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Supporting school districts to meet children’s learning needs during Covid-19

Learning Differences Programme / Partner story

Because of widespread school closures caused by the Covid-19 crisis in the US, many students have faced significant lost learning time. Brett Walters, an English language arts and social studies teacher at Bert Corona Charter School, said he not only struggles to get his middle school students to turn on their microphones and cameras for class, but also has had several students “leave class” after being called upon to read. Brett said that many of his students haven’t progressed in reading this past year, and unfortunately, his students are far from alone in this.

According to mid-year data from Renaissance, an organisation that works to improve academic outcomes for students across the country, seventh and eighth graders across the United States were 8 to 11 weeks off meeting normal expectations in reading in March 2021, and experts estimate that students will have lost at least half a year’s worth of learning in reading and math. This data makes it easy to understand why two-thirds of public-school parents in the US are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” that the lockdown has negatively affected their child’s academic growth. Even worse, learning gaps are likely to be wider for vulnerable learners, including those with learning differences and other disabilities, students of colour, students from low-income families, and English language learners.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), a US-based not-for-profit organisation that works to improve the lives of children and adults with learning and attention issues, recognised the need for states and districts to have additional funds to support marginalised students, including students of colour, children from low-income families, children with learning differences and other disabilities, and students experiencing homelessness.

As a result, NCLD partnered with other advocacy organisations in the US to mobilise in support of increased funding for students with learning differences and other disabilities the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, an effort by the US Congress to address the impacts of the pandemic on student learning. The ARP included more than USD 125 billion for elementary and secondary schools across the country. The aim of this funding is to help school districts meet a wide range of needs, including reopening schools safely and addressing students’ social, emotional, and mental health, as well as their academic needs resulting from the crisis.

Thanks to the efforts of NCLD and other advocates, the ARP also included USD 3 billion in additional funding for students with learning differences and other disabilities. “The pandemic has exacerbated the long-standing inequities that have held back students with disabilities,” says Lindsay Jones, president and CEO of NCLD. “The inclusion of USD 3 billion in funding for special education is a much-needed infusion for our schools.”

This grant falls under our Learning Differences Progamme, which works to improve education for all students, particularly those with learning differences and other disabilities, who experience further marginalisation due to racism and poverty. You can read more about the programme here and learn about the NCLD’s successful advocacy efforts through this article on learning loss in 2020/2021, this overview of the ARP funds and this statement by NCLD on the ARP funds.