Opinion: After a year of learning loss, it will take a village to raise our kids

Shennell McCloud | April 19, 2021 | Opinion, Education
The American Rescue Plan offers the chance to bring everyone to the table to listen, plan and even argue about a new world for all our children
Shennell McCloud

Americans across the country are just beginning to comprehend the American Rescue Plan’s potential impact on their communities, particularly when it comes to investing in their children. In New Jersey, 89,000 children are expected to be lifted out of poverty by an expanded child-tax credit. Approximately 560,000 children who didn’t receive the tax credit in the past are now eligible, the majority of whom are Latinx.

We’re also set to receive more than $2.7 billion in funding for K-12 schools — a once-in-a-generation infusion of funding with wide discretion about how it can be spent.

What’s more, 20% of this funding must be used to address learning loss. It comes not a moment too soon.

According to a new report from JerseyCAN, New Jersey students lost 30% of expected learning in ELA and 36% of expected learning in math. The loss was even greater among Black students, who lost on average 43% in ELA and 50% in math, as well as among Latinx students, who lost 37% of expected learning in ELA and 40% in math. In total,  approximately 393,000 students in ELA and 430,000 students in math — just in grades three through eight — will not be on grade level by the end of this school year.

JerseyCAN is calling for districts to invest in intensive tutoring, summer learning and extended learning time through the next school year. All of those priorities are important, and districts should implement them urgently. But schools shouldn’t be expected to shoulder this problem alone. It takes a village to raise a child, and it will take one to recover from a year of learning loss.

Everyone must get involved

We need an all-hands-on-deck approach: Nonprofits like the Boys and Girls Clubs, After School All-Stars NJ, the YMCA, and other organizations that already organize summer programs and tutoring should be brought in as partners in the implementation. That’s an idea that Ronald Chalusian, executive director of the Newark Trust for Education, agrees with. “It will take a whole community effort to address our young people’s needs as we move into the next phase of living with COVID-19,” he said when we spoke last week. “We need to make sure that students have the social, emotional, and academic support they need to participate fully in their education.”

Nicole Harris, Executive Director of the Newark-based nonprofit After School All-Stars NJ, seconded that notion: “We need all education-focused agencies at the table,” she said. “It’s the responsibility of all of us to close the educational and opportunity gaps that are impeding the success of our students.”

Looking beyond the immediate needs of addressing learning loss from the pandemic, the Rescue Plan is an opportunity for us to think big about what we want education in our communities to look like — to imagine an equitable future for our children and (for once) have the funding to make that vision a reality.

No idea off the table

My push for city and school district leaders: Make sure that all residents have a stake in how this funding is used to better their children’s education. Every idea should be on the table. No idea should be too ambitious not to at least receive consideration. We’ve seen this conversation beginning in other cities around the country. In New York, city leaders are considering a massive expansion of the popular universal pre-K program. Newark and other cities in New Jersey should think big as well.

In Washington, our leaders have turned their attention toward a massive infrastructure plan, which is rightly seen as critical to maintaining our nation’s competitiveness and quality of life. But as much as bricks and bridges form the foundation of a sound economy, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the most important and effective investment we can make in our future is in our children’s education.

While the most visible impact of the pandemic has been the physical suffering and unimaginable death toll, particularly among our older population, our children have quietly suffered through a year of education loss and social, emotional, and mental anguish. With the resources of the American Rescue Plan, we have one unique opportunity to lift our kids up, help them to recover and put them back on a path towards success. We can’t afford to miss our shot.