JAMES: More Remote Learning But Still No Plan For Newark’s Children

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While it is not a very happy time for many of us right now, I do want to begin with wishing everyone a Happy New Year.  Things look pretty bleak right now in January, and it is my hope that each of us will continue to preserve and fight.

Unfortunately, while it is a new year, it feels like deja vu all over again. Kids are back to remote learning (yet again) and as a parent, the lack of action and leadership from our school department continues to keep me up at night.

Since I last posted, we’ve seen more data showing us all that our kids in Newark continue falling further and further behind grade level.  According to data released in December, 87 percent (87 percent!) of Newark 5th graders are in need of “strong support” in math. And that’s just one data point –  not a great Christmas present from the Newark School District.

The first two lines of this news story say it all: “Eighty-seven percent of Newark fifth graders are in need of “strong support” in math, according to a recent standardized test that offers a window into how much the COVID pandemic has harmed their learning. Overall, the vast majority of Newark students are struggling with grade-level instruction in math, science, and English language arts, the statewide tests showed.”

So what does “Strong support” even mean?  Well, I looked into it – it’s the HIGHEST level of need the test measures. It basically means students are way, way behind their grade level.

This is all part of a national trend. Black and Brown students nationally are more than a full year behind their peers in wealthier, suburban districts.

It’s no secret at this point that COVID isn’t just a public health crisis. It’s a learning crisis. In the words of one prominent national researcher: “we haven’t seen this kind of academic achievement crisis in living memory.”

That makes it all the more infuriating that we have yet to see a clear plan from Superintendent Roger Leon that lays out a strategy to help Newark kids catch up to where they should be.

Newark is getting $300 million from the federal government – funding that could get our kids back up to speed – and we don’t know how it’s going to be spent.

We’re staring down the worst academic crisis in living memory and getting….crickets. 

Where’s the plan for every student to have access to a tutor? The plan to add classroom time? The plan for summer learning (not just enrichment, but actual instruction)? These are all MIA. Instead, our kids are starting the year in remote learning, yet again. That’s only going to increase the learning loss.

You can count on me to not let this go. I’ve seen what happens when lots of money comes into our schools and it gets spent without the community’s input, and I’m not going to let it happen again. It’s too important to the future of our kids and our city.

If you share my frustration and want to speak out, please sign this petition to Superintendent Leon. Tell him our kids deserve a plan!

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