By disrupting education systems, routines, learning and child/adult relationships in K12 and postsecondary systems in many communities for the better part of a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted unprecedented harm to students, families and educators. Dramatically cutting short learning opportunities, it has laid bare and exacerbated the structural and racialized inequities that exist in our society’s institutions—and not just in education but also healthcare, housing, food security and employment. At the same time, some schools and systems—and their students and educators—have shown amazing resilience and found innovative, adaptive responses to manage these challenges. Policymakers and education leaders need to act with urgency to accelerate learning in the months to come. In doing so, they should seize the opportunity to take stock of what failed during the pandemic, what innovations emerged and how schooling—both inside and outside of formal school buildings—can evolve to better meet the diverse needs of all students moving forward.
Leveraging our content expertise and experience from our main areas of focus, Education First is bringing innovative, equitable and coherent approaches to state and community COVID-19 response, reopening and reinvention across the country. We support state agencies, districts, CMOs and regional offices as they plan for the critical, upcoming school years; we support foundations with grantmaking, funder collaboration and strategy redesign/refresh; and we support nonprofits to reimagine their talent, culture and connections as they relearn to navigate a pandemic and post-pandemic world.
Some of the recent ways we have helped the field with COVID-19 recovery include:
- Through a partnership between the California Governor’s Office and the College Futures Foundation, we facilitated the Recovery with Equity Task Force to support all public postsecondary institutions. We were honored to support the Taskforce members in their work, embracing an intentional, equity-based human-centered design approach to research, problem definition and solution development.
- We provided strategic advice to 10 of 34 states that applied for federal Reimagining Education Models CARES Act competitive grants in summer 2020, helping state leaders reimagine school models. Among the 11 winners, we worked closely with five—helping them win nearly $10 million to put in place high-quality remote, hybrid and other distance learning models.
- We are coaching four school districts and two charter networks—Austin ISD, Brockton, KIPP Philadelphia, Oakland, Sacramento City and NACA Inspired Schools Network—through a race- and equity-centered design process to redesign social and emotional development supports to address pandemic-inflicted issues.
- We are managing and facilitating a community of practice with nine districts in Washington state—Edmonds, Everett, Evergreen, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Spokane, Tacoma, and Yakima—and eight technical assistance providers—Achievement Network, Education NW, Education Resource Strategies, Leading Educators, New Leaders, NWEA, UnboundED and TNTP—to share ideas and align on approaches to COVID-19 response and recovery.
- To inform governors and chiefs in crafting their states’ learning acceleration strategies for summer 2021 and the 2021–22 school year, we coordinated with the Council of Chief State School Officers and National Governors Association to review and catalog the variety of state strategies being proposed—identifying common themes, innovative approaches and planning gaps.
- Early in the pandemic, we co-created with the Council of Chief State School Officers a “recovery and rebuild” framework for state leaders. The framework included a needs assessment and planning template to help leaders set priorities and identify gaps, and it included curated lists of the best resources and reports—of hundreds being developed at the time—to support state education agencies in navigating COVID-19 and school closures.
- We worked with leaders of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) in spring 2020 on plans to guide the sudden transition to remote learning for the county’s 80 school districts and nearly two million students; later, we helped county leaders craft a school reopening planning framework.
- In SY 2021–2022 and 2022–2023, we are coaching Texas urban, rural and exurban school districts with real-time COVID-19 response and strategic recovery—Cedar Hill ISD, Ector County ISD, Garland ISD, Irving ISD, Nacogdoches ISD and Victoria ISD—and developing a statewide website to help districts develop and launch permanent virtual academy school models.
- We are coaching teams from the state education departments in Delaware and New Mexico with reopening and academic acceleration plans that successfully address students’ unfinished learning and provide rigorous, grade-level instruction.
- Over the past year, we have supported the California Education Funders Collaborative (CEFC) to accelerate efforts to learn from one another and coordinate responses to COVID-19. Meeting biweekly, the collaborative has explored a number of issues including rapid response requests from the state, learning recovery, mental health, SEL, summer enrichment, youth and family advocacy, and the needs of English learners. Collaborative members include California Community Foundation, The California Endowment, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, The San Diego Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Silver Giving Foundation, Sobrato Family Foundation and Stuart Foundation.