This panel discusses the profound effects of COVID-19 on the state of education in Michigan, including what measurable effects have we seen, what are the long-term implications, and what lessons can be learned from this unique set of challenges. December, 2021.
0:00:24.7 Ron French: Good afternoon. I'm Ron French, senior writer and associate editor at Bridge Michigan, a non-profit, non-partisan news organization, providing Michigan readers with fact-driven journalism on the state's diverse people, politics and economy. On behalf of Dean Michael Barr and the faculty and students of the Ford School of Public Policy, it's a great pleasure to welcome all of you to this policy talks event to discuss the profound effects of COVID-19 on the state of education in Michigan. This event is presented by the Ford School in partnership with the Education Policy Initiative, a program within the Ford School that brings together nationally recognized education policy scholars focused on the generation and dissemination of policy-relevant education research. And is co-sponsored by Bridge Michigan and The University Research Corridor.
0:01:18.8 RF: Today, you'll hear research findings that look at shifts in enrolment numbers, indicators of student learning and qualitative effects of students and families from educators across the state, including Kevin Stange, an Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of Michigan Ford School and faculty Co-Director of the Education Policy Initiative. Katharine Strunk, the Clifford E. Erickson Distinguished Chair in Education and a professor of Education Policy at Michigan State University, and the Faculty Director of MSU's Education Policy Innovation Collaborative, a research center devoted to rigorous evidence that improves education policy. And we will also hear from Sarah Lenhoff, the Leonard Kaplan Endowed Professor and an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Wayne State University.
0:02:16.1 RF: She is also Director of the Education Research Partnership, a collaboration with Detroit schools and community-based organizations to produce research to inform education policy and practice in Detroit. Following these brief presentations, Delsa Chapman, who is Michigan Department of Education, Deputy Superintendent of Educator, Student and School support, will share her thoughts, and then we will convene for a conversation around the long-term implications of these findings and what lessons can you learn from the unique set of challenges presented by the pandemic. We encourage you to engage and ask questions in the YouTube chat box or tweet your questions to #policytalks. There will be time at the end of the live event for these audience questions including those received in advance. For now though, please welcome now our first presenter, Kevin Stange to kick off this important conversation.
0:03:14.7 Kevin Stange: Thank you, Ron, for that introduction and for teeing up the topic, and thank you to all of you for joining us. We're gonna look at many dimensions of how COVID has affected education in the state of Michigan. I'm gonna start off with a pretty high level overview of how Michigan public school enrollment has shifted, and you'll see it has shifted quite dramatically during the pandemic. This is joint work with Tareena Musaddiq and Andrew Bacher-Hicks and Josh Goodman. And I should provide one disclaimer, which is that we're gonna be sharing analysis that uses data from the Michigan Education Data Center, which is at the Ford School, which is obtained through agreement with the Michigan Department of Education and the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information, and that the results are... Opinions are mine and they're not those of the state's. And Dr. Chapman, will make that clear in her remarks.
0:04:15.5 KS: Next slide, please. So first off, Michigan, like many states across the country, just experienced an enormous drop in enrolment in its public schools during the first year of the pandemic. So in Michigan, in between 2019 and 2020 fall, we saw a 46,000 student drop in enrolment in our public schools across the state. This graph here shows enrolment, the average enrolment in each grade for the three different grade levels, and then separately kindergarten. And you can see that the biggest drop is obviously at kindergarten, which experienced something like a 13,000 student drop in this one year. But you saw pretty sizeable drops in the other elementary school grades, middle school, and then to Western High School. Just by way of context, Michigan is a state that's been losing population, and so we've had a longer term decline in enrolment in public schools in the state of about 11,000 students per year.
0:05:20.2 KS: So during the first year of the pandemic, the State's Public School System lost four times the number of students as typical or experienced a decline of four times the number as typical. Next slide, please. This aggregate picture really masks important differences across different communities and different students within our state. In particular, there was an enormous and almost 20% drop among black kindergarteners across the state in this one year. So almost twice the rate experienced by other race ethnic groups in the state. And certainly, much greater than has ever been seen prior to the pandemic, which is what you see on the blue bars here. One thing to note is that, again, the largest increase was in kindergarten and the rates for all students across the board, you could see... Which is the left two bars for each of these categories is much smaller than for kindergarten and actually much more evenly distributed across different race ethnic groups. So this big decline that we've seen really is gonna combine two things, it's gonna be the effects for students that would be continuing in school and also for new students in particular, all kindergarteners obviously would be new to the public schools.
0:06:51.7 KS: Okay, next slide. And so what we did was to look at... We looked at the... Our data permits us to follow individual students over time and ask among students that were actually enrolled prior to the pandemic, how many returned the next year. And that's what this graph shows. So we call that the... Or the reverse of that is the exit rate, so how many of the students that were enrolled in the year before the pandemic were not enrolled in a public school in Michigan the first year of the pandemic during 2020-21 school year? And so you can see that the rate... Let me just pull one... To walk you through one of the numbers, here. Prior to the pandemic, the... 4% of kindergarteners in public schools in Michigan would not come back for first grade and would not be in the public school system the following year for various reasons. Families moving out of state, homeschooling, a number of reasons they might not be coming back. But that rate jumped from 4% up to more than 7.5% in the year of the pandemic. So we saw just a huge increase in number of children that were in kindergarten in the public school system in Michigan, prior to the pandemic that were not in the school system for first grade.
0:08:19.2 KS: And what you can see is there's a really sharp gradient by age, where there's a much larger rates of exit from the public schools in Michigan for younger students. So then the question is, well, where do they go? Next slide, please. So a large number of those students were kept home and were homeschooled and not affiliated with the public school system. So prior to the pandemic, of all the students that didn't return for first grade, less than 0.1% of them would have been not returning because they were gonna be homeschooled. In the first year of the pandemic, that rate was 2%. So more than half of the increase in exit rates of kindergarteners was accounted for by home school. And you could see that the rate of shifting to homeschool is much... Declines as you get older, as the students get older. The increase to or the exit for private schooling in the state was also very large, unprecedented large shift, though smaller than what we saw for homeschooling, and that's what's on the right. So the shift to private school, for instance, accounts for 15% of the exit rates for kindergarteners.
0:09:32.0 KS: Next slide, please. So one thing that's different when you look at these continuing students is the patterns of who's leaving is quite different than the aggregate picture that we saw earlier. So overall, for elementary school, about 4% of them would have left the public schools pre-pandemic, between years. And during the pandemic, that average was 6.4%. This is averaging across all the grades in elementary school, though obviously we saw some that was concentrated among younger students. But a large... The largest rates of exit... Of increase in exit from the public schools during the pandemic was actually among white students and those that are not classified as economically disadvantaged. So that pattern is actually very different than what we saw for... When looking at kindergarten enrolment.
0:10:24.0 KS: Next slide, please. So just to summarize, the public school enrolment declined substantially in the fall of 2020, we're still waiting for the numbers for this fall. It was about 3% or 46,000 students in Michigan, which is a similar rate of decline in other states, so Michigan is not unusual here. And there was a strong age gradient with 11% decline among kindergarteners, and a large increase in the share of students that aren't returning for first grade among kindergarteners and then sizable increases for the other grades.
0:11:00.3 KS: A lot of that was movement to homeschooling, that accounts for the majority of that shift. Importantly, prior attachment to the public school system matters. So kindergarten enrolment declines were concentrated among economically disadvantaged students and black students. Declines in other grades for continuing or incumbent students were disproportionately among higher income and white students. So the overall narrative of focusing just on kindergarten, which is the biggest loss is actually... This is this nuance. Just some implications. Next slide, please. So the jury is still out on exactly how this is gonna unfold, we're right in the middle of things, and so I hope we'll have a rich discussion of this in the Q&A.
0:11:42.6 KS: But if students or a large number of them, or most of them return... Sorry, remain in these alternative sectors, then public schools are likely to face really severe funding challenges and particularly for women, potentially challenges for labor force participation. If a lot of these students come back, then there's gonna be unplanned shifts in cohort size, composition, and students' educational preparation are gonna create real sizable organizational challenges and staffing challenges. The learning implications depends on the quality of alternatives, and we'll hear a little bit about that from Katharine. Homeschooling is largely unregulated and privates are quite heterogeneous so I think it's a little open question on what the learning implications will be.
0:12:30.4 KS: And there's potential obviously for these existing achievement gaps to widen in future years. It also, I think, raises challenges for just assessment of what's going on. So these large differential changes in student composition across grades is gonna raise challenges for comparing outcomes across years and so even for tracking what's going on. These are just a couple of the implications I hope to dig into more as we have the discussion. Thank you.
0:13:02.7 Katharine Strunk: Hi everybody, thank you so much for having us today, and thank you to the Ford School for hosting this really great discussion. I'm gonna talk for a minute about what we're learning at EPIC about learning during the pandemic from the benchmark assessment data that were taken during the 20-21 school year. I should say, this is a huge team effort. We have an amazing crew at EPIC and this was done by both Bryant Hopkins and Tara Kilbride as well as several of our RAs. Next slide, please. Next slide, thank you. So I just wanted to give you a little background about why we even have benchmark assessment scores to learn from during the 20-21 school year.
0:13:42.2 KS: Under state legislation and the return to learn law that was passed there was a requirement that districts offered benchmark assessments both in the fall and the spring of the 20-21 school year. And the legislation allowed for districts to choose between four different assessment providers. And they also could choose their own locally developed assessment. And I'm gonna talk about why that creates a challenge for us in a second. So about 91% of Michigan districts provided some form of their benchmark assessment data to the state for EPIC to analyze, and about 74% of districts are actually in our analysis for a number of challenges that we faced in getting the data from the district in a way that was a usable format. I should also say that we worked a lot with MEDIC at U of M and with the Michigan data hubs to be able to access these data in a clear away.
0:14:31.2 KS: One of the things I'm gonna show you on the next slide is the way that the students in our analysis this year differed from the state K-8 population and differed across vendors. This is a little bit to Kevin's last point about the implications of enrolment last year for understanding what we can learn about the learning during the pandemic by the benchmark assessments. In particular, lower income, black and special education students are underrepresented in our analysis. The report was required to identify the number and proportion of students in the state that are 'significantly behind grade level', that also poses a problem for us in how to learn about the... How students fared during the pandemic. I'm gonna walk us through that for a second as well. Next slide. Okay, so this is a little bit of a confusing table and I wanna just walk us through it for a second 'cause it's very important. The main point here is that, what I said earlier, students in our analysis differ from the overall population of K-8 students in the state and they differ across the different assessment vendors for benchmark assessments. So what you see on the left state-wide column, we have about 590,000 Michigan students in our sample.
0:15:39.4 KS: This is about 61% of all K-8 students in the state. If you look at that NWEA column, we see that the vast majority of the students, so over 440,000 of them took the NWEA MAP Growth assessment, and among districts that use the NWEA, we have about 78% of K-8 students in those districts. So again, there's never a district that had 100% participation rate in their benchmark assessment that we were able to use. If you go down to that student characteristics panel, it begins to tell you how the samples differ. So the first row shows you that 62% of students in Michigan in K-8, are economically disadvantaged. This is compared to only 51% in the NWEA sample, for the districts that took the NWEA. 59% in the sample that took the Curriculum Associates i-Ready Assessment, and then 47% and 37% in the Star and DRC districts. Black students were underrepresented in the NWEA districts, but also especially in the Star and DRC districts, you can see that 5% of students in those districts that took the assessment were black, 1% in DRC.
0:16:45.7 KS: I-Ready was overrepresented in black students in part because some of the big urban, especially Detroit public schools, took the i-Ready assessment. Similarly, you can see the variation here in the Hispanic or Latino populations that took the assessment by vendor Special Education and English Learners. This has implications for how we can understand the analysis that we're about to show you. Because what we know from the pandemic is that a lot of the students who are less likely to test, were also less likely to have positive experiences during the pandemic. They are often lower income, they often live in urban areas, in areas that were harder hit by the economics of the pandemic, by the health issues about the pandemic. And so we know from other research, that these are the exact students who did even worse during the pandemic, and they are underrepresented in our analysis.
0:17:32.2 KS: Next slide, please. Okay, another challenge about, how do we learn from the pandemic? When you have four different assessment vendors, you have to do four different analyses, you can't compare across the different vendors. This is because every vendor has a different definition of significantly behind grade level, and it's also because every vendor tests different things and does it in different ways. And so I'm gonna focus on the NWEA and the Curriculum Associates outcomes for this presentation, mostly because they are the largest samples and also because we have the most information about how those students fared... Would have fared in other years. Next slide, please.
0:18:11.5 KS: Okay, so here are some results finally. This is the NWEA MAP Growth districts. So you can see in the green, you have the fall benchmark and spring benchmark and then the change. This again is for the NWEA's... How they define significantly behind grade level, which was when they would say that if a student was projected to score not proficient at the end of the year on the M-STEP, they would be significantly behind grade level. This is important 'cause it's different from the other vendors, and so what NWEA does, is using a Michigan sample from the pre-pandemic, they said if you take a test in the fall based on how you're doing right now, how would we expect you to do at the end of the year? And then in the spring, how would we expect you to do at the end of the year? So we would expect positive changes here, and we see that for the most part. In the blue columns, you see what we know from the statewide M-STEP data, both in 2019 and 2021 pre-pandemic and during the pandemic. The 2021 data, again, have an underrepresentation of students who took the test in about the same way as the benchmark sample does, and so we know that those are probably overestimates of the progress that students made in 2021.
0:19:19.0 KS: What you can see is... Let's take an example from the top sample in Math in third grade. In the fall of 2020, we know that about 35% of students who took the NWEA MAP Growth Assessment in Math scored... They predicted would have scored not proficient at the end of the year. This grew to 39% of students who took it. So 4% more students scored at the end of the year, not proficient than would have been expected. You can compare that to pre-pandemic in 2019 and the M-STEPs, and you see that about 28% of students in third grade scored not proficient on the Math M-STEP. So that's a pretty substantial difference between 39% and 28%. Similarly in Reading, if you look at the third grade Reading, about 29% of students scored below not proficient in the fall, and 35% were projected to score not proficient in the spring, which is a 6% increase in students and is, again, higher than the 30% that scored not proficient in 2019. So what we're seeing is that there was actually over the course of the year, slower learning growth than we would have expected over the course of the year, and the students ended up the school year... More students ended up not proficient than we would have expected given pre-pandemic trends.
0:20:36.7 KS: Next slide please. Here we see the Curriculum Associates i-Ready scores, and this one does nothing different. You take a test in the fall, and it's on a set of standards that you're supposed to know in say second grade or third grade, and you take a test in the spring on the same set of standards, supposed to know in second or third grade, and you would expect that by the end of the year, you would have fewer students who are significantly behind grade level because they've learned something over the course of the years. And this is what you see here.
0:21:06.2 KS: We also have a sample from 2018-19 from i-Ready of Michigan students who took the test, so we can compare what that looked like in 2018-19 to the sample that took the test in 2020-21. The way they define significantly behind grade level is, if think you are two or more grade levels behind standard. And what you can see is, I'm gonna focus on those change columns, and again, I'll look at third grade Math. You can see that about 15 percentage point more student... Fewer students were scoring two or grade levels or behind in third grade math, but the Delta over the course of a typical school year, pre-pandemic in third grade was like a 26% difference. And 25% of kids ended up... In third grade ended up scoring two or more grade levels behind in Math in the spring as opposed to just 14% in the 2019 spring.
0:21:55.6 KS: Same things for Reading, and so you're seeing across the board that we have much slower rates of growth over the 2019-20 school year, than we had in 2018-19. Next slide. Here's a key takeaway, and I'm just gonna repeat myself for a second, but we had slower rate of learning during the 2019-20 school year than we did in a pre-pandemic school year. We don't know as much about the students though, who are non-white, who are low income and who are eligible for special education, and so we have to assume that this is even probably worse than the picture that we're painting with these data. We do have a report coming out in January, early January, following up on this one, that's actually gonna look at the achievement gaps between different race ethnicities, genders, Special Education students, and students with disabilities, etcetera, to be able to understand how the gaps might have changed in the test example over the course of the year.
0:22:54.4 KS: But we probably... We have to realize the equity implications here, and I think that those are really critical for us to think about. So one of the main equity implications that I wanna bring forward, and I think Sarah will tackle this a little bit in the next presentation, is that these are... We have to think about the students who are the most impacted by the pandemic and what we can and cannot know about them, and if we make the assumption that what we're seeing here is sort of a best case scenario, then we probably wanna understand how we can work to accelerate learning for students who are most impacted by the pandemic in the future years. We'd all hope that this year would be sort of a back to normal school year, which it hasn't been, and so we have to assume that the students who are probably most impacted last year are being, again, impacted by staffing shortages, COVID requirements to get schools or classrooms or individual students out of the classroom for a given amount of time. And so I think that we're going to have to assume that we're gonna build two years of interrupted learning and how we're gonna accelerate students at the end of it. Thank you very much, and I think I'll turn it over to Sarah.
0:23:55.5 Sarah Lenhoff: Thanks Katharine. I really appreciate being here. Thanks so much to the Ford School for having me. So I'm Sarah Lenhoff, I'm the Director of the Detroit Education Research Partnership at Wayne State University. And our partnership is focused on producing research to inform decision making around education issues in Detroit. We partner with Detroit public schools, community district and charter schools in Detroit as well as community-based organizations to do our work. And we have a lot of areas that we cover but the biggest one is related to student attendance and absenteeism. So that's what I'm gonna talk about today.
0:24:32.7 SL: I'm gonna talk about the impact of COVID-19 on Detroit families in general, as well as how COVID shaped student attendance last year. And the reason why attendance matters is because there's essentially a linear relationship between the number of days students go to school and their performance outcomes on student tests, as well as socio-emotional outcomes. And when students are chronically absent, meaning they miss 10% or more of school days or severely chronically absent, 20% or more of school days, they have much worse outcomes, both academically, they're much less likely to graduate and they have worse socio-emotional outcomes. So we're interested in chronic absence because we know that enrolment and attendance issues were big issues during the pandemic as students were learning online, but also because chronic absence is a useful indicator for understanding student well-being in general and understanding what supports students and families might need. So let's dig into our data, you can turn to the next slide.
0:25:38.6 SL: So we administered a randomized survey of DPSCD families at the end of last school year in June 2021, and we were trying to understand how did COVID impact students and their families over this last school year, and then we linked their responses to their students' attendance records. So DPS was a great partner in this, and I really thank Jason Rose, the Director of Research of the district for helping us administer this survey and link those student attendance records. So Detroit had really high rates of chronic absence before the pandemic. About 62% of students were chronically absent prior to the pandemic. And last year, 70% were chronically absent with about 54% in that severe chronic absence category.
0:26:31.7 SL: In addition to that, over a quarter of students last year missed more than half of their enrolled school days. So an important distinction to make is this is different than the data that were reported to the state last year, when students just needed to have two two-way interactions a week in order to be counted as present, this is daily attendance record, so it's comparable to prior years. So we saw similar patterns in terms of student demographics and attendance and student grades, but one exception was in 12th grade where about 87% of students were chronically absent in 12th grade last year.
0:27:16.3 SL: So really important, we don't have the graduation data from Detroit yet from this past school year, but I'm really interested in what are the potential implications on that really high absence rate in 12th grade for graduation and then college admission.
0:27:33.3 SL: Next slide. So we wanted to look at... We know that prior chronic absence is a strong predictor of current year chronic absence, and so we wanted to compare who were the students who are chronically absent before the pandemic and what happened in that pandemic year last year? And did students sort of stay in their chronic absence category or did they shift? So we saw about 3000 students, about 9% of that population that we have in 18-19 and 20-21 became not... Were chronically absent when they were... The year before the pandemic, but 21% of those students became chronically absent, so they had better attendance before the pandemic, and then now they're missing a lot of days. And the major explanation for that shift is around internet and computer, both access, but also just problems with computers. So when we surveyed families, we asked them what are the challenges to student attendance this school year? And families were saying, 30% and 34% of them were saying that computer issues and the internet were causing problems in logging on to online school.
0:28:49.5 SL: Next slide, we also interviewed families last school year in Detroit, and they talked about the intersection between online learning and socio-economic conditions in their families and employment. So I wanted to share a few quotes from families that we heard from. So one mom told us, "I'm still unemployed. I'm still looking for work. I'm trying to look for a job on the weekend or maybe a night shift so I can be there for the kids for their online schooling because I'm a single mom. I'm the only person they have to help them." So this shows how being online created these challenges for logging onto school, but also intersected with other difficulties of the pandemic for Detroit families. Another mom told us that she was laid off her job because she had to take off work to help her kids with their online learning. And then we also heard about the mental health challenges related to online learning and how those disruptions created problems with academic learning as Katharine just shared with us. So this mom told us, her children are telling her that they can't focus, they're having too hard of a time on focusing, concentrating. She said the mental health aspect is difficult for for them.
0:30:10.3 SL: So something to keep in mind as we move on to the next slide, which showed that across the board, no matter what the attendance rates were, there were really high rates of hardship among Detroit families. So across the board, more than 50% of families were facing mental health challenges, financial challenges and logistical challenges last school year. And about 65% of families across the board had parents who lost their job or worked less hours last year, creating more economic instability. In addition to that, in the severely chronically absent category, which again, this is more than half the students in the district, 13% of those families were evicted last year, even though there was an eviction ban. So you can imagine how high that number would be had we not had that national ban.
0:31:07.0 SL: Next slide. So I wanna pull back a little bit to think about... We kinda painted this picture of COVID challenges last year, and there were immense for families, especially related to computer issues and getting online for virtual school. But our prior research is reinforced by the survey data that shows that there are major socio-economic differences between students who are not chronically absent and students who have absence issues or who are severely chronically absent. So you can see big differences in income where not chronically absent students have an average income of around $36,000 versus $18,000 for severely chronically absent students.
0:31:54.9 SL: We also see major differences in education level in employment. And I really wanna point to these differences in regular working hours or stable working hours. This is something that was emphasized in our qualitative research as well, where families would share that when may have unpredictable working schedules, it makes it challenging to get their children to school. And that was sort of exacerbated with the pandemic with children being at home having to log on online. Next slide. What are the implications of all this?
0:32:32.4 SL: There were systemic challenges that create barriers to school attendance even before the pandemic, and many of those were exacerbated during it. So we had high rates of unemployment and job loss. We had instability related to health. Over 35% of our families lost someone or had someone who was really sick from COVID this past school year. So those challenges and the inequality built into those challenges creates the conditions where it's really difficult for many students to get to school, and that was mirrored in the COVID school year.
0:33:16.0 SL: We know that there was this major investment in computers and house hotspots in Detroit. But we heard from families that it didn't... Those resources didn't always match their needs. There were hardware challenges, some of the computers weren't very high quality, there were tech support issues. So in a year where we're still seeing kids online learning through quarantine, and in Detroit, we had virtual Fridays through December to mitigate COVID. These issues are still present and we really need to figure out how to better support families through online learning and to mitigate COVID to the extent we can so kids are back in school in-person. And then my last point, and I always just think this is so important to think about, is how schools have a really important role to play here in reducing chronic absence and improving the conditions for school attendance, but they can't do it alone. So social sectors and government agencies across students' educational ecosystems have a really important role to play in reducing barriers to school attendance and creating additional pathways to student success. That was true before the pandemic. It's even more true now, and we've seen some evidence that we can coordinate with city governments, with health departments and other social service agencies to provide students and schools with what they need.
0:34:49.7 SL: I think this research really reinforces the importance of continuing and building on that work in the years to come. So my last slide is just a thank you to our partners and our funders, and encouragement to visit our website, we love your feedback on our work. Thank you so much.
0:35:13.0 Delsa Chapman: Thank you to our panelists, Dr. Stange, Dr. Strunk and Dr. Lenhoff. Very humbled and thankful for this opportunity just to reflect on the findings on the research that was conducted. Here in the state of Michigan, yes, we have been in the trenches. We have had to push through and are still pushing through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and very specifically on our children. Reflecting on the data presented by Dr. Stange in terms of the decline in enrolment, four times what our general trend has been over the last several years is concerning. And so we do actively have through contact here at the state level, we are concerned, and we would like to know where are the students? Have they chosen to matriculate or to move to another state, or are these children in our communities and not being educated at all? So that's of grave concern.
0:36:22.3 DC: And that is a focus that through our state agency and our resources that we would want to support our local education agencies with. In addition to that, I'm focusing very heavily in my reflection on the data that Dr. Strunk presented regarding benchmark assessment. Many have stated that students have lost learning. The opportunity to learn was interrupted. You can't lose what you did not have. And so if you did not have that opportunity to learn because of the pandemic, we have moved forward here in the Michigan Department of Education to put together resources which are continuous, not just the one and done, through the division that I oversee, the Division of Educator, Student and School Supports, we are really advocating for our local education agencies to be involved with our accelerated learning initiative, because as Dr. Strunk presented, the rate of achievement was slower.
0:37:35.9 DC: In addition to that, the data that she presented also indicates that we did not have a full scope and sequence of all students at all grade levels, in all demographic groups to know where we truly are. So through the supports that are being put together and pushed out through the Michigan Department of Education, strong focus on Accelerated Learning, many are asking, How can you accelerate? You accelerate by meeting the student where they are and focusing through standards, through content-driven standards, on how to move them forward. And that is what we have been doing lots of support. And this is not just initiative germane to the State of Michigan, we have collaborated with chiefs across the nation, through CCSSO and others, and we are definitely on the right track in supporting our educators and our students.
0:38:40.0 DC: The data that really tugs at the heart is what Dr. Lenhoff presented as a result of the survey and the findings associated with the Detroit Public Community School District. As she reported attendance or the lack thereof, being chronic or severely chronic was very high even before the onset of the pandemic. So we do know that we have a lot of work across the state to address chronic absenteeism. And how we do that is, focusing on student engagement, making sure that our families are engaged by supporting and educating our parents.
0:39:26.8 DC: In this moment during the pandemic, after the pandemic, how we can support them to better support their children as learners. And we would not leave out our educators, and so it is the responsibility of us as the state agency to make sure that our educators are being developed professionally so that they can help move forward the learning that has been not lost, but interrupted, so that they are well-equipped to move our young people forward here in the state of Michigan. So I would collectively say that as a state, in this educational realm, we need to yes, focus on support through acceleration, we also need to make sure that we are supporting the mental health of our parents, students and educators. And it takes a village, right? So this should be an all hands on deck, everyone involved, and most of all, it should be done through equitable means. Our data should not be showing at the rate it is of the impact of those that are economically disadvantaged, but the data talks, right? It speaks.
0:40:53.3 DC: And so we do need to collectively unite and make sure that there is equitable access to connectivity, to learning, to support for all of our students. And those are my reflections, and at this time, we will turn it over to Mr. French.
0:41:17.5 RF: Thank you, Dr. Chapman and thank you for all the panelists. It's fascinating, at times depressing information that we're hearing today about the challenges that our schools are facing and our students and families are facing. I know there's a lot of talk over the past few months about infrastructure, about what we need to do with... At the federal level about how we could spend money on infrastructure. Well, I think that... I think what this presentation brings to light for me even more than it has in the past, how education is infrastructure too. That we need to consider it that way and fund it and figure out how to make things work as best we can, just as much as we need to fill the potholes on our roads. We're gonna open up for questions here soon, and so if you have any questions, start asking them and I'm gonna start with a few questions of my own if I can.
0:42:20.7 RF: Kevin, if we can go to you first and you talk about kindergarteners and... Are there... In businesses, if you lose a customer, you often don't get them back. And I'm wondering if you are aware of any historical parallels when students left the public school system in this sort of level and whether they returned and in the same breath, I guess, whether any states... I know we don't have data yet from Michigan, but are there states out there that have any indication yet this fall as to whether the... Especially like the kindergarten numbers, whether they're bouncing back?
0:43:10.9 KS: Let me answer that... The second question first. And actually, let me take opportunity to just thank the other the panelists for the great presentation and Dr. Chapman for bringing it all together, and I think reminding us that... Particularly our work, very high level and people are just numbers and actually... And highlighting Sarah's point really brings... Sarah's work really brings home that these numbers are families and communities and students and children and they're learning. So the answer to your question, Ron, I think I am not aware... Yeah, I think we're still waiting. I'm not aware of even early kind of evidence that's coming out from other states that would really be able to answer how much of this is persisting versus bouncing back.
0:44:06.2 KS: I've seen some news reports that have suggested that things aren't getting any better this current year, and I think there's been obviously a movement back towards more in-person instruction, but there's just been a lot of uncertainty around that, that I think may be keeping some parents holding back. So I don't have a great answer. I guess what I do know is I think... And this kind of gets to Dr. Chapman's point is, I think there are... What I take away from our work is that there are just many reasons why families are somewhat disengaging from the public school system, their own personal circumstances, the circumstances of the school and the district, their employment situation, the child care centers are closed, all of those factors are kind of underpinning some of the patterns that we're finding, and so I think there are many reasons why families are disengaging, and so I think re-engaging families in the public system is gonna require many different strategies. And there might be different strategies that are gonna work in different communities depending on the particular circumstances there. So that's kind of a non-answer, but that's the best I can do for now.
0:45:21.9 RF: That's okay, that's okay. You're being honest about the limitations of what you're working with at the moment, and I appreciate it. Speaking of limitations, I think Katharine spoke to that... About that with her data. I love how her caveats were about as long as the data presentation. And I know that's tough to deal with. Katharine, can you give... Because I think a lot of... A fair number of people on listening here are very familiar with education data and with schools in general, and I'm wondering if you have a sense, because again, this year isn't exactly a normal year, either... How long is it gonna be... I'll ask it like the layman that I am, how long is it gonna be before we know the real effect on learning from the pandemic?
0:46:17.1 KS: I'm gonna look at my Magic 8 Ball and shake it for a second and see what I come up with. I don't know. I think a lot depends on what happens year. So one of the beauties of having a standardized achievement test, like the M-STEP that's repeated year after year on the same set of standards, is that we can get a snapshot at the end of each year about how students are doing on standards in Michigan at each grade level. And of course... And we didn't have that in 19-20 for obvious reasons, and we had a limited look at that in 20-21. There was legislation from the legislature again this year that it requires benchmark assessments to occur this fall and spring, and next fall and spring. EPIC is partnering with MDE to continue studying these districts that took the benchmark. So hopefully we'll get a trajectory over time and be able to understand if there was an increased learning gain this year relative to last year. And next year we hope to see an even greater increase in learning gain. There's a couple of concerns though. So standardized tests can only measure so much. They can't measure what students are learning that are not on the test, they can't measure things that we want kids to learn in Social Sciences every year of science, all the other subjects that are very important.
0:47:27.7 KS: The social skills, we've all heard from educators this year that kids are coming back very different than they were pre-pandemic in terms of their ability to be in the classroom and social skills, and those are things that we won't know from the kind of quantitative data that we all are working with.
0:47:41.6 RF: And Sarah, your research chronic absenteeism in Detroit is so compelling. It just tugs at my heart. I'm wondering if you can speak for a minute about what you know, either from surveys or from just being in field, what is it that parents need that schools can actually provide that would help the situation?
0:48:11.1 SL: Well, I think the answer to that is a little bit different. If we're talking about virtual school versus regular school. So if you had asked me that question two years ago, I would have said, "We've talked to dozens and dozens and dozens of families, and we've done the survey research, and we've talked to attendance agents and others in the school district, and transportation is always the number one thing that parents ask for and say is a barrier to school attendance." I came into this research for the COVID year thinking that transportation wouldn't be that relevant. But we had a lot of students in DPS who were still going to school in-person for at least part of the year last year, or were going to learning centers in school buildings. They were in virtual education at school buildings. So transportation was still a relevant concern last year.
0:49:05.8 SL: That's a big one. I think, as we saw in the socio-economic data that I shared, just comparing those severely chronically absent students versus not. To me, that really points to there being something distinct between the students who are just over the chronic absence threshold and who probably, if they go to school a few extra days through student engagement initiatives, like Delsa was talking about through programs that focus on really enticing instructional material and that kind of thing could really help those students. But more than half of the students are way over that. They're missing 36 days or more a school year. And so programs like that, evidence from other places, evidence from Detroit suggests that those are the kind of things that are gonna close that gap. It's really gonna require major investments in social supports using DHHS workers to support families, make sure that they have their basic needs met, make sure that students have access to schools close to home. That's part of what creates this transportation problem, is that many students in Detroit have to go really far away from home to access the school. And so I think it's complex. I think there's gonna be multiple solutions that need to be added together to make some real progress.
0:50:38.6 RF: Thank you. And Dr. Chapman, I know that you're not technically on the panel. Okay, but I'd love to ask you a question if that's okay. You mentioned accelerated learning as something that is the focus this year and completely understandable. But talk to me like the non-professor that I'm not. And if you can do accelerated learning this year, why don't you do it every year? What's the... What's different?
0:51:09.9 DC: I believe that it is now very much intentional, and it's intentional. But with it being intentional, just like our educators across the state had to learn how to teach virtually, had to learn how to set up the Google Classroom, if you will. We cannot expect that our educators are going to just naturally acclimate to that, and so that's why we have worked very hard to basically put together a framework of support so that we're not just suggesting that they accelerate it, but we want them to know how to accelerate it. And that has been the focus, and we have had more than we could have imagined to jump on board with that, because we are a local control state. Accelerated learning is not something that we can mandate, but we have been doing very strong reach out to districts to support them as we move that forward.
0:52:15.8 RF: Perfect, thank you very much. I appreciate that explanation. We have a few audience questions, and I'm gonna throw this out to whoever wants to the jump in. First audience question is specifically looking at the impact this has had on, I would say, 11th and 12th graders. It says, What about the effects on high school students? Particularly factors like dropout rates, FAFSA completion and enrolment in post-secondary education. How can districts or the Department of Education offer that policy at the legislator level? What can make it happen to help those kids who have really struggled in the past 18, 19 months now?
0:53:01.8 DC: Again, and this is probably just the teacher in me, and coming to the state department with nearly 30 years of experience at a local district level, I was in a district at the onset of the pandemic. And our kindergarten students and our juniors and seniors were of a heavy focus. Once again, it's all about intentionality. So rather than school counselors and student advocates focusing on what we would consider normal activities, districts across the state have had to partner with educational organizations such as MCAN or those agencies that thrive and focus and key in on our juniors and seniors. We need to be making sure that there are community efforts on FAFSA workshops. As a community across the state, what are we doing? But we also, I would strongly say, would need to work with our post-secondary institutions, so that there can be some flexibility as it relates to the college admissions process. Our students should not be penalized for us being in a pandemic, and we have to creatively support them and prepare them to not only to be college-ready but opportunity-ready.
0:54:33.9 RF: Thank you. This may be a question for Sarah, but anyone jump in. Another question from the audience, is there a need for a larger federal role in improving urban school districts such as Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Flint? And could it be a... It says, "Could have been more neutral roles such as including physical infrastructure to take pressure off those districts overall budgets?" I know there's a lot of COVID relief money, particularly in some of the urban districts, so maybe that refers to some of it, but Sarah, do you have any thoughts on that?
0:55:12.3 SL: Well, my first thought is, Yes, for sure. [chuckle] More money means better outcomes for kids in general in school, so yes. I know in Detroit we're about to embark on major facilities upgrades and a multi-year facility strategy. Many of our buildings need major repairs, especially in light of COVID and knowing that we need upgrades to air filtration and other systems like that. So I think those sorts of things seem like great investments especially now, given what we know about COVID. And I also think that the federal money is a really important opportunity for districts to try things that they normally do not have the funds to try to create proof points, that can motivate state lawmakers to invest in those sorts of things. So that's what we're talking about and what's happening in DPS right now is, they're really working to innovate around attendance this year. Doing a bunch of new initiatives to see what works, and we're partnering with them to evaluate them, so that we can say, "Okay, these are the things we need to scale and we need extra investment to do them for more students."
0:56:32.6 RF: Thank you, and this may be a question for Katharine, but if it's not, Katharine, just point at someone else. What do we know about how districts have accounted for the provision of services for students with disabilities and the ELL? Do we know what's happened during the pandemic with that?
0:56:48.7 KS: We know a little bit, but not a lot. At least as far as I know, and Delsa, maybe you have a better sense. What MDE worked closely with SEPI and EPIC during the pandemic to put out a survey that districts had to answer each month about the kind of modality that they were using to instruct students but also any special services they're providing to special populations of students, including students with disabilities and English learners. So we know that there were a number of districts, I would say probably a majority of districts, if I remember the numbers correctly that were saying they're providing extra services to students with disabilities and to English learners. Fewer were English learners than for students with visibility, but that's probably a reflection of the population in that state. We don't know as much this year about if districts are providing anything extra service-wise to students with disabilities or English learners, and I think it's a pretty important and a very, very important question to understand, how are we making sure that we're not only accelerating learners for general education, but how are we accelerating learning for Special Education and English Learners?
0:57:46.4 RF: Okay.
0:57:47.9 KS: Can I add to that?
0:57:49.1 RF: Please.
0:57:49.9 KS: One finding I didn't share was that, the increased exit rates from public schools were much, much smaller for students that were identified as English language learners or special-ed than typical. And to me actually, what that says is the schools are just such... The public schools are such a lifeline for students that have those needs. There was no increase actually in exit rates for English language. And because they don't have a choice. The private schools don't provide those services nearly as well. That's my interpretation. Or those aren't even an option for many families. Homeschooling resources maybe are not also appropriate for students that have those special needs, and same thing for students with broader set of special education needs.
0:58:50.8 KS: And so what I interpret that as meaning that these schools are really a lifeline for those services and that those are not available more broadly out there outside the schools. Even more critical that these schools are supported.
0:59:06.5 RF: That's a very good point. Here's a very important question. Very timely, unfortunately, for Michigan, it's about mental health. And so I'm gonna throw this out and whoever feels comfortable talking about it, I'd love to... I'm sure we'd love to hear from you about it. What should school districts be putting in place to support the greater emotional needs of our students to process this pandemic and everything they've been living through? And related to that, how realistic is it for schools to take on this burden? Anyone wanna take a shot at that?
0:59:47.7 DC: I'll start. It's realistic for every district across the state, Ron, if it's embraced. It is our reality. It's not something that we can set aside. There are many that believe that that's not the school's responsibility, that's the family or that's the home responsibility. However, I go back to say it takes a village, and many times the structures, the supports that are intentionally put in place at the school, then engage and help to educate the caregiver at home. And so when it's intentional and it's embraced it will be beneficial. We talked about funding. I would strongly recommend for the funding that has been provided to us by the federal support that we have. There should be heavy investment in mental health, it's very important, and not only Ron, the mental health of our students, but also support for our educators themselves, so important. But the key thing is, is that it has to be acknowledged or recognized and then embraced.
1:01:12.9 RF: Delsa, is your department seeing any indications of increases in mental health stresses? I don't know how to phrase it, but among staff?
1:01:28.7 DC: Are you specifically asking at the school level or from... Within the state agency itself?
1:01:35.8 RF: No, I was thinking at the school level whether... Yeah. I have no doubt you're stressed. [chuckle]
1:01:41.5 DC: Yeah, I just wanted to make sure I understood what you were asking, Ron. But no, seriously, yes, there has been in this... It has not just been an increase for the 20-21 school year at the onset of the pandemic, the stress was there, and it just increased over time.
1:02:04.8 RF: Okay, good. There was a question I had to follow up with Sarah, if I could ask quickly. When you look at the absentee rate, absenteeism rates in Detroit, and I'm sure this is right at your fingertips, it seems shockingly high, but for public's point of view, I have no idea if that's a normal type of rate for urban low-income public school systems. Is Detroit out of the ordinary for around the country?
1:02:40.9 SL: Detroit's out of the ordinary. So the average chronic absence rate across the nation is around 10% to 15% for urban school districts, it's more like 25%, and in Detroit for the past decade, it's been around 50%. So much higher even than other urban school districts. Our prior work has shown how environmental correlates are... Create the conditions for school attendance, things like poverty, unemployment, crime, health, disparities, and those things are also more challenging in Detroit than in other places. So in some ways, it's not a huge surprise, but at the same time, even compared to cities like Cleveland for instance, we're much higher than that. So there's still a gap to be made up and work to be done, for sure.
1:03:36.8 RF: And Katharine, a quick follow-up with you. I know we've spoke a few times about the excellent work your team does. Looking specifically at the sort of data that has come out of test data this past year, from a parent's point of view, when they see scores for their individual student or for their individual school, would you recommend they take that with a bit of a grain of salt this year more than than normal?
1:04:09.4 KS: Absolutely, I think it's really important. And so, thank you, Ron, for bringing that up. We've talked about it before, I know. The test taking rate was very different across different districts and even across different schools within districts. And so while there was no waiver this year from the Federal Department of Education on M-STEPs or on benchmarks, districts did different things to encourage or not students to come in and take it. And students who are learning remotely, were not to come into a school building to take a test. And so that means that in certain districts, there was like an eight to 10% testing rate, and other district, it was more like 90%. And so as a parent, what I do, is I think about, if I have a test score for my child and I do, I have two 4th graders, who took the test in third grade last year and be able to look and say what proportion of the standards did they know by the end of the year as measured by the M-STEP? But I wasn't gonna try to take the district as a whole and say, let's compare it to district X, Y or Z, because we don't know who took the test in each district.
1:05:05.1 RF: Perfect, we have time for one more question. It's a really good one, and I'm hoping to hear just a little bit from each of you on this. But I'm gonna have a buzzer here for if anyone talks more than 90 seconds. How about that? When you think of everything schools have been through and the way they've really had to just build this plane while it's in the air, in some situations, what changes in the education system that have come out of the pandemic do you think might remain for years to come? Kevin, let's start with you, and then we'll work around the panel here.
1:05:50.2 KS: Sure. Actually, I'm gonna go back to one of the first questions, which was about high school students and their transition to... Potential transition to college. That's an area that I actually work a bit more in. So I think what we have seen is a, I think, a greater appreciation for the challenges of standardized testing as determining college admissions, I think we've developed a greater appreciation for the importance of financial barriers and inequities in that to college access. And so Michigan has made a number of changes that have addressed some of those challenges, and institutions around Michigan have addressed some of those challenges. And as have institutions and states around the country, and I think some of that's not going away.
1:06:49.3 KS: I think there's a greater emphasis on making college more affordable and appreciation for making the access to aid more easier to get. So in Michigan, we have a really important free college plan for students that were on Medicaid when they were in K-12, that we've made some progress in making it sort of easier to access. And that's happening around the country. And I think that's something that's probably not going away, and I say that in a good way, so maybe this is ending this discussion with some positives. I think an appreciation for those challenges and changes in policy to accommodate them, I think is one area where I hope is not going away.
1:07:41.4 RF: Yeah, I think we can all agree on that. Sarah, you have any thoughts?
1:07:48.8 SL: Yeah, I think that COVID has created a real interest in digging underneath the hood about what's going on with students and their families, and has forced this deeper relationship between the home and the school that was always there, but I think often ed policy researchers and ed policy makers try to pretend that it doesn't exist. They pretend that they can just... If they do everything right in the school building, then all the other social ills will be taken care of. And I think COVID is just a spotlight on the fact that that's not how society works. That's not how people work. Children learn throughout their entire experience at home, at school, outside. And so to put it in Kevin's words, I think to me, it's a positive thing to take away from this moment, that there's been a spotlight on that connection, and it's an opportunity for schools to be innovative about how they support families across their lives and just help students succeed.
1:09:01.5 RF: Katharine, what do you think?
1:09:04.0 KS: Well, I wanna stay on the optimistic perspective, but I'm not sure that I can. I'll build a little bit off of what Sarah was talking about. I think that one of the good things is I think parents and communities have gotten more involved. So I think that they have realized the importance of school, not just for academic learning, but for the general health of the child over... And of the community, to be honest. And so I think that's become great. And I think that's good that we have a greater understanding of that. I do worry that we're gonna see extended staffing shortages that are gonna emerge from this. So the data aren't really in yet, that are in nationally aren't showing the kind of huge decline in staffing that we were worried about initially. But we are seeing some serious shortages in Michigan across the state and in certain parts of the state. And I worry that this is not making education a more fun place to be at the end of the pandemic. So that's a concern I have. And the second one is virtual education. So I think that we've seen this year, districts are more willing to go virtual for a day or for a week than they would have been maybe two years ago, and not all kids learn well that way. And so I think we need to think a lot about if we're gonna really continue to rely on remote instruction as a regular part of our school year.
1:10:17.1 RF: Dr. Chapman, you wanna bring us home?
1:10:20.2 DC: Sure, I actually, this is... I actually started a journal and I called it pandemic positives. So this is really good for me to be able to end our discussion today. Reflecting on what Sarah and Kevin shared, there are some positives that have come out, but also coupling that with the concern that Katharine has and what is really, really a focus right now here at the department is the teachers shortage. We have been successful in being able to share a proposal with our legislators specific to teacher recruitment and retention. And I believe that is going to be one of the pandemic positives as we get that support so that we can make this great state of Michigan an opportunity to continue to move the education profession forward. Innovation in the classroom, yes. That is coming to play, and I don't believe that that is going to change. Many are still asking, when will we get back to being normal? I will conclude by saying, this is our new normal and we must grace in it. All work together and move forward.
1:11:55.0 RF: Well, thank you and thank you to all our panelists for just a really engaging and tying the conversation. And to our audience for posing just fantastic questions. This topic is a passion of mine as it is for all of you. On behalf of the Ford School, I also welcome you to stay tuned to their website and social media pages for more information about upcoming events at Ford School. Thank you very much and have a good evening.