April 23, 2021

E4E Testimony at Boston City Council Hearing on Summer Learning and Learning Loss

On April 12, 2021, Boston City Councilors Annissa Essaibi-George and Andrea Campbell held a hearing on summer learning and other options for addressing unfinished student learning from the pandemic. They invited E4E-Boston State Director Lisa Lazare to serve as part of an expert panel to kick the hearing off. Later, E4E-Boston Outreach Director Leidy Quiceno delivered testimony on behalf of educators who were not able to attend the hearing. 

Below you can see both Lisa and Leidy's testimony. 

Lisa Lazare - Discussion on Learning Loss at Boston City Council

Good afternoon City Councilors, BPS representatives and advocates.  My name is Lisa Lazare, I am a former Chemistry teacher and I am the current State Director for Educators for Excellence based in Boston. 

Our organization’s mission is to get educators involved in policy making processes that impact their classrooms, and ensure that no decisions are made that impact them without their voices being at the table. We believe that teachers are the ultimate education policy experts because they see first-hand how laws and policy changes play out in the classroom. As such, I am here today to reflect the perspectives and voices of our BPS educators, most of whom are still in the classroom teaching at this hour, on the topic of assessing and addressing student learning post-pandemic.

According to E4E’s national survey of educators from February, “Voices from the Classroom,” there were some definite warning signs in terms of engagement:

  • 61% of educators surveyed said student learning was worse than pre-pandemic
  • 57% said student attendance was worse
  • 60% said homework completion was worse

In that same survey, educators supported the following policy responses, most of which could be funded using the funds from American Rescue Plan and would be expansions of things happening now, and mostly are looking for these approaches to be embedded into the existing school day:

  • 61% of all public educators called for expanded tutoring or after-school programs
  • 54% called for in-school remediation strategies embedded in the regular school day
  • Only 39% called for more robust summer school options

Genelle, a Mattapan resident and middle school teacher, spoke to me in particular on summer school options and said: “it needs to be interactive and enriching. Students shouldn't feel like they're being punished. Teachers should be adequately compensated and it should be in person as much as possible.”

In addition, Savannah, a Roxbury resident and Roxbury high school educator, wanted to make clear that the term learning loss sometimes does not fully capture what happened over the last year and that in planning summer learning, equity must be at the forefront: “Learning loss often implies students learned nothing during remote learning, which is unequivocally false. While of course they did not learn as much as they would otherwise, learning happened.  This also disregards the massive amount of social emotional learning that occured this year! The summer learning plan also needs to be careful to avoid being inequitable. Student may be need to use summer to increase hours at their jobs, travel to see family, or to take a much needed break. It's difficult to provide a fully equitable option, but teachers and student voices must be included in designing summer learning.”

Teachers, many of whom are understandably feeling burned out right now, are clearly somewhat split on their openness to participating in things like summer school and extended day, but importantly, teachers seem to be most open to these solutions if they include additional pay for additional work. We can use federal funding from the ARP to support this.

We strongly believe that writing off this generation of students as a 'lost generation' is incredibly damaging and unnecessarily pessimistic, and that we should value the other forms of learning that students may have undertaken at home and in their communities this year. As a result, making up for unfinished learning this summer and through the next school year does not have to come at the expense of a well-rounded and emotionally nurturing education. We know that simply focusing narrowly on reading and math without meaningful connection to other subject areas is deeply unpopular and detrimental to students' learning and engagement. In addition, strategies like cutting time for free play for young students, shortening or cancelling electives, and packing curriculum too full for teachers to stop and meet students where they are, have all proved damaging, and shouldn't be replicated in our approach to this problem.

We also should not simply go back to the old standards and curricula and methods for content delivery in our rush to address learning loss before using this as an opportunity to rethink what we teach students and how we do so

  • Bills like SD1965, The Racially and Culturally Inclusive Curriculum Act, are already plotting a path forward in Massachusetts that is better and more inclusive

In conclusion, E4E-Boston believes that developing a nuanced understanding of student learning during the pandemic will be essential to moving forward. We should prioritize interventions and supports that can be built into the school day, without over-burdening teachers and students. Frequent check-ins with students about capacity and mental health are also a must. Finally, we must see this as an opportunity to innovate how we teach and what content we prioritize. 

Leidy Quiceno - Boston City Council Testimony

Good evening Boston City Councilors, my name is Leidy Quiceno and I am an Outreach Director at Educators for Excellence Boston, an education nonprofit that works to ensure educator voices are included in policy making decisions. I am a former educator in Lawrence, student advocate for the Chelsea public school community, BPS alumna, and current organizer and East Boston resident and advocate. Thank you for creating this space today to discuss student learning during the current pandemic.

As an active member of the East Boston community, here is what I have heard: Educators, students, and parents alike, are all overwhelmed by the pandemic for several reasons. Firstly, there is a tech literacy gap that has impacted the learning environment and academic performance of students. Second, East Boston is composed of Central and South American immigrants who are a working class, may have language barriers, and many unfortunately, did not receive a formal education, and as a result, do not have the abundance of resources that more privileged communities do to aid their student’s learning. Third, the parents have to work in order to navigate these learning systems that disproportionately disenfranchise them and marginalize them further. On top of this, there is housing and job insecurity for these vulnerable residents that is also impacting learning. It is clear that we need to be working overtime to reach and speak with parents and students in East Boston and other similar neighborhoods to meet them where they’re at to assess how best to help.

I want to also elevate the voice of one of our E4E-Boston BPS educators who teaches in Roxbury. Here is what she had to say on this topic, and why teachers must be at the table for any solutions: “This should absolutely be a time for educators to talk about next steps. Last summer SHOULD have been a time for educators to plan for remote learning. Instead we spent the summer fighting about what learning model we would have. We need to make a plan, stick with it, and plan for it. Educators and school personnel are great at adapting. All they need is time and resources and opportunity to do so!”

At E4E-Boston, we believe assessing and addressing student learning going forward will take both resources and a willingness to radically reconsider the systems and structures we've put in place for schools, whether it be schedules, how we move students through content, what content we even teach and emphasize, etc. We've been provided a huge infusion of resources through the federal stimulus to start making this happen, but it's up to all of us to push harder if we want to use this crisis as a catalyst for transforming our education system. 

Thank you again for creating an opportunity to hear about all the different ways the pandemic has impacted students, we look forward to continuing to have this conversation with educators, parents, and students involved and included in all decision-making going forward.