Today JerseyCAN, a nonprofit advocating for high-quality schools for all New Jersey students, launched a centralized multimedia platform to assist local districts and charter schools in adopting strategies best suited to help students catch up after a disrupted pandemic year. This online hub, called “A Time to Act: A Framework to Accelerate Learning,” offers a series of evidence-based case studies and videos showcasing promising practices at the classroom, school, and district levels that have been already developed and implemented across New Jersey.
Based on state and federal requirements, local districts and public charter schools must quickly devise customized plans for how to spend federal funds available through the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan, which includes $2.8 billion for New Jersey K-12 schools. (In total, NJ schools have a total of $4.3 billion.) In effect, districts have the opportunity to “buy back time” their students lost during school closures. With the school year ending and specific spending plans due for approval in the fall, the JerseyCAN platform offers replicable blueprints and best practices to accelerate learning, a far more robust strategy to address learning loss than remediation. The platform also focuses on families’ educational and social-emotional needs as well as aligned supports for educators.
Early this year, in “A Time to Act,” JerseyCAN researched the impact of COVID-19 on New Jersey students and the urgency for meaningful action. This research projected that approximately 393,000 students in reading and 430,000 students in math would not be on grade level by the end of this school year. This includes students who were not on grade level before the pandemic.
“Right now, superintendents across the state are trying to figure out how to best, and most strategically, define an COVID education recovery plan and ultimately spend this new influx of federal dollars,” explained Janellen Duffy, Senior Advisor, JerseyCAN. “Our digital platform looks to bring our state together and showcase the many great educational innovations and programs that have already been developed and executed. This is an historic moment to improve education across New Jersey, but most of all, a real opportunity to share, communicate, and implement best practices and scale these great ideas statewide. The bottom line is that we do not need to reinvent the wheel. Many of the answers we need can already be found right here in New Jersey.”
Those answers include implementing strategies like high-dosage tutoring programs; intensive summer learning initiatives; investment in social and emotional learning and well-being; developing individualized learning plans; building innovative staffing solutions, and defining a high-quality post-pandemic curriculum. All this is covered in the JerseyCAN package.
Some New Jersey districts, says Duffy, already are exemplars of best practices. Today’s launch includes four videos that highlight strategies already in place. At Newark’s West Side High School, Principal Akbar Cook (below), who has an entrepreneurial bent, created programs that address food insecurity, restorative learning, and how best to communicate with students’ parents, who speak a wide variety of languages. Another Newark district school designed an A.P. Biology program where one teacher taught two classes remotely. Great Oaks Legacy Charter School developed an innovative tutor fellowship program where small-group instruction and high-dosage tutoring was embedded into the school day.
Logan Township superintendent Patricia L. Haney (Duffy says she’s a “make-it-happen” leader) sought competitive federal grant funding when faced with a state aid funding cut. At Paul Robeson Charter School, forward-thinking technology planning helped ease their transition to remote learning. College Achieve Paterson is making one-time investments in teacher pay increases for summer school and summer programming focused on college readiness. Mount Olive Township School District created Fingertip Profiles to indicate each student’s reading level in grades 6-11 and offered standards-based learning progressions for data-informed goal setting.
Key to helping students academically and socially get back the time they’ve lost — besides seizing this moment as an imperative to act now–is supporting educators, engaging families having a willingness to to innovate, using the Biden Administration’s stimulus funds wisely, and drilling down on student learning data to ensure children get what they need to reach and maintain grade-level objectives.
Duffy told NJ Ed Report that she hopes this year of pandemic learning and recovery will spark conversations among school leaders about innovations that will ‘stick.” For example, the pilot program in Newark where an AP Biology teacher taught two classes simultaneously may prove, longer-term, to give more students access to this material (especially given the shortage of STEM teachers). Mt. Olive, where educators created individualized learning plans for each student, may have benefits that extend beyond this particular crisis and help students in years to come. Some districts found that remote parent-teacher conferences increased parent engagement. “What parent wouldn’t want that?” said Duffy. “These are innovations we’d want for all our kids.”
Vivian Cox Frazier, President and CEO of the Urban League of Essex County, endorses this new platform. “JerseyCAN’s new platform is a game-changer,” she said. “It not only provides great ideas that should be replicated but highlights the specific and proven solutions that we know will work in New Jersey.”