in the Covid-19 pandemic.

In particular, he wrote about a study of Army training camps in 1918.  Army leaders prescribed strict isolation and quarantine measures, and most camps followed this guidance.  However, some did not.  Most camps that did follow the guidance did so rigorously for a few weeks, but then gradually loosened up.  The study compared the camps that never did anything to the camps that followed the guidelines for a while.  There were no differences in the rates of sickness or death.  However, a third set of camps continued to follow the guidance for a much longer time. These camps saw greatly reduced rates of sickness and death.

blog_6-4-20_1918flu_500x375
Camp Funston at Fort Riley, Kansas, during the 1918 flu pandemic, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology/National Museum of Health and Medicine, distributed via the Associated Press / Public domain

Dr. Barry also gave an example from the SARS epidemic in the early 2000’s.  President George W. Bush wanted to honor the one hospital in the world with the lowest rate of SARS infection among staff.  A study of that hospital found that they were doing exactly what all hospitals were doing, making sure that staff maintained sterile procedures.  The difference was that in this hospital, the hospital administration made sure that these rules were being rigorously followed.  This reminds me of a story by Atul Gawande about the most successful hospital in the world for treating cystic fibrosis. Researchers studied this hospital, an ordinary, non-research hospital in a Minneapolis suburb.  The physician in charge of cystic fibrosis was found to be using the very same procedures and equipment that every other hospital used.  The difference was that he frequently called all of his patients to make sure they were using the equipment and procedures properly.  His patients had markedly higher survival rates than did patients in similar hospitals doing exactly the same (medical) things with less attention to fidelity.

Now consider what is happening in the U.S. in our current pandemic.  Given our late start, we have done a pretty good job reducing rates of disease and death, compared to what might have been.  However, all fifty states are now opening up, to one degree or another.  The basic message: “We have been careful long enough.  Now let’s get sloppy.”

Epidemiologists are watching all of this with horror.  They know full well what is coming.  Leana Wen, Baltimore’s former Health Commissioner, explained the consequences of the choices we are making in a deeply disturbing article in the May 13 Post.

The entire story of what has happened in the Covid-19 crisis, and what is likely to happen now, has a substantial resonance with problems we experience in educational reform.  Our field is full of really good ideas for improving educational outcomes.  However, we have relatively few examples of programs that have been successful even in one-year evaluations, much less over extended time periods at large scale.  The problem is not usually that the ideas turn out not to be so good after all, but that they are rarely implemented with consistency or rigor. Or they are implemented well for a while, but get sloppy over time, or stop altogether.  I am often asked how long innovators must stay connected with schools using their research-proven programs with success.  My answer is, “forever.”  The connection need not be frequent in successful implementers, but someone who knows what the program is supposed to look like needs to check in from time to time to see how things are going, to cheer the school on in its efforts to maintain and constantly improve their implementation, and to help the school identify and solve any problems that have cropped up.

Another thing I am frequently asked is how I can base my argument for evidence-based education on the examples of medicine and other evidence-based fields.  “Taking a pill is not like changing a school.”  This is true.  However, the examples of epidemiology, cystic fibrosis (before the recent cure was announced), dealing with obesity and drug abuse, and many other problems of medicine and public health, actually look quite a bit like the problems of education reform.  In medicine, there is a robust interest in “implementation science,” focused on, among other things, getting people to take their medicine or follow a proven protocol (e.g., “eat more veggies”).  There is growing interest in implementation science in education, too.  Similar problems, similar solutions, in many cases.

Education, public health, and medicine have a lot to learn from each other.  In each case, we are trying to make important differences in whole populations.  It is never easy, but in each of our fields, we are learning how to cost-effectively increase health and education outcomes at scale.  In the current pandemic, I hope science will prevail in both reducing the impact of the disease and in using proven practices, with consistency and rigor, to help schools repair the educational damage children have suffered.

References

Barry, J.M. (2020, May 23).  How to avoid a second wave of infections.  Washington Post.

Wen, L.S. (2020, May 13).  We are retreating to a new strategy on covid-19.  Let’s call it what it is.  Washington Post.

This blog was developed with support from Arnold Ventures. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Arnold Ventures.

Note: If you would like to subscribe to Robert Slavin’s weekly blogs, just send your email address to thebee@bestevidence.org

 

Large-Scale Tutoring as a Solution for School Closure Losses: Is the Idea Taking Hold?

What will America’s schools be like when they reopen in fall, 2020?  There are many things we don’t know, and conditions will vary considerably from state to state and school to school.  To begin with, we need to strengthen our schools, to be sure they have the teachers and administrators and supplies they need to do their essential work.  However, schools will need more than just a return to the status quo.  One thing we can absolutely predict is that millions of children will have fallen far behind in their educational progression. In particular, many elementary students in the early stages of learning reading and mathematics will need effective and rapid assistance tailored to their needs to get back on track.  Dedicated teachers and other educators will do everything in their power to bring students back up to speed, but without additional assistance, it will be very difficult to overcome the losses so many children have experienced.  States and school districts will be struggling economically, so no matter how clearly they understand what needs to be done, they will need help.  Yet at the same time, there will be large numbers of capable people eager to help struggling children who will be on the sidelines, without jobs that enable them to make the difference they want to make.

If you have been following my blogs for the past month or so (here, here, here, and here), you will be aware that I have been writing quite a bit about the idea of recruiting, training, and deploying large numbers of tutors to work in schools that have been closed for many months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Our research and reviews of research have found that several one-to-one and one-to-small group tutoring approaches that use teaching assistants (usually people with college degrees but not teaching certificates) have demonstrated effect sizes of +0.40 or more, roughly equivalent to five additional months of learning over a school year.  No other type of educational service comes close to these impacts.  My argument has been that in the recession we will be facing when school opens in the fall, it would be good for the economy as well as essential for students to have government fund thousands of tutors to work with students who have fallen far behind grade level in reading or mathematics.

This idea may be taking hold.  For example, the State of Tennessee recently announced a plan to work with Big Brothers, Big Sisters to recruit and train people to serve as tutors, as a response to the school closures (here and here). On May 15, the House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act, which includes substantial additional funding for K-12 education.  This includes “initiatives to reduce education gaps.”  This could certainly include tutoring.  I heard that there was talk in the Senate about funding that could also support tutoring.  None of these federal initiatives are certain, but at this point, what is important is that solutions of this kind are in discussion.

blog_5-28-20_tutor_500x333          In addition, other observers are also proposing large-scale tutoring as a solution for the educational damage done by school closures (and as a means of providing essential employment to thousands of recent college graduates otherwise unable to enter the job market).  Jill Barshay wrote about this in a recent article in the Hechinger Report.  Matthew Kraft and Michael Goldstein wrote on the topic in a recent Brookings blog.  Susan Dynarski wrote an op-ed on the proposal in the New York Times.

One concern I have heard expressed about the tutoring plan is that with all the uncertainties about the progression of Covid-19 and plans to re-open schools, it is not clear whether schools will re-open on time or not, and whenever they do open, they may use double sessions or other means to reduce the number of children being taught at a given time, to allow for social distancing within schools.  If neither cures nor vaccines are available by the fall, late or partial school openings are indeed possible.  We and other tutoring providers are developing and piloting distance tutoring models, and are willing to share them with other tutoring providers, should this be necessary.  And if schools do not open in September at all, then the need for intensive solutions such as tutoring are that much greater, whenever schools open.

If large-scale tutoring is to be used as part of recovery plans for schools, then preparations need to be begun as soon as possible, to coordinate the efforts of various providers, and then begin to recruit and train tutors, trainers, and others whose efforts will be needed to make this all work.  It would be wonderful if some number of tutors could be ready to go, starting with the elementary grades, soon after students arrive in school, and then expand services to add capacity to serve additional children in need over the 2020-2021 school year.

In the late 1930s, the extraordinary potential of penicillin to treat wounds and diseases was known by scientists and government officials in Britain, and they knew that war was coming and that penicillin could save millions of lives.  However, no one knew how to mass produce enough penicillin to matter.  The British contracted with an American company to work rapidly on the problem, and by the start of World War II, there was enough penicillin for a start, and massive manufacturing capacity to make more.  In a way, we are in a similar situation with tutoring.  We know what has to be done to provide millions of American children with the most effective service known to put them back on track, and it is clearly going to be necessary to do so.  Yet we have a lot of work to do to make this happen in time.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused great devastation in our economy, our society, and our schools.  There are many things we must do to repair these losses.  In each arena, we have to use the best methods we have to cost-effectively solve problems caused by the crisis.  In our field of education, there are many things that must be done, but tutoring, to ensure that students can catch up to grade level, should be part of this great effort.

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This blog was developed with support from Arnold Ventures. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Arnold Ventures.

Note: If you would like to subscribe to Robert Slavin’s weekly blogs, just send your email address to thebee@bestevidence.org

Would Your School or District Like to Participate in Research?

As research becomes more influential in educational practice, it becomes important that studies take place in all kinds of schools. However, this does not happen. In particular, the large-scale quantitative research evaluating practical solutions for schools tends to take place in large, urban districts near major research universities. Sometimes they take place in large, suburban districts near major research universities. This is not terribly surprising, because in order to meet the highest standards of the What Works Clearinghouse or Evidence for ESSA, a study of a school-level program will need 40 to 50 schools willing to be assigned at random to either use a new program or to serve as a control group.

Naturally, researchers want to have to deal with a small number of districts (to avoid having to deal with many different district-level rules and leaders), so they try to sign up districts in which they might find 40 or 50 schools willing to participate, or perhaps split between two or three districts at most. But there are not that many districts with that number of schools. Further, researchers do not want to spend their time or money flying around to visit schools, so they usually try to find schools close to home.

As a result of these dynamics, of course, it is easy to predict where high-quality quantitative research on innovative programs is not going to take place very often. Small districts (even urban ones) can be hard to serve, but the main category of schools left out of big studies are ones in rural districts. This is not only unfair, but it deprives rural schools of a robust evidence base for practice. Also, it can be a good thing for schools and districts anywhere to participate in research. Typically, schools are paired and assigned at random to treatment or control groups. Treatment groups get the treatment, and control schools usually get some incentive, such as money, or an opportunity to use the innovative treatment a year after the experiment is over. So why should some places get all this attention and opportunity, while others complain that they never get to participate and that there are few programs evaluated in districts like theirs?

I have a solution to propose for this problem: A “Registry of Districts and Schools Seeking Research Opportunities.” The idea is that district leaders or principals could list information about themselves and the kinds of research they might be willing to host in their schools or districts. Researchers seeking district or school partners for proposals or funded projects could post invitations for participation. In this way, researchers could find out about districts they might never have otherwise considered, and district and school leaders could find out about research opportunities. Sort of like a dating site, but adapted to the interests of researchers and potential research partners (i.e., no photos would be required).

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Scientists consulting a registry of volunteer participants.

If this idea interests you, or if you would like to participate, please write to Susan Davis at sdavi168@jh.edu . If you wish, you can share any opinions and ideas about how such a registry might best accomplish its goals. If you represent a district or school and are interested in participating in research, tell us, and I’ll see what I can do.

If I get lots of encouragement, we might create such a directory and operate it on behalf of all districts, schools, and researchers, to benefit students. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!

 This blog was developed with support from Arnold Ventures. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Arnold Ventures.

Note: If you would like to subscribe to Robert Slavin’s weekly blogs, just send your email address to thebee@bestevidence.org

Recovery 2020

After a harsh winter, spring has come.

It’s May.  The weather is gorgeous on the Chesapeake, the weather is getting warm, the air is delicious, the flowers are blooming.  From a slight distance, everything seems so normal.   But up close, nothing is normal.  People have settled into patterns of behavior that would be completely bizarre in normal times.  They are wearing masks everywhere as though they have always done so.  Neighbors  are  being as friendly as they can be without getting too close.   Not far away, we know there is chaos and catastrophe, and we all do what we can.  But every day, there is life to be lived, jobs to be done, children to cherish and nurture.

The school year is coming to an end.  In some places, schools have already closed weeks early.   Educators have gotten through the challenges of trying to operate schools when there are no schools to operate.  They have had to use stopgaps, such as distance learning, because there were gaps to stop.  But now we are entering a new phase: Recovery 2020.

Part of Recovery 2020 will be a struggle to open schools while minimizing health risks.  Schools may not even open in September, or may only partially open.  But whenever they fully open, the challenge we face as educators will be to create schools ready to provide extraordinary education to every student, however long they have been out of school and whatever they have experienced in the interim.

In a series of blogs over recent weeks (here, here, and here), I’ve proposed a number of actions schools should take to put students on a new trajectory toward success, engagement, self-esteem, health, and safety.  In this blog, I want to get more specific about some ideas I’d propose to make Recovery 2020 more than a return to the status quo.  More like Status: Go!

  1. Strengthen the Core

First, we have to make sure that the  core of the schooling enterprise, teachers, principals, and administrators, are supported, and their jobs are safe.  There will be a recession, but it cannot be allowed to do the damage the last recession did, when schools could not focus and innovate because they were scrambling to hold on to their staff, just to cover classes.  Federal and state funding must be used to ensure that school staffs can focus on their work, not on managing shortage-induced chaos.  Current school staff should also be able to receive top-quality professional development to enable them to use proven, effective teaching methods in the subjects and grade levels they teach, so they can enhance and accelerate their students’ progress.  School nurses, counselors, and other specialists in whole-child development need to be in every school.

  1. Train and Deploy Thousands of Tutors in Every State and District

blog_5-12-20_tutorcollage_333x500In fall, 2020, schools will open into a recession, yet they will have to make more of a difference in their students’ development than ever before.  Securing the jobs and professional support of school staffs is essential, but not enough.  Students will need personalized, effective support, so they can achieve greater success in school than they have ever had.

If there is a recession, many people will struggle to keep their jobs or to find new ones.  But as always, those who suffer most in a recession are people who are entering the labor market.  There will be millions of college graduates and others ready to work who will find enormous barriers to entering the labor market, which will be overwhelmed keeping experienced workers employed.  This is a huge problem, but also potentially a huge opportunity.  Schools will need help in accelerating student achievement to make up for losses due to school closures and then to continue beyond making up losses to growing gains.  An army of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young people will be eager to get involved serving children.  Government will have to provide relief to these and other unemployed people, so why not have them make a difference in children’s education, rather than just receiving  emergency support?

The solution I am proposing is for government to create a fund, a Marshall Plan for education, to recruit, train, and deploy thousands of tutors in schools across America.  The tutors would be trained, coached, and supervised by experts to deliver proven small-group tutoring models, focused in particular on reading and math, in elementary and middle schools.  They would be paid as teacher assistants, but equipped with specific skills and supports to work with students who are behind in reading or mathematics in elementary or middle schools.  Schools would receive a number of tutors depending on their size and levels of disadvantage and achievement deficits, up to five or more tutors per school.  The tutors would work with struggling students in small groups, using tutoring models proven in rigorous research to be particularly effective.  These models are known to be able to add five or more months of gain to students’ usual yearly progress each year, more than making up the losses most students have experienced.  As time goes on, students who need more tutoring can receive it, so that they can continue to make more than one year’s gain each year, until they reach grade level.

While tutoring is worthwhile in itself, it will also serve a purpose in introducing promising young people to teaching.  School leaders should be enabled to identify especially capable young people who show promise as teachers.  Someone who has been a great tutor will probably become a great teacher.  These people should then be given opportunities to participate in accelerated teacher training leading to certification.  The quality and commitment the tutors show in their daily work will help school leaders identify an extraordinary group of potential teachers to enter classrooms eager and prepared to make a difference.

  1. Train and Deploy School Health Aides

Especially in schools serving many disadvantaged children, there are many children who are achieving below their potential just because they need eyeglasses, or suffer from chronic diseases such as asthma.  Trained health aides can be deployed to make sure that students receive needed eyeglasses, regularly take medication for asthma, and otherwise solve health problems that interfere with success in school.  Working with school nurses, health aides will also be needed to manage ongoing protections against Covid-19 and other threats to health.

After a harsh winter, spring has come.  The wise farmer celebrates, but then he plants.  In the same way, America’s education leaders should celebrate that we have somehow made it this far.  But celebration is not enough.  We have to plan, and to plant, anticipating the opportunity this fall not just to get back to normal, but to create a new normal, better than the one we had, in which we use our nation’s strengths to heal and to build.

Recovery 2020 will take efforts and expenditures beyond just returning schools and students to normal.  But this is essential, and the short- and long-term benefits to our children and our society are clear.  If we are are wise, we will start this process now, to prepare to mobilize resources and energies to open in the fall the best schools we ever had.

Photo credit: Collage photos courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This blog was developed with support from Arnold Ventures. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Arnold Ventures.

Note: If you would like to subscribe to Robert Slavin’s weekly blogs, just send your email address to thebee@bestevidence.org

September, 2020: Opening School Doors to New Opportunities for Universal Success

“Now is the time for all good schools to come to the aid of their country.”

In times of great danger, nations have always called upon their citizens to volunteer to do what is necessary to solve their most pressing problems. Today, our most immediate crisis is, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. This time, the heroes who have come forward are health care providers, who risk their lives to save the lives of others. The many people who work in essential services, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, also subject themselves to risks so that others can survive. Teachers across the country are working day and night to prepare online lessons, as well as helping get food to hungry students.  Behind the scenes, scientists are working to find cures, expand testing, and determine when it will be safe for our society to return to normal.

In a few months, we will face a new emergency. Schools will open. Hopefully, school opening will not pose major health threats to students and staff, assuming that the danger of infection has passed. But we will without any doubt face a new set of challenges in the education of the more than 50 million children in elementary and secondary schools in the U.S., as well as the billion students in the world as a whole.

blog_5-7-20_backtoschool500x333 2In the U.S., children re-entering our schools will have been out of school since March. Some may have kept up with their school work online, but most will have had little formal schooling for six months. This will be most serious, of course, among the students most at risk. By next September, 2020, millions of children will not only have missed out on schooling, but many will also be traumatized by what they have experienced since they were last in school. Many will have experienced the disease or death of a close relative. Many will have parents who have lost their jobs, and may have lived in fear of lacking food or safety.

This is a predictable crisis. No one can expect that schools and students will just pick up and carry on when schools re-open, as though they’ve just had a few snow days.  No teacher is going to say on Day 1, “Please open your textbook to the page where we left off last March.”

As educators and policy makers, it would be irresponsible to wait until schools re-open and only then take action to solve the entirely predictable problems. Instead, we need to prepare, starting today, to create the schools students will need in September, 2020, or whenever it is deemed safe for schools to open.

Here are a few ideas I would propose to address the problems students are likely to have.

  1. Bring all students up to grade level in reading and mathematics.

In two recent blogs (here and here) I discussed one aspect of this problem, the fact that many students will have fallen behind in basic skills because of their long absence from face-to-face school. I proposed a Marshall Plan for education, including mobilization of tens of thousands of recent college graduates, and others eager to help, to serve as paid tutors to students who are struggling in reading and/or mathematics.  As I noted, research overwhelmingly points to tutoring as the most effective strategy to accelerate the achievement of students who are performing below their capabilities.  According to the evidence, several one-to-one or one-to-small group tutoring models can routinely increase student achievement by an effect size of +0.40 in a year (almost equivalent to the difference between middle class and disadvantaged students). But what if students received effective tutoring for two years, or longer? What if their classroom teachers used teaching methods proven to be effective, contributing further to student success? What if schools could provide services to students with problems with their vision or hearing, or chronic health problems such as asthma? Based on what we already know how to do, a goal of steadily increasing the percentage of students performing at today’s definition of “at grade level” could increase each year, until virtually all students could expect that level of performance.

  1. Schools need to welcome back every child.

When students return to school after the long delay and trauma they may have endured, they need to be welcomed back with enthusiasm by all school staff. The return will create a psychological opportunity.  Students will always remember what happened on the first day, the first weeks, the first months. A big party to welcome students back is a good start, but students will need constant and sincere affirmations of their value and importance to the adults in the school. They need to be told, one at a time and by name, how much they were missed, and how glad everyone is that they are back, safe and healthy. I think the theme of each school should be “a once-in-a-lifetime chance to connect with the school,” not “at last, everything is back to normal.”

  1.  Schools need social emotional and health solutions

In addition to using proven academic approaches, schools need to implement proven social-emotional and health promotion strategies to help all students reconnect and thrive.  Strategies to build self-concept, positive relations with peers, concern for the well-being of others, and a commitment to banish violence and bullying will be especially important.  Cooperative learning can help to build friendships, acceptance, and engagement, in addition to improving achievement.

In light of all that has happened, schools need to enthusiastically welcome their students back, and then provide them the success, respect, and love that they deserve.  They need to give them every reason to believe that they have a new opportunity to achieve success.  Students, parents, and educators alike need to have well-founded confidence that out of the destruction caused by the pandemic, there will come triumph.

 This blog was developed with support from Arnold Ventures. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Arnold Ventures.

Note: If you would like to subscribe to Robert Slavin’s weekly blogs, just send your email address to thebee@bestevidence.org

Marshall Plan II: Heal the Damage, But Build for the Future

At the end of World War II, Western Europe was devastated. Factories, housing, transportation, everything was destroyed. Millions were homeless, millions were refugees. The U.S. led an international effort to help countries rebuild. The U.S. Marshall Plan (1947-1951) was a massive gift to restart Western European economies and societies.

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“Berlin Emergency Program with Marshall Plan Help” National Archives at College Park / Public domain

There was so much that obviously had to be done in the short term. Yet the leaders of the shattered countries were not just thinking short term. Each of them used a significant portion of the Marshall Plan funding to establish national health systems. One irony never mentioned in the debate about trying European-style universal health care in the U.S. is that U.S. funds were used to create these very plans.

Today we face the COVID-19 crisis. Schools have closed, and are unlikely to re-open until September, at best. There has been a lot of discussion of how to use distance education to help students now, but only recently has there been much talk about what to do when schools re-open to make up the losses. I wrote a recent blog suggesting schools accelerate the achievement of students who have lost ground in basic skills, as well as those who had problems before schools closed and are now in greater difficulty. I suggested providing well-trained teacher assistants with college degrees to use proven tutoring approaches to accelerate student achievement in reading and mathematics. According to evidence, experience, and common sense, large scale, small group tutoring programs, and other proven methods, should enable struggling students to make substantial gains, erasing deficits from the COVID-19 closures.

But why should we stop there? If it is indeed possible to make a big difference in the performance levels of whole schools using proven cost-effective methods, why should we stop?

Time-limited solutions to the educational damage done by the COVID-19 school closures will not make the difference that needs to be made. Getting back to the status quo is not sufficient. Proven strategies capable of rapidly bringing students back to where they were will also demonstrate how schools can produce gains that go far beyond healing the specific damage due to the crisis.

The Marshall Plan helped Western Europe overcome its losses, but also to establish sustainable systems that continue to ensure the health of their populations 75 years later. In the same way, our solution to the educational impacts of the COVID-19 crisis could help establish a new basis for success for millions of children. Seventy-five years from now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if people recalled that in 2020, a worldwide pandemic finally shocked American education into solving its fundamental problems?

 This blog was developed with support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.

Note: If you would like to subscribe to Robert Slavin’s weekly blogs, just send your email address to thebee@bestevidence.org