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How have we helped accelerate learning during a pandemic?

Responding quickly via the National Comprehensive Center

Challenge

The Comprehensive Center Network (CCNetwork), funded by the U.S. Department of Education (Department), provides capacity-building services to state, regional, local, and Tribal educational agencies (SEAs, REAs, LEAs, and TEAs) and schools to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for all students. The CCNetwork, made up of 19 Regional Comprehensive Centers, is also served by a National Comprehensive Center (National Center), led by Westat. The National Center has 2 main responsibilities: provide support and coordination for the entire CCNetwork and provide technical assistance to SEAs and LEAs. More about the National Center can be found in the About the National Comprehensive Center YouTube video.

The National Center was launched in the context of sudden, widespread, and systemic needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools shut down in many locations across the country; students, families, and educators adjusted to online learning environments; student engagement and wellness became a significant concern; and student achievement, particularly for our most vulnerable students, tended to slip.

In response to these historic challenges, the Department initiated a call to action for SEAs and LEAs to leverage American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funding to accelerate learning recovery and promote equity.

Solution

The National Center deployed a portfolio of efforts to support educators across the country as they provided opportunities for all students to access high-quality, evidence-based learning opportunities that would accelerate their learning both during and after the pandemic. For example, the National Center:

  • Led the Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative (SLEC), a series of 7 national webinars conducted in the spring and summer of 2020 for state and local educational leaders. The SLEC connected a network of providers in the space of summer learning programming with educators needing guidance and support to rapidly plan and launch summer programing that would re-engage students in high-quality opportunities for learning and social development.
  • Launched 3 national Communities of Practice, focusing on using ARP ESSER funds to support evidence-based programming, to ensure equitable access to critical learning opportunities into school improvement initiatives and take advantage of ARP ESSER’s earmarked funds for afterschool and summer programming to expand learning and enrichment opportunities for students. Westat created a password-protected website where we enabled discussion forums and in-site chat for each of the 3 communities. In that space, members could access resources and recordings from each of the sessions as well as have direct communication with the leads between CoP sessions. The leads also shared “homework assignments” to the members to prepare for the next meeting.
  • Formed and led the Accelerated Learning Work Group, made up of leaders from Regional Comprehensive Centers across the country, which has developed and disseminated a range of resources that support student engagement, high-quality instruction, high-dosage tutoring, and educational coherence.

The National Comprehensive Center’s website is dedicated to showcasing all of the National Center’s products, services, and resources, many of which have been inspired by needs that peaked during the pandemic and continue to evolve during this period of educational recovery.

Results

  • Over 1,300 educators, partners, and community-based leaders participated in the Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative, with the majority reporting increased knowledge about how to leverage ARP ESSER funds to support summer programming, how to design programs that addressed both academic and social development, and how to foster or strengthen school-community partnerships. The Wallace Foundation released the National Call to Action for Summer Learning: How Did School Districts Respond? The findings note that 94% of districts provided summer programming for students across the country in 2021.
  • Teams from 16 SEAs participated in fostering connections with Communities of Practice, some in more than 1 Community. Through learning from the National Center, subject matter experts, and each other, SEA leaders identified problems of practice; designed plans, guided by research-proven practices, to address them; and created new resources to boost the capacity of other educators outside of the Communities. Some SEA-led activities born of Community of Practice participation included:
    • Producing toolkits for LEAs to plan and implement high-quality summer programs for students.
    • Guiding local leaders through an analysis of how, and for what student benefits, ARP ESSER funds were allocated.
    • Improving local policies and procedures for resource allocation to ensure equitable access to learning opportunities for all students. Each of these Communities has sustained itself, based on the desire of participants, into their 3rd year.
  • The Guide to Accelerated Learning is among the top 3 resources downloaded from the CCNetwork’s Resource Library (more than 500 downloads). This guide provides educators with strategies for accelerating learning, prepares educators and families to support students as they learn, offers ways to tailor these approaches for students with a range of learning needs, and gives examples of how states have implemented the strategies.

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