COVID-19 exposes education’s flaws – and opportunities

As schools struggle through the fallout of COVID-19, there is a lot to worry about — but there’s also a chance to innovate by implementing many of the strategies we use at City Connects. 

The immediate concern — as A. Brooks Bowden and Rebecca Davis write in “With fewer funds and greater needs, schools should pursue cost-effectiveness strategies,” an article published by Brookings – is that schools are in academic and financial jeopardy. 

“Projected economic impacts of COVID-19 on student outcomes is huge,” the article says. “Recent projections indicate that student learning loss may be one-third to two-thirds larger than what students normally lose during summer slump. In addition to learning loss, students are disconnected from the stability of school, peer networks, and access to school-based supports, such as mental health services, school nurses, and school food.” 

“Budget cuts make matters even worse, driving up the need to consider cost effectiveness in finding solutions.” 

Despite these challenges, education also has an opportunity. 

Consider 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite, Paul Reville writes in a recent Boston Globe opinion piece. 

“Our nation was shocked — fearful not only that we had fallen behind in the space race, but that we were suddenly vulnerable to our Cold War adversary’s seemingly superior technological talent. 

“National leaders immediately turned to education for an answer, and the federal government, for the first time in history, passed major K-12 legislation in the form of the National Defense Education Act (NDEA).” 

Reville is a former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, and he’s currently the Director of the Education Redesign Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

Sputnik is not the same as COVID-19, but the country could still use the pandemic as a springboard for educational innovation. 

“With some skill and luck,”Reville notes, “children’s advocates may be able to turn this time of heightened public awareness into a Sputnik moment that will generate action at all levels of government to construct some form of Children’s Accord, or general agreement on elements of support and opportunity that must be in place to ensure children’s well-being and readiness to learn in school.” 

What could that look like? In the Brookings article, Bowden and Davis point to three approaches – including work commonly done by City Connects – that could help schools. 

The first approach is systematic needs assessment. The co-authors note: 

“Efficient resource allocation requires states and districts to identify needs and establish corresponding goals. Coordination across departments within education, across child service sectors, and in partnership with community organizations would ensure coverage without duplicating efforts.” 

This is work that City Connects does by having Coordinators assess students’ needs and strengths through whole class reviews and then meet those needs using both school resources and community partners. 

The second approach that Bowden and Davis identify is tutoring, which is a common resource that City Connects coordinators connect students to. 

And the third approach is providing targeted, comprehensive supports.

Bowden and Davis note that City Connects leverages “community-based services to efficiently match students to support and to manage their progress and needs over time. The goal of comprehensive support programs is to prevent crises from happening. While we are looking for solutions, implementing systematic support programs and practices now can lead to long-term improvements beyond 2020.” 

 Noting that providing students with comprehensive services can be expensive, the two authors point out that City Connects produces a substantial return on investment. 

“Work on the City Connects program found that the returns from targeted, systematic supports were greater than the investment. By comparison, schools that did not take a targeted and systematic approach both spent more on administrative time and connected students with fewer community-based services.” 

The article concludes: 

“With the increased demand for already scarce education dollars and looming budget cuts, cost-effectiveness should serve as an important tool in leveraging resources to efficiently and effectively benefit students.” 

We agree. Getting the right services to the right students at the right time is a cost-effective way to ensure their long-term success – especially in the middle of a pandemic.

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