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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Opinion | Michigan’s leaders can act now to mitigate learning losses

As Michigan looks to turn the page on one of the most troubled years in recent memory, a bright spot is emerging as the governor and legislative leaders have expressed interest in an immediate funding package — to be passed as quickly as this month — that helps address some of the devastating impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on Michigan’s students and families.

Their swift passage of a supplemental budget bill is critical, as the pandemic has hit Michigan's students particularly hard.

And for many students and families who were already terribly under-resourced and underserved when COVID-19 forced schools to close in March — including Black and Brown students, English learners, student with disabilities, students from low-income backgrounds and those in both urban and rural communities — the pandemic is expected to exacerbate longstanding opportunity and learning gaps.

Indeed, national analyses suggest such gaps could grow by 15 percent to 20 percent across the country.  In a report by McKinsey & Co., for example, school closures may result in Black students falling behind by 10.3 months, Hispanic students by 9.2 months, and low-income students by more than a year.

To ensure that Michigan’s vulnerable students and families receive the support they need and deserve — and Michigan’s economy is well-positioned to rebound and thrive again both in the near and longer-term — we urge Michigan leaders to invest immediately in the most effective, highest leverage research-based strategies to begin to address these troubling inequities in three immediate ways. 

Extended learning/summer school programs

\Without effective strategies that squarely address learning loss for Michigan’s most vulnerable students could endure for years — or even a lifetime. Mitigating this tragedy will necessitate intense and immediate support to help students not only recover but accelerate learning.

In a tight budget environment and faltering economy, it is even most critical that the investments that Michigan make are the most proven research-based strategies to dramatically lift student learning.  High-quality, voluntary multi-week summer learning programs, particularly those that leverage the expertise of effective, experienced educators, are especially proven at demonstrating significant academic gains in reading and math.

An investment in such learning opportunities this summer would provide students with an opportunity to recover instructional time and critical skills before the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.  To ensure such learning opportunities are safe, Michigan should support public schools’ efforts to offer such programming following appropriate protocols such as doing it outdoors and socially distanced.

To propel forward Michigan’s educational recovery process, investment and planning are needed now, including investments that ensure extended learning opportunities are available for Michigan's most vulnerable students over the summer.

No-cost remedial coursework

For current high school students who are preparing to transition to post-secondary opportunities, COVID-19 learning disruptions could prove particularly harmful — and expensive.

Data from before the pandemic shows the remediation rate for Michigan’s poorest districts was already over two and a half times higher than the rate for the wealthiest districts. Students who fall behind may take longer to obtain their degree – and could be less likely to graduate.

The expense of missing important coursework during the pandemic should not threaten Michigan students’ opportunities to succeed in college and beyond. We urge state leaders to fully fund the cost of post-secondary remediation at Michigan community colleges for these seniors and juniors so that the impact of this crisis won’t further widen the gaps in enrollment and attainment. 

Closing the digital divide

Across the state, access to digital devices needed to continue learning and reliable broadband have varied greatly.  Lack of digital access has disproportionately affected Michigan’s students of color, students from low-income backgrounds and students in rural communities, according to a 2020 analysis by the Education Trust-Midwest.

This uneven digital access builds upon the challenges and inequities millions of American children faced even before the pandemic in accessing online resources to complete homework assignments, improving digital literacy skills and continuing or accelerating their learning at home.

Despite local efforts to address gaps in access to devices and internet, many students remain without digital access, leaving many without the resources to continue their learning, especially in rural and urban communities.

State leadership and investment is now needed to address the digital divide and provide families with ongoing technical support to use devices and engage in the new learning platforms and applications.

The role of state leadership

The challenge of educational recovery from COVID-19 is not just an issue for individual student’s futures. It’s an issue for Michigan’s economic recovery and success, as well.  As a state, we need to make that recovery process a top priority.  Now is the time for that process to begin — and for state leaders to fully invest in it.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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