Supporting the Acceleration Our Students Deserve

Last week, a family member reached out to me after reading a string of disheartening education news headlines. He knew students, families, and teachers had been pushed to their limits by pandemic disruptions, but the rash of news stunned him. He asked me, “Can it really be that bad?”

Unfortunately, I had to confirm that this state of affairs is far from fake news. As more states (like Illinois and Nebraska) release student assessment results from last year and other groups share benchmark data from this fall, the trends are clear: students are struggling and gaps are growing.

That said, I am determined to NOT add more gloom and doom to a space that’s already crowded with crises. I assured my relative that despite the challenges, there are many examples of states and districts digging in and doing the work to accelerate student learning and help kids get the support they need to thrive. 

Of course, central to this mission is a sound instructional approach supported by quality curricular materials and training. Educational strategies that have gained tremendous attention during the pandemic — like high-dosage tutoring and summer learning — can only be as successful as the foundational materials and supports allow. That’s why I’m encouraged to see some states coupling federal relief funding investments with specified instructional materials that have proven results for kids.

Delaware is one of these states. Building on an already robust set of resources and guidance on quality materials, leaders mobilized to offer a Summer Acceleration program for students in 2021 with several components linked to state-vetted curricula and training. To boost student growth in math, for example, the state offered Zearn, a top-rated math platform with an evidence base to prove its chops. The state reported that more than 4,000 students had an hour of math acceleration through Zearn every week this past summer. Delaware has continued to offer access to Zearn for free through the current school year and what’s more, curricular materials and strategies are supported by professional learning resources and networks for teachers, families, and out-of-school community providers.

This is the kind of thoughtful approach our students and educators deserve as they move forward (for more examples plus practical steps to support acceleration with quality materials, check out this recent piece by David Steiner and Ethan Mitnick). 

It’s up to us all to encourage our local and state leaders to learn from promising examples like these. By advocating for proven resources and programs, we can respond to the troubling education trends plaguing headlines right now with one clear message to our kids and their teachers: we’re here for you. 

Jocelyn Pickford is an education policy and communications specialist focusing on understanding and promoting practitioner-informed public policy across the private, public and non-profit sectors as a Senior Affiliate with HCM Strategists. She began her career in education as a high school English teacher in a regular and special education inclusion classroom and is now a public school parent and recent member of her local district school board. Previously, Jocelyn led the design, launch and implementation of the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education to integrate teachers into the national education policy dialogue. Jocelyn’s passion for her work was seeded during her own public school education and took root during her classroom teaching experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she led action research and presented instructional materials to a variety of audiences. Jocelyn earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (CT), working as a professional writer and editor prior to becoming a teacher, and obtained her master’s in secondary education from the George Washington University. Jocelyn lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children.