The NCSL Blog


By Andrew Barton

Strategies to reengage students who have fallen behind in their traditional learning or who will be returning to the classroom after a virtual or hybrid schedule were the focus of the final session of NCSL's Education Program's virtual meeting focused on tackling learning gaps and reengaging students.

Attendees heard from NCSL Education Program staff and education experts who are focused on remedying learning gaps.

Autumn Rivera, research analyst, and Austin Reid, education committee director in NCSL’s Washington, D.C., office, covered current state and federal legislation trends addressing learning recovery. Jaime Singer, principal technical assistance consultant at American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Aaron Dworkin, chief executive officer of National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), discussed the importance of enriching summer learning programs in closing racial and income performance gaps, as well as their role in reducing short and long-term learning loss.

Rivera shared an overview of current state legislation, both proposed and enacted, aiming to reengage learners. Trends include increasing appropriations to fund learning acceleration programs, legislatively directing state education agencies (SEA)’s approaches to combat learning loss, grant programs expanding existing afterschool and summer programs, funding for literacy development programs, and more.

Reid delved into learning loss provisions of the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP), which Congress enacted in March 2021. The bill requires SEAs to reserve at least 5% of their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER III) and local education agencies (LEA)’s reserve at least 20% of their funds to address learning loss.

SEAs are also required to set aside 1% for summer enrichment programs and 1% for comprehensive afterschool programs. The U.S. Department of Education plans to launch The Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative in April to facilitate discussions on how to build effective plans for summer learning and enrichment.

Singer shared what the research says about the science of learning and development. In particular, how academic, social and emotional learning are intertwined. 

She pointed out that quality afterschool programs provide children and youth with physical, psychological and emotional safety, to allow them to be receptive to information. The relationships between peers and adults in and out of the classroom are vital for creating educationally supportive spaces.

Having comprehensive afterschool programs that are engaging and supportive is necessary for overcoming learning loss by serving the whole child. These programs work with parents to determine the needs of children and youth and partner with outside organizations to provide activities that engage students and maintain relationships between peers and adults.

Dworkin finished with a discussion of the importance of boosting student learning throughout the summer through enriching school programs. Summer programs provide both students and staff opportunities to learn, develop and practice new skills. Research shows high-income families often enroll their children in summer learning opportunities when low-income families cannot, thus widening achievement gaps.

Dworkin notes that the gaps in summer program attendance between white and non-white children exacerbate health outcomes, so providing physical activity to children through these programs is vital in combating inequality. The historic level of recent federal funding specifically designated to summer and afterschool programs provides an opportunity to be thoughtful in how best to provide equitable, effective summer programs.

Be sure to check out the recording of this presentation and the speaker’s resource materials on NCSL’s 2021 Education Virtual Meetings webpage. NCSL will continue to track COVID-19-related learning gaps and proposed policy solutions to ensure that legislators, and other interested parties, have access to the most up-to-date information. You can find more information and stay up o date on NCSL’s COVID-19 Education webpage.

Further information can also be found on NCSL’s Summer Learning webpage and Afterschool webpage.

Andrew Barton is an intern in NCSL's Education Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.