The Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and Chiefs for Change released a report that outlines relevant research and provides key recommendations for reopening K-12 schools when public health officials deem it is safe to do so. A bipartisan network of state and district education leaders, Chiefs for Change, turned to the Institute for its expert analysis of approaches to modifying school operations in ways that can protect the health and safety of school communities and support student learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, titled, “The Return: How Should Education Leaders Prepare for Reentry and Beyond?,” offers recommendations in four areas that Chiefs for Change and the Institute believe will have the greatest impact on student achievement and wellbeing during this unprecedented period in the nation’s history. Drawing on scientific studies, lessons from international systems, and the insights of education leaders on the ground, the report recommends:
· Transitioning from the agrarian school calendar to a longer and more flexible academic year;
· Adopting staffing models that ensure students are taught by teachers with deep subject-matter and instructional expertise, while other educators provide one-on-one academic and social-emotional support;
· Intently focusing on the social and emotional wellbeing and skills of students, including providing opportunities for students to practice self-regulation, perseverance, and ownership of their learning in distance environments throughout the year; and
· Comprehensively adopting high-quality instructional materials with robust teacher supports and curriculum-aligned formative and summative assessments.
According to the report, all reopening plans should ensure physical school environments align with public health guidelines designed to prevent an outbreak of the virus and additional closures. As a result, districts may need to rearrange classrooms to allow for social distancing; stagger attendance; continue some amount of distance learning; organize students into small mentor groups that learn together, whether in a school building or not; and implement other novel strategies. In the event of space constraints, the report recommends prioritizing in-person learning for elementary school students.