Providing the transparency parents deserve

coronavirus COVID-19 community spread pandemic school cdc us centers for disease control and prevention distance 3 feet three six transmission level high medium low masks universal
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images
A child attends an online class at a learning hub inside the Crenshaw Family YMCA during the Covid-19 pandemic on February 17, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education held a virtual national summit to help school districts share best practices and creative solutions to reopening schools and supporting students, particularly those in communities hit hardest by the pandemic. But getting kids and teachers back to school is just the beginning and not enough. Now is the time to rebuild trust with families through open and honest communication.

One practice that districts should embrace is transparency around how they spend the $122 billion in K-12 relief funds under the American Rescue Plan, 90 percent of which will flow to districts with few strings attached. To truly benefit the Black and Hispanic students and families most impacted by COVID-19, districts should report how they use those funds to respond to families’ explicit needs and the resulting impact on student learning and development. This is both an opportunity for districts to hold themselves accountable to families who have been severely impacted by remote schooling and to share new promising and effective practices that can scale post pandemic.

The pandemic has shone a harsh spotlight on the many inequities in America’s education system. According to a new survey by the National PTA and Learning Heroes, while 44 percent of white families experienced fully remote schooling this year, 63 percent of Black families and 59 percent of Hispanic families did. Black and Hispanic parents also report that their children have significantly less access to digital devices and the internet for schoolwork. Given these inequities, it’s not surprising that Hispanic parents, in particular, are worried that their children are not making as much academic progress as they would in a typical year.

The Biden Administration has already made a strong start in providing parents with information they want about their children’s schooling by requiring that states administer their state assessments this school year, while giving them additional flexibility in how that occurs, and supporting the use of that data as a source of information for parents and educators to target resources and support, rather than for accountability. 

Districts could build on this transparency by requiring that at the end of this school year, teachers engage in open, honest, two-way conversations with parents about how well their child is prepared for the next grade — and work with families to design plans to address learning loss. The American Rescue Plan requires that states reserve 5 percent and districts 20 percent of their stimulus dollars to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions that address students’ social, emotional, and academic needs. According to the National PTA and Learning Heroes survey, 60 percent of parents want more information on where their child is academically and more than half are worried that they don’t know where their child might need extra help.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona was right in saying that in designing recovery and renewal efforts, “we need to make sure we are listening to the communities who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.” But in addition to listening to them, districts need to ensure that families have the information they need to make the best decisions on behalf of their children.

Without transparent public reporting, we will never know how the urgently needed relief funds for K-12 education are being spent. While districts will feel pressured to get money out the door quickly, they should not miss this opportunity for meaningful family and community engagement about how that money is spent, especially with those families too often left out of the conversation.

Arne Duncan served as Secretary of Education from 2009-2016. Currently he is a distinguished senior fellow at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

Bibb Hubbard founded Learning Heroes to help parents most effectively advocate on behalf of their children’s educational success. Previously, she held leadership positions at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Scholastic, the White House, and the U.S. Labor Department. She sits on the board of the New York City Leadership Academy and is the proud mother of two teenage sons.

Tags American Rescue Plan Arne Duncan covid relief package Digital divide distance learning Education K-12 education Miguel Cardona minority students Remote learning Transparency

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