Building Back Better

Yesterday, President Joe Biden took his oath of office. He is taking office at one of the lowest points in all of American history. Every American, whatever their political beliefs, should be wishing him well, because his success is essential for the recovery of our nation.

In education, most schools remain closed or partially open, and students are struggling with remote learning. My oldest granddaughter is in kindergarten. Every school day, she receives instruction from a teacher she has never met. She has never seen the inside of “her school.” She is lucky, of course, because she has educators as grandparents (us), but it is easy to imagine the millions of kindergartners who do not even have access to computers, or do not have help in learning to read and learning mathematics. These children will enter first grade with very little of the background they need, in language and school skills as well as in content.

Of course, the problem is not just kindergarten. All students have missed a lot of school, and they will vary widely in their experiences during that time. Think of second graders who essentially missed first grade. Students who missed the year when they are taught biology. Students who missed the fundamentals of creative writing. Students who should be in Algebra 2, except that they missed Algebra 1.

Hopefully, providing vaccines as quickly as possible to school staffs will enable most schools to open this spring. But we have a long, long way to go to get back to normal, especially with disadvantaged students. We cannot just ask students on their first day back to open their math books to the page they were on in March, 2020, when school closed.

Students need to be assessed when they return, and if they are far behind in reading or math, given daily tutoring, one-to-one or one-to-small group. If you follow this blog, you’ve heard me carry on at length about this.

Tutoring services, using tutoring programs proven to be effective, will be of enormous help to students who are far behind grade level (here, here, here). But the recovery from Covid-19 school closures should not be limited to repairing the losses. Instead, I hope the Covid-19 crisis can be an opportunity to reconsider how to rebuild our school system to enhance the school success of all students.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that schooling in America was ailing long before Covid-19. It wasn’t doing so badly for middle class children, but it was failing disadvantaged students. These very same students have suffered disproportionately from Covid-19. So in the process of bringing these children back into school, let’s not stop with getting back to normal. Let’s figure out how to create schools that use the knowledge we have gained over the past 20 years, and knowledge we can develop in the coming years, to transform learning for our most vulnerable children.

Building Back Better

Obviously, the first thing we have to do this spring is reopen schools and make them as healthy, happy, welcoming, and upbeat as possible. We need to make sure that schools are fully staffed and fully equipped. We do need to “build back” before we can “build back better.” But we cannot stop there. Below, I discuss several things that would greatly transform education for disadvantaged students.

1.  Tutoring

Yes, tutoring is the first thing we have to do to build better. Every child who is significantly below grade level needs daily one-to-small group or one-to-one tutoring, until they reach a pre-established level of performance, depending on grade level, in reading and math.

However, I am not talking about just any tutoring. Not all tutoring works. But there are many programs that have been proven to work, many times. These are the tutoring programs we need to start with as soon as possible, with adequate training resources to ensure student success.

Implementing proven tutoring programs on a massive scale is an excellent “build back” strategy, the most effective and cost-effective strategy we have. However, tutoring should also be the basis for a key “build better” strategy

2.  Establishing success as a birthright and ensuring it using proven programs of all kinds.

We need to establish adequate reading and mathematics achievement as the birthright of every child. We can debate about what that level might be, but we must hold ourselves accountable for the success of every child. And we need to accomplish this not just by using accountability assessments and hoping for the best, but by providing proven programs to all students who need them for as long as they need them.

As I’ve pointed out in many blogs (here, here, here), we now have many programs proven effective in rigorous experiments and known to improve student achievement (see www.evidenceforessa.org). Every child who is performing below level, and every school serving many children below grade level, should have resources and knowledge to adopt proven programs. Teachers and tutors need to be guaranteed sufficient professional development and in-class coaching to enable them to successfully implement proven programs. Years ago, we did not have sufficient proven programs, so policy makers kept coming up with evidence-free policies, which have just not worked as intended. But now, we have many programs ready for widespread dissemination. To build better, we have to use these tools, not return to near universal use of instructional strategies, materials, and technology that have never been successfully evaluated. Instead, we need to use what works, and to facilitate adoption and effective implementation of proven programs.

3.  Invest in development and evaluation of promising programs.

How is it that in a remarkably short time, scientists were able to develop vaccines for Covid-19, vaccines that promise to save millions of lives? Simple. We invested billions in research, development, and evaluations of alternative vaccines. Effective vaccines are very difficult to make, and the great majority failed.  But at this writing, two U.S. vaccines have succeeded, and this is a mighty good start. Now, government is investing massively in rigorous dissemination of these vaccines.

Total spending on all of education research dedicated to creating and evaluating educational innovations is a tiny fraction of what has been spent and will be spent on vaccines. But can you imagine that it is impossible to improve reading, math, science, and other outcomes, with clear goals and serious resources? Of course it could be done. A key element of “building better” could be to substantially scale up use of proven programs we have now, and to invest in new development and evaluation to make today’s best obsolete, replaced by better and better approaches. The research and evaluation of tutoring proves this could happen, and perhaps a successful rollout of tutoring will demonstrate what proven programs can do in education.

4.  Commit to Success

Education goes from fad to fad, mandate to mandate, without making much progress. In order to “build better,” we all need to commit to finding what works, disseminating it broadly, and then finding even better solutions, until all children are succeeding. This must be a long-term commitment, but if we are investing adequately and see that we are improving outcomes each year, then it is clear we can do it.            

With a change of administrations, we are going to hear a lot about hope. Hope is a good start, but it is not a plan. Let’s plan to build back better, and then for the first time in the history of education, make sure our solutions work, 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

An Open Letter To President-Elect Biden: A Tutoring Marshall Plan To Heal Our Students

Dear President-Elect Biden:

            Congratulations on your victory in the recent election. Your task is daunting; so much needs to be set right. I am writing to you about what I believe needs to be done in education to heal the damage done to so many children who missed school due to Covid-19 closures.

            I am aware that there are many basic things that must be done to improve schools, which have to continue to make their facilities safe for students and cope with the physical and emotional trauma that so many have experienced. Schools will be opening into a recession, so just providing ordinary services will be a challenge. Funding to enable schools to fulfill their core functions is essential, but it is not sufficient.

            Returning schools to the way they were when they closed last spring will not heal the damage students have sustained to their educational progress. This damage will be greatest to disadvantaged students in high-poverty schools, most of whom were unable to take advantage of the remote learning most schools provided. Some of these students were struggling even before schools closed, but when they re-open, millions of students will be far behind.

            Our research center at Johns Hopkins University studies the evidence on programs of all kinds for students who are at risk, especially in reading (Neitzel et al., 2020) and mathematics (Pellegrini et al., 2020). What we and many other researchers have found is that the most effective strategy for struggling students, especially in elementary schools, is one-to-one or one-to-small group tutoring. Structured tutoring programs can make a large difference in a short time, exactly what is needed to help students quickly catch up with grade level expectations.

A Tutoring Marshall Plan

            My colleagues and I have proposed a massive effort designed to provide proven tutoring services to the millions of students who desperately need it. Our proposal, based on a similar idea by Senator Coons (D-Del), would ultimately provide funding to enable as many as 300,000 tutors to be recruited, trained in proven tutoring models, and coached to ensure their effectiveness. These tutors would be required to have a college degree, but not necessarily a teaching certificate. Research has found that such tutors, using proven tutoring models with excellent professional development, can improve the achievement of students struggling in reading or mathematics as much as can teachers serving as tutors.

            The plan we are proposing is a bit like the Marshall Plan after World War II, which provided substantial funding to Western European nations devastated by the war. The idea was to put these countries on their feet quickly and effectively so that within a brief period of years, they could support themselves. In a similar fashion, a Tutoring Marshall Plan would provide intensive funding to enable Title I schools nationwide to substantially advance the achievement of their students who suffered mightily from Covid-19 school closures and related trauma. Effective tutoring is likely to enable these children to advance to the point where they can profit from ordinary grade-level instruction. We fear that without this assistance, millions of children will never catch up, and will show the negative effects of the school closures throughout their time in school and beyond.

            The Tutoring Marshall Plan will also provide employment to 300,000 college graduates, who will otherwise have difficulty entering the job market in a time of recession. These people are eager to contribute to society and to establish professional careers, but will need a first step on that ladder. Ideally, the best of the tutors will experience the joys of teaching, and might be offered accelerated certification, opening a new source of teacher candidates who will have had an opportunity to build and demonstrate their skills in school settings. Like the CCC and WPA programs in the Great Depression, these tutors will not only be helped to survive the financial crisis, but will perform essential services to the nation while building skills and confidence.

            The Tutoring Marshall Plan needs to start as soon as possible. The need is obvious, both to provide essential jobs to college graduates and to provide proven assistance to struggling students.

            Our proposal, in brief, is to ask the U.S. Congress to fund the following activities:

Spring, 2021

  • Fund existing tutoring programs to build capacity to scale up their programs to serve thousands of struggling students. This would include funds for installing proven tutoring programs in about 2000 schools nationwide.
  • Fund rigorous evaluations of programs that show promise, but have not been evaluated in rigorous, randomized experiments.
  • Fund the development of new programs, especially in areas in which there are few proven models, such as programs for struggling students in secondary schools.

Fall, 2021 to Spring, 2022

  • Provide restricted funds to Title I schools throughout the United States to enable them to hire up to 150,000 tutors to implement proven programs, across all grade levels, 1-9, and in reading and mathematics. This many tutors, mostly using small-group methods, should be able to provide tutoring services to about 6 million students each year. Schools should be asked to agree to select from among proven, effective programs. Schools would implement their chosen programs using tutors who have college degrees and experience with tutoring, teaching, or mentoring children (such as AmeriCorps graduates who were tutors, camp counselors, or Sunday school teachers).
  • As new programs are completed and piloted, third-party evaluators should be funded to evaluate them in randomized experiments, adding to capacity to serve students in grades 1-9. Those programs that produce positive outcomes would then be added to the list of programs available for tutor funding, and their organizations would need to be funded to facilitate preparation for scale-up.
  • Teacher training institutions and school districts should be funded to work together to design accelerated certification programs for outstanding tutors.

Fall, 2022-Spring, 2023

  • Title I schools should be funded to enable them to hire a total of 300,000 tutors. Again, schools will select among proven tutoring programs, which will train, coach, and evaluate tutors across the U.S. We expect these tutors to be able to work with about 12 million struggling students each year.
  • Development, evaluation, and scale-up of proven programs should continue to enrich the number and quality of proven programs adapted to the needs of all kinds of Title I schools.

            The Tutoring Marshall Plan would provide direct benefits to millions of struggling students harmed by Covid-19 school closures, in all parts of the U.S. It would provide meaningful work with a future to college graduates who might otherwise be unemployed. At the same time, it could establish a model of dramatic educational improvement based on rigorous research, contributing to knowledge and use of effective practice. If all goes well, the Tutoring Marshall Plan could demonstrate the power of scaling up proven programs and using research and development to improve the lives of children.

References

Neitzel, A., Lake, C., Pellegrini, M., & Slavin, R. (2020). A synthesis of quantitative research on programs for struggling readers in elementary schools. Available at www.bestevidence.org. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Pellegrini, M., Inns, A., Lake, C., & Slavin, R. (2020). Effective programs in elementary mathematics: A best-evidence synthesis. Available at www.bestevidence.com. Manuscript submitted for publication.

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

Handling Outbreaks after COVID-19 Re-openings: The Case of Germany

By guest blogger Nathan Storey*

As schools across the U.S. are beginning to reopen in hybrid or full formats, unanticipated outbreaks of COVID are bound to occur. To help schools prepare, we have been writing about strategies schools and districts in other countries have used to combat outbreaks.

In this week’s case study, I examine how Germany has responded to outbreaks and managed school reopening nationwide.

Germany

Over one month since reopening after the summer holiday, German schools are largely still open. Critics and health experts worried in the early weeks as cases in the country appeared to increase (Morris & Weber-Steinhaus, 2020), but schools have been able to continue to operate. Now students sit in classes without masks, and children are allowed to move and interact freely on the playground.

Immediately following the reopening, 31 outbreak clusters (150 cases) were identified in the first week of schooling, and 41 schools in Berlin (out of 825 schools in the region) experienced COVID-19 cases during the first two weeks of schooling, requiring quarantines, testing, and temporary closures. Similar issues occurred across the country as schools reopened in other states. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the first state to reopen, saw 800-plus students from Goethe Gymnasium in Ludwigslust sent home for quarantine after a faculty member tested positive. One hundred primary school students in Rostock district were quarantined for two weeks when a fellow student tested positive. Yet now one month later, German schools remain open. How is this possible?

Germany has focused its outbreak responses on individual student and class-level quarantines instead of shutting down entire schools. Due to active and widespread testing nationwide in the early stages of the outbreak, the country was able to get control of community-level positivity rates, paving the way for schools to reopen both in the spring, and again after summer break. Rates rose in August, but tracking enabled authorities to trace the cases to people returning from summer vacation, not from schools. At schools, outbreaks have generally been limited to one teacher or one student, who have contracted the virus from family or community members, not from within the school.

When these outbreaks occur, schools close for a day awaiting test results, but reopen quickly once affected individuals are tested negative and can return to class. At Sophie-Charlotte High School in Berlin, three days after reopening, the school received word that two students tested positive from the girls’ parents. The school in turn informed the local health authority, leading to 191 students and teachers asked to quarantine at home. Everyone was tested and two days later they received their test results. Before the week was up, school was back in session. By one estimate, due to the efficient testing and individual or class quarantines, fewer than 600 Berliner students have had to stay home for a day (out of more than 366,000 students) (Bennhold, 2020).

So far, there has been one more serious outbreak at Heinrich Hertz School in Hamburg, where a cluster of 26 students and three teachers have all received positive diagnoses, potentially infected by one of the teachers. The school moved to quarantine grades six and eight, and mask wearing rules were more strictly followed. The school and local health authorities are continuing to study the potential transmission patterns to locate the origin of the cluster.

Testing in Germany is effective because it is extensive, but targeted to those with direct contact with infections. At Heinz-Berggruen school in Berlin, a sixth grader was found to be infected after being tested even though she had no symptoms. Someone in her family had tested positive. Tracing the family member’s contacts, tests determined the source of the infection stemmed from international travel, and Heinz-Berggruen remained open, with just the infected student quarantined for two weeks. At Goethe Gymnasium in Ludwigslust, mentioned earlier, the infected teacher was sent home, and all 55 teachers were subsequently tested. The school was able to reopen less than a week later.

Some challenges have arisen. As in the US, German states are responsible for their own COVID-19 prevention measures and must make plans for the case of outbreaks. One city councilor in the Neukölln district of Berlin revealed there was confusion among parents and schools about children’s symptoms and response plans. As a result, children whose only symptoms are runny noses, for instance, have been sent home, and worries are increasing as to how effectively schools and districts will differentiate COVID-19 from flu in the winter.

The German case provides some optimism that schools can manage outbreaks and reopen successfully through careful planning and organization. Testing, contact tracing, and communication are vital, as is lowering of community positivity rates. Cases may be rising in Germany again (Loxton, 2020), but with these strategies and new national COVID management rules in place, the country is in an excellent position to address the challenge.

*Nathan Storey is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education

References

Barton, T., & Parekh, A. (2020, August 11). Reopening schools: Lessons from abroad. https://doi.org/10.26099/yr9j-3620

(2020, June 12). As Europe reopens schools, relief combines with risk. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/10/world/europe/reopen-schools-germany.html

Bennhold, K. (2020, August 26). Germany faces a ‘roller coaster’ as schools reopen amid Coronavirus—The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/26/world/europe/germany-schools-virus-reopening.html?smid=em-share

Holcombe, M. (2020, October 5). New York City to close schools in some areas as Northeast sees rise in new cases. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/05/health/us-coronavirus-monday/index.html

Loxton, R. (2020, October 15). What you need to know about Germany’s new coronavirus measures for autumn. The Local. https://www.thelocal.de/20201015/what-you-need-to-know-about-germanys-new-coronavirus-measures-for-autumn-and-winter

Medical Xpress. (2020, August 7). Germany closes two schools in new virus blow. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-08-germany-schools-virus.html

Morris, L., & Weber-Steinhaus, F. (2020, September 11). Schools have seen no coronavirus outbreaks since reopening a month ago in Germany—The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/covid-schools-germany/2020/09/10/309648a4-eedf-11ea-bd08-1b10132b458f_story.html

Noryskiewicz, A. (2020, August 25). Coronavirus data 2 weeks into Germany’s school year “reassures” expert. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-school-germany-no-outbreaks/

The Associated Press (2020, August 27). Europe is going back to school despite recent virus surge—Education Week. AP. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/08/27/europe-is-going-back-to-school_ap.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news2&M=59665135&U=&UUID=4397669ca555af41d7b271f2dafac508

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

Learning from International Schools Part II: Outbreaks after COVID-19 Re-openings: The Case of Israel

By guest blogger Nathan Storey*

The summer is over and fall semester is underway across the United States. Schools are reopening and students are back in the classroom, either virtually or in the flesh. Up to now, the focus of discussion has been about whether and how to open schools: in person, using remote instruction, or some mix of the two. But as schools actually open, those with any element of in-person teaching are starting to worry about how they will handle any outbreaks, should they occur. In fact, many countries that opened their schools before the U.S. have actually experienced outbreaks, and this blog focuses on learning from the tragic experience of Israel.  

In in-person schooling, outbreaks are all but inevitable. “We have to be realistic…if we are reopening schools, there will be some Covid,” says Dr. Benjamin Linas, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University (Nierenberg & Pasick, 2020). Even though U.S. schools have already reopened, it is not too late to put outbreak plans into place in order to stem any future outbreaks and allow schools to remain in session.

Israel

On Thursday, September 17, Israel’s school system was shut down due to rising positivity rates; 5,523 new cases were recorded in one day prior to the decision, in a country about one fortieth the size of the U.S. The closures are due to last until October 11, though special education and youth-at-risk programs are continuing. The spike in COVID cases reported by health officials centered around children 10 years of age and up. “The government made the wrong decision, against professional recommendations,” COVID commissioner and Professor Ronni Gamzu wrote in a letter to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Education Minister Yoav Gallant.

Israel has been a cautionary tale since reopening schools in May. By July, 977 students and teachers were diagnosed with COVID, 22,520 had been quarantined, and 393 schools and kindergartens had been closed by the Education Ministry (Kershner & Belluck, 2020; Tarnopolsky, 2020). At the beginning of September, 30 “red” cities and neighborhoods were placed under lockdown due to spikes. Almost 4,000 students and over 1,600 teachers are currently in quarantine, while more than 900 teachers and students have been diagnosed with the virus (Savir, 2020).

Schools initially reopened following a phased approach and using social distancing and mask protocols. Students with diagnosed family members were not allowed back, and older staff members and those at risk were told not to return to the classroom. It seemed as if they were doing everything right. But then, a heat wave wiped all the progress away.

Lifting the face mask requirement for four days and allowing schools to shut their windows (so they could air condition) offered new opportunities for the virus to run rampant. An outbreak at Gymnasia Rehavia, a high school in Jerusalem, turned into the largest single-school outbreak seen so far, soon reaching to students’ homes and communities. Outbreaks also appeared outside of the Jerusalem area, including in an elementary school in Jaffa. Reflecting on the nationwide spread of the virus, researchers have estimated that as much as 47% of the total new infections in the whole of Israel could be traced to Israeli schools (Tarnopolsky, 2020), introduced to schools by adult teachers and employees, and spread by students, particularly middle-school aged children.

This crisis serves to illustrate just how important it is for education leaders, teachers, and students to remain vigilant in prevention efforts. The Israeli schools largely had the right ideas to ensure prevention. Some challenges existed, particularly related to fitting students into classrooms while maintaining six feet separation given large class sizes (in some cases, classrooms of 500 square feet have to hold as many as 38 students). But by relaxing their distancing regulations, the schools opened students, staff, and communities to a major outbreak.

Schools responded with quarantining individual students, classmates of infected students, teachers, and staff; and when a second unconnected case was detected, schools would close for two weeks. But Israel did not place a priority on contact tracing and testing. Students and staff were tested following outbreaks, but they experienced long wait times to take the test, increasing the opportunities for spread. In the case of one school outbreak, Professor Eli Waxman of Weizmann Institute of Science reported that school officials could not identify which buses students took to reach school (Kershner & Belluck, 2020). Having this type of information is vital for tracing who infected students may have come into contact with, especially for younger students who may not be able to list all those with whom they’ve been in close contact.

Before the fall semester began, it looked as if Israel had learned from their previous mistakes. The Education Ministry disseminated new regulations adapted to the local level based on infection rates, and once more planned a phased reopening approach starting with K-4th grades, followed by middle- and high-school students, who were set to follow a hybrid remote and in-person instruction approach. Schools planned to use plastic barriers to separate students in the classroom. Education leaders were to develop a guidebook to support the transition from in-person to distance learning and procedures to maintain distancing during celebrations or graduation ceremonies.

These precautions and adaptive plans suggested that Israel had learned from the mistakes made in the summer. Upon reopening, a new lesson was learned. Schools cannot reopen in a sustainable and long-term manner if community positivity rates are not under control.

*Nathan Storey is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education

References

Couzin-Frankel, J., Vogel, G., & Weil, M. (2020, July 7). School openings across globe suggest ways to keep coronavirus at bay, despite outbreaks. Science | AAAS. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/school-openings-across-globe-suggest-ways-keep-coronavirus-bay-despite-outbreaks

Jaffe-Hoffman, M. (2020, September 16). 5,500 new coronavirus cases, as gov’t rules to close schools Thursday. The Jerusalem Post. https://www.jpost.com/breaking-news/coronavirus-4973-new-cases-in-the-last-day-642338

Kauffman, J. (2020, July 29). Israel’s hurried school reopenings serve as a cautionary tale. The World from PRX. https://www.pri.org/stories/2020-07-29/israels-hurried-school-reopenings-serve-cautionary-tale

Kershner, I., & Belluck, P. (2020, August 4). When Covid subsided, Israel reopened its schools. It didn’t go well. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/04/world/middleeast/coronavirus-israel-schools-reopen.html

Nierenberg, A., & Pasick, A. (2020, September 16). For school outbreaks, it’s when, not if—The New York Times. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/16/us/for-school-outbreaks-its-when-not-if.html

Savir, A. (2020, September 1). 2.4 million Israeli students go back to school in shadow of COVID-19. J-Wire. https://www.jwire.com.au/2-4-million-israeli-students-go-back-to-school-in-shadow-of-covid-19/

Schwartz, F., & Lieber, D. (2020, July 14). Israelis fear schools reopened too soon as Covid-19 cases climb. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/israelis-fear-schools-reopened-too-soon-as-covid-19-cases-climb-11594760001

Tarnopolsky, N. (2020, July 14). Israeli data show school openings were a disaster that wiped out lockdown gains. The Daily Beast. https://www.thedailybeast.com/israeli-data-show-school-openings-were-a-disaster-that-wiped-out-lockdown-gains

Photo credit: Talmoryair / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

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

Learning from International Schools: Outbreaks after COVID-19 Re-openings: The Case of the United Kingdom

By guest blogger Nathan Storey, Johns Hopkins University*

For much of the summer, U.S. education leaders and media have questioned how to safely reopen schools to students and teachers. Districts have struggled to put together concrete plans for how to structure classes, how much of the instruction would be in person, how to maintain social distancing in the classroom, and how to minimize health risks.

Most school districts have focused on preventing outbreaks through masks and social distancing, among other measures. However, this has left a gap—what happens to these well-thought-out plans if and when there’s an outbreak? While many school districts (including 12 of the 15 largest in the United States) have opted to start schooling remotely, many others plan to or have already restarted in-person schooling, often without detailed prevention and response plans in place.

For those districts committed to in-person schooling, outbreaks in at least some schools are all but inevitable. Community positivity rates within the United States remain high, with some states experiencing positivity rates of up to 5.4% (CDC, 2020), compared to 2.3% in Scotland or 0.8% across the entire United Kingdom (JHU, 2020). The image of students without masks packed into the hallways of a Georgia school have already spread nationwide. It is clearly important to put these plans into place as soon as possible in order to stem any outbreaks and allow schools to remain in session.

In a series of case studies, I will examine the experiences of how other countries with similar education systems dealt with outbreaks in their schools and share lessons learned for the United States.

United Kingdom

Schools in England and Wales finally reopened last week for the fall semester, but Scottish schools reopened the week of August 10. Outbreaks in Scotland have been minimal, but a cluster of school outbreaks cropped up in the Glasgow region, most notably at Bannerman High School. Affected schools soon closed for one week following the positive tests, but students who tested positive remained at home in self-isolation for 14 days.

What makes this outbreak notable is that through testing of students and community members, researchers were able to trace the outbreak to a cluster of infections amongst senior managers at McVities biscuit factory, also in Glasgow. Having successfully traced the infections to this source, education leaders and researchers were able to determine that cases were not being transmitted within schools, and put into effect appropriate isolation procedures for potentially infected students and faculty.

Testing and contact tracing were conducted first during the spring and summer months when schools first reopened in the UK, following the national shutdown in March. Researchers (Ismail et al., 2020) were able to determine sources of outbreaks and prevalence amongst students and faculty, finding that transmission was less common within schools, providing crucial information to improve COVID understanding and informing quarantine and school lockdown protocols in the country.

Scotland has put into place a strong contact tracing protocol, coupled with self-isolation, social distancing, and more intensive hygiene protocols. Scientists from England have urged weekly testing of teachers, as well as “test and trace” protocols, but the schools minister, Nick Gibb, instead committed to testing of symptomatic individuals only. Researcher Michael Fischer recently launched the COVID-19 Volunteer Testing Network, hoping to create a network of laboratories across the UK using basic equipment common in most labs (specifically, a polymerase chain reaction or PCR machine) to provide rapid testing. Eventually, as many as 1,000 labs could each do 800 tests a day, providing rapid response to COVID-19 tests and enabling more effective contact tracing and allowing schools to isolate students and staff members without requiring entire schools to be shut down.

Another means of accelerating testing and contact tracing is through group or pooled testing. One scientist in England pointed to this form of testing—in which multiple individuals’ samples are pooled together and tested simultaneously, with subsequent individual tests in the event of a positive test result—as a means of providing quick testing even if testing materials are limited. This could be particularly useful for schools implementing clustered classrooms or educational pods, keeping students together throughout the day and limiting contact with other students and staff.

Through careful and thorough testing and contact tracing, as exemplified by the United Kingdom’s efforts, coupled with careful social distancing and preventative measures, United States school districts in areas with low positivity rates, comparable to those in the United Kingdom, could more systematically address outbreaks, avoiding entire school shutdowns, which can be disruptive to education for students. Preventative measures alone are not likely to be enough to get students and staff through what promises to be a difficult school year. These outbreak responsive systems are likely to be necessary as well.

References

Brazell, E. (2020, April 2). Scientist donates £1,000,000 to massively increase UK coronavirus testing. Metro. https://metro.co.uk/2020/04/02/scientist-donates-1000000-massively-increase-uk-coronavirus-testing-12499729/

CDC. (2020, September 4). COVIDView, Key Updates for Week 33. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html

Davis, N. (2020, August 10). Scientists urge routine Covid testing when English schools reopen. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/aug/10/scientists-urge-routine-covid-testing-when-english-schools-reopen

Duffy, E. (2020, August 19). Scots school closes with immediate effect after multiple confirmed cases of Covid-19. The Herald. https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18662461.kingspark-school-dundee-school-closes-multiple-cases-covid-19-confirmed/

Government of United Kingdom. (2020, September 8). Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK: UK Summary. https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/

Ismail, S. A., Saliba, V., Bernal, J. L., Ramsay, M. E., & Ladhani, S. N. (2020). SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission in educational settings: Cross-sectional analysis of clusters and outbreaks in England (pp. 1–28). Public Health England. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.08.21.20178574

Johns Hopkins University. (2020, September 8). Daily Testing Trends in the US – Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/testing/individual-states

Macpherson, R. (2020, August 16). Coronavirus Scotland: Another pupil at Bannerman High School in Glasgow tests positive as cluster hits 12 cases – The Scottish Sun. https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/5937611/coronavirus-scotland-bannerman-high-school-covid19/

Palmer, M. (2020, April 1). Call for small UK labs to embrace Dunkirk spirit and produce Covid-19 tests. Sifted. https://sifted.eu/articles/uk-labs-coronavirus-testing/

*Nathan Storey is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education

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

The Case for Optimism

In the July 16 New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote an article with a provocative title: “We Interrupt This Gloom to Offer…Hope.”

Kristof’s basic point is that things have gotten so awful in the U.S. that, in response, with any luck, we could soon be able to make progress on many issues that we could never make in normal times. He gives the example of the Great Depression, which made possible Social Security, rural electrification, and much more. And the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which led to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Civil Rights Act.

Could the crises we are going through right now have even more profound and long-lasting consequences? The Covid-19 pandemic is exposing the lack of preparedness and the profound inequities in our health systems that everyone knew about, but that our political systems could not fix. The Black Lives Matter movement is not new, but George Floyd’s killing and many other outrages caught on video are fueling substantial changes in attitudes among people of all races, making genuine progress possible. The shockingly unequal impacts of both Covid itself and its economic impacts are tearing away complacency about the different lives that are possible for rich and poor. The attacks by federal troops on peaceful demonstrators in Washington and Portland are likely to drive Americans to get back to the core principles in our Constitution, ones we too often take for granted. When this is all over, how can we just return to the way things were?

What is happening in education is appalling. Our inept response to the Covid pandemic makes it literally murder to open schools in many parts of the country. Some districts are already announcing that they will not open until January. With schools closed, or only partially open, students will be expected to learn remote, online lessons, which author Doug Lemov aptly describes as “like teaching through a keyhole.”

The statistics say that a tenth or a quarter or a half of students, depending on where they are, are not logging into online learning even once. For disadvantaged students and students in rural areas, this is due in part to a lack of access to equipment or broadband, and school districts are collectively spending billions to increase access to computers. But talk to just about any teacher or parent or student, including the most conscientious students with the best technology and the most supportive parents. They are barely going through the motions. The utter failure of online education in this crisis is a crisis in itself.

The ultimate result of the school closures and the apparent implosion of online teaching is that when schools do open, students will have fallen far behind. Gaps between middle class and disadvantaged students, awful in the best of times, will grow even larger.

So how can I possibly be optimistic?

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There are several things that I believe are highly likely to occur in the coming months in our country. First, once students are back in school, we will find out how far behind they have fallen, and we will have to declare an educational emergency, with adequate funding to match the seriousness of the problems. Then the following will have to happen.

  1. Using federal money, states and districts will contract with local agencies to hire an army of tutors to work individually or in small groups with struggling students, especially in elementary reading and mathematics, where there are many proven programs ready to go. Frankly, this is no longer optional. There is nothing nearly as effective as one-to-one or one-to-small group tutoring. Nothing else can be put in place as quickly with as high a likelihood of working. As I’ve reported in previous blogs, England and the Netherlands have already announced national tutoring programs to combat the achievement gaps being caused by school closures. My own state, Maryland, has recently announced a $100 million program to provide tutoring statewide. Millions of recent college graduates will be without jobs in the recession that is certain to come. The best of them will be ideal candidates to serve as tutors.
  2. America is paying a heavy price for ignoring its scientists, and science itself. Although there has been rapid growth in the evidence base and in the availability of proven programs, educational research and proven programs are still paid little attention in school policies and practices. In the education crisis we face, perhaps this will change. Might it be possible that schools could receive incentive funding to enable them to adopt proven programs known to make substantial differences in learning from Pre-K to 12th grade and beyond? In normal times, people can ignore evidence about what works in reading or mathematics or science or social-emotional learning. But these are not normal times. No school should be forced to use any particular program, but government can use targeted funding and encouragement to enable schools to select and effectively implement programs of their choice.
  3. In emergencies, government often accelerates funding for research and development to quickly find solutions for pressing national problems. This is happening now as labs nationwide are racing to develop Covid vaccines and cures, for example. As we declare an education emergency, we should be investing in research and development to respond to high-priority needs. For example, there are several proven programs for elementary students struggling in reading or mathematics. Yet we have few if any proven tutoring programs for middle or high schools. Middle school tutoring methods have been proven effective in England, so we know this can work, but we need to adapt and evaluate English models for the U.S., or evaluate existing U.S. programs that are promising but unevaluated, or develop new models for the U.S. If we are wise, we will do all three of these things. In the education emergency we face, it is not the time to fiddle around the edges. It is time to use our national innovative capacity to identify and solve big problems.

If America does declare a national education emergency, if it does mobilize an army of tutors using proven programs, if it invests in creating and evaluating new, ever more effective programs to solve educational problems and incentivizes schools to use them, an amazing thing will happen. In addition to solving our immediate problems, we will have learned how to make our schools much more effective, even in normal times.

Yes, things will someday get back to normal. But if we do the right things to solve our crises, we will not just be returning to normal. We will be returning to better. Maybe a lot better.

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

Let’s Learn from Peer Countries How to Open Schools Safely

*Guest blogger Nathan Storey is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University

The time to develop and finalize plans for the reopening of U.S. schools in the fall is closing. Labor Day is little more than a month away. How are states to determine the best methods of reopening schools? What issues should receive the most attention when developing plans? Students’ physical health and safety is always a concern in schools, but teachers, administrators, and staff are particularly at risk, especially staff over 50 and those with certain health conditions. Many school districts are grappling with this question.

One potential source of information about school opening may be the experiences of other countries that have already opened their schools.  Fortunately, a number of other countries have been conducting a natural experiment, whether they think of it that way or not, and the United States has the opportunity to draw important lessons from their experiences in order to create plans for safe instruction. Increasing numbers of schools have decided to close this fall, in light of the high and rising rates of new cases in most states. However, when schools do open, we should learn from the experiences of peer nations.

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While we wait for more data to come in, the experiences of other nations demonstrate what approaches may work best and what approaches are too expensive, labor intensive, insufficient, or downright unsafe. For instance, we have seen some nations initially open in a phased approach or using alternative day attendance, but later loosen school processes due to lowering COVID rates or implementation challenges. The Washington Post recently reported that Belgium and Japan reopened following an alternative day attendance structure, and recently loosened protocols in schools. Both French-speaking and Flemish-speaking parts of Belgium opened in phases, first for key grades (grades leading to a certification) in primary and secondary education, and later, following an open letter signed by 269 pediatricians, for all grades in kindergarten and primary schools. But each section of the country took different approaches in the opened schools. French-speaking Belgium implemented “bubbles” of classes that stayed together throughout the school day, not interacting with other students, and entering and exiting the building through different doors or according to staggered hours for instance. Within the classroom, students were not required to wear masks or socially distance from one another. In Flemish-speaking Belgium, classes were split into two groups, with each attending school in person two days per week, with Wednesday as a cleaning day.

Belgium was one of the hardest hit countries in Europe, but by early June, had largely contained the coronavirus. The reopening of schools was considered a success: there were only 15-20 Covid cases among the children from 2,500 schools in the French section, apparently not linked with school but rather with home conditions. No case involving children required hospitalization. A national increase of 66% in mid-July did not appear to be linked to schools. Nationwide, just four schools partly closed, and only one school needed to close completely, as the bubble concept allowed schools to quarantine single bubbles where infections occurred instead of closing and quarantining the entire school population.

These moves towards normalizing and adjusting as necessary are possible because Belgium and other countries, including Denmark, have done the work to minimize spread in the population and have put into place protocols in case of infection spread, such as contact tracing and quarantines. Similarly, Australia reopened schools and eventually loosened social distancing within schools, but when cases increased, in the Victoria (Melbourne) region, they returned to lockdowns. However, school closures are a small part of this. Israel began limiting class sizes when they reopened schools in May, and required masks to be worn by anyone over seven years of age. As cases spiked in the past weeks, the country moved all instruction for fourth grade and up to remote instruction. Israel now has plans to reopen schools for all grades with smaller class sizes, additional teachers, and hybrid education for middle and high school students.

Some hope for U.S. states may be found in Sweden. Sweden has essentially stayed open throughout the pandemic, without restrictions on class sizes or social distancing requirements for all except grades 10 and up, which were closed from March to mid-June. COVID cases among students connected to schools have been similar in prevalence to those in nearby Finland, and teachers of all grades appear to be at the same risk of infection as other adults. It is unknown, though, why this might be the case. One journalist speculated that naturally smaller class sizes and the exclusion of older students may play a role.

Reopening schools will be a work in progress. There does not seem to be one single approach that solves all COVID-related problems for schools. The countries that have had more success and had schools that have stayed open for the most part have generally been those that have contained the virus within their borders and have developed contingency plans for when infections occur. Meanwhile, in most U.S. states, COVID rates are on the increase. No country has opened schools when rates of new cases were high and rising, as is true today in the U.S. We have a long way to go before we are ready for full in-person schooling. But when U.S. rates of new cases diminish to, say, European levels (about 16 per hundred thousand; the U.S. is over 100), we should look carefully at what other countries have done and what their results have been, so that we can make wise choices to keep students and staff safe.

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

Does it Take a Pandemic to Find Out That All Children Can and Must Learn to Read?

Recently, I got a “case study” from one of our Success for All schools in England, Applegarth Academy in Croydon, a disadvantaged area south of London. I’ve written about Applegarth before as the flagship school of the STEP Trust, a multi-academy trust,  which serves an impoverished, multi-ethnic student body. In the most recent national rankings, Applegarth scored sixth among the more than roughly 16,700 primary schools in all of England.

This case study, which you can see here, involves a child using a U.K. adaptation of our Tutoring With Alphie program. However, this story is not really about Success for All, or Tutoring With Alphie, or the STEP Trust. It is about something far more fundamental.

What happened is that a student I’ll call Richard moved to Applegarth in Year 6 (like fifth grade). England closed its schools in March due to the Covid crisis, and then re-opened them in June and July just for the equivalent of kindergarten, first grade, and fifth grade. Applegarth staff used this opportunity to prepare its Year 6 students for secondary school.

Applegarth tested Richard, and was astonished to find out that he had nearly zero reading skills. He scored at the kindergarten level. Applegarth was piloting the Tutoring With Alphie program, usually used with four children at a time. However, the school made a decision in this extraordinary case to give Richard 90 minutes a day of one-to-one tutoring.

In three weeks, Richard could read. He was not at grade level, but he gained 2.2 years. He could read The Hodgeheg! Richard was thrilled and now hopes to go on to read Harry Potter books.

By itself, this is a heartwarming story. But to me it is also infuriating. Tutoring With Alphie is not magic. If Richard could learn to read in three weeks, this says to me that he could have learned to read in Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, or Year 5. He was described as a bright, sweet child, eager to learn. Yet somehow his previous school was unable to teach him to read in the five or six years they had him. Perhaps it did not occur to anyone that this was a crisis, literally a life in the balance: A bright child who obviously could have learned to read at any time but did not. If Applegarth’s staff had not noticed Richard’s problem or had not had the resources to help him, Richard would have headed into secondary school in September with no reading skills. Do you know what happens in secondary schools to kids who can’t read? Do you know what happens in life to people who can’t read?

Richard’s situation before he came to Applegarth is all too common. A while back, I wrote about a book by my friend Buzzy Hettleman, called Mislabeled as Disabled. This book presents example after example of bright, eager, well-behaved students in Baltimore who end up in high school reading at the kindergarten or first grade levels.

The problem in all of these cases is that education systems are designed to move very large numbers of students from grade to grade. That system works, sort of, for most students, but there is a large minority of students for whom it does not work. And one way or another, with or without special education services, too many of these students just slide by. Educators may be aware of a child’s poor performance, but do not have the time, resources, or support to stop the conveyor belt and say, “We have to do whatever is necessary to see that this child learns.” In Richard’s case, he got lucky. How often does any non-reading fifth grader in any school anywhere get 90 minutes of high-quality tutoring every day for three weeks, until they begin to make rapid progress? Almost never. Yet there are millions of Richards in our schools, millions who absolutely could succeed, but do not get what they need to do so.

blog_7-16-20_tutoring_461x500As my readers know, England and the Netherlands are investing heavily in tutoring to help overcome losses students have experienced due to Covid-19 school closures. Perhaps someday, similar investments will be made in the U.S. As a result of the English and Dutch investments, hundreds of thousands of students will receive intensive tutoring in reading and mathematics. And even though these tutoring services will be provided to solve the learning effects of a pandemic, perhaps educators will notice that students who are in academic difficulty will make dramatic gains. Perhaps they will wonder why similar services shouldn’t be provided to all students who need them, pandemic or no pandemic.

In the U.S., the U.K., and many other countries, millions of little Richards are entering our schools. With appropriate help, every one of them should be able to learn to read the first time they are taught, or soon after they are found to have difficulties. It’s so obvious, it’s so simple. Why does it take a pandemic to find it out?

Photo credit: Arungir / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

 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.

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