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What does the new White House agenda mean for your organization?

Recommendations from Education First


Last month, the White House released its 2024 education agenda focusing on three evidence-based strategies to accelerate student learning and address pandemic-era learning losses: increase student attendance; provide high-dosage tutoring; and increase summer and extended/afterschool learning time. At Education First, we fully support this focus and were glad to see at least two of our clients, the Wallace Foundation and Overdeck Family Philanthropies, named among the national organizations committed to supporting the agenda.

The White House indicated these priorities are likely to drive upcoming federal grant opportunities, so many organizations are already asking: What will this agenda mean for our work?

It’s an important question to ask. Education First has supported dozens of successful federal grant applications in the past, and we’ve worked with several large districts and states to develop comprehensive strategies to accelerate learning in the wake of the pandemic. We recommend starting here:

Recommendation 1: Solve for the root causes of chronic absenteeism by engaging students and families.

We know that students won’t learn if they aren’t in school, so tackling chronic absenteeism is essential and must be addressed comprehensively. Students may lack access to transportation or clean clothing. Parents and caregivers may not understand the academic impact of their child missing more than 10 days of a school year. Others may not trust the schools to keep their kids safe. In addition to meeting these very human needs, schools need to evaluate their approaches to social and emotional learning (SEL) and create learning ecosystems that are inclusive and equitable.

Districts should closely scrutinize their absenteeism data to understand the variety of issues their students are facing. We recommend listening closely to students, their caregivers, community-based partners and other stakeholders about why students are missing school, and then synthesizing insights from those conversations to analyze the root causes of absenteeism and deploy strategies that address the various underlying causes. We also encourage school systems, states and their community partners to develop a targeted attendance campaign that helps all students and families understand why attendance matters and that addresses their specific needs and concerns. Our partners in Ohio are leading the way in this work and have developed tools that can help [see below].

Stay in the Game! Campaign and the Ohio Attendance Task Force

Stay In The Game

Education First has partnered with the Cleveland Browns Foundation,Columbus Crew,  the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) and Harvard University’s Providing Ground initiative to develop and launch the Stay in the Game! Attendance Network, a multi-partner, multi-pronged attendance movement that has been adopted by 54 Ohio districts (and growing) and is already outpacing state averages for increasing student attendance. We also worked closely with the Ohio DEW to facilitate a statewide attendance taskforce in 2023; the resulting recommendations are now guiding conversations across the state.

Ohio’s strategic approach to tackling chronic absenteeism can be a model for others. The framework and tools developed for Stay in the Game! are highly adaptable, and several communities are currently exploring bringing the model to their regions.

Recommendation 2: Align all tutoring and extended learning interventions with the instructional core.

We know that whole-class, school-day instruction is simply not enough to address large gaps in achievement. If your school system has many students who are well below grade level, high-dosage tutoring in which trained tutors meet frequently with up to 3 or 4 students at a time has been proven as an effective intervention. To learn more, check out these design principles from the Annenberg Institute or listen to this brief podcast.

Grants available to support high-dosage tutoring

The national nonprofit Accelerate is now accepting applications for the 2024 Call to Effective Action (CEA) grant program. Ideal applicants are tutoring providers and school districts that are working to develop promising models of high-dosage tutoring and individualized instruction. This year, Accelerate will offer individual awards of up to $350,000 to help grantees scale their programs. Learn more about the grants.

Students need more academic support outside of the classroom to make up for lost time and persistent inequities, but what they don’t need is more disjointed, unconnected instruction. If tutoring and afterschool learning initiatives aren’t aligned with what students learned in school that day or week, the interventions are unlikely to have the intended impact. Student outcomes will only improve if schools have more instructional coherence rather than less. We advise any system developing a high-dosage tutoring or extended learning program to:

Align the content of funded interventions with the curriculum students experience daily: Tutoring and afterschool should draw from or complement the high-quality instructional materials (HQIM) and evidence-based practices used during the school day. Many well-intentioned schools and districts are unfortunately doing the opposite: They support classroom teachers to use HQIM for core instruction, but they have purchased unrelated textbooks or software that ask interventionist or specialist teachers to “drill and kill” on discrete skills that aren’t directly connected to the main curriculum. Or, the schools have missed the opportunity to provide specific guidance to tutors or afterschool providers on what is being studied in that week’s curriculum so they can reinforce the hard work happening in the main classroom.

Use staff strategically: A holistic and strategic approach to staffing classrooms, tutoring programs and extended learning programs will ensure that the most skilled staff are able to have the greatest impact and that all adults engaged in instructing students are working from the same playbook. For example, if you provide coaching or training to core teachers on using HQIM, are you taking the opportunity to include tutors, paraprofessionals and afterschool providers? Are all adults regularly coordinating on what each student knows and needs next, and how to complement the core curriculum in providing additional support? And consider all the resources you can apply to students’ learning needs. For example, how could teacher residents and apprentices be deployed in a 1:1 or small group tutoring model? Can (and should) your system utilize intelligent AI as a component of a high-dosage tutoring program?

AI as a Curriculum or Tutoring Enhancement

Right now, districts are moving quickly to figure out how to leverage new AI technologies to support student learning. The conversation is happening everywhere. But how can systems responsibly decide whether AI could and should be used to further student learning?

Education First is currently helping the Chicago Public Schools answer these questions by assessing the feasibility of integrating an AI learning component into its math curriculum. The work is ongoing, but a few early recommendations relevant to all school districts include:

  • Be clear about the problem AI is being used to solve to ensure its effectiveness.
  • Maintain instructional coherence, including the coherence of standards within AI.
  • Balance the need for personalized instruction with the protection of student data.
  • Consider the practices or behaviors the AI solution is replacing as well as the possible unintended consequences of introducing AI (e.g., potential for bias; reproducing or exacerbating existing inequities)

Education First is ready to help

While we wait to learn what new grant opportunities will emerge from the new White House education agenda, districts and state education agencies can get a leg up by reviewing their current approaches to tackling absenteeism and to providing supplemental instruction. As you do so, we urge you to consider the recommendations and resources above.

If you’d like to talk in more depth about how to adapt your strategies to these new federal priorities, please send us a note.

Meet the experts who authored this post

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Jenn Vranek
Founding Partner
Ila Deshmukh Towery
Ila Deshmukh Towery

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