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Education Department Kicks Off Summer Learning Collaborative

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 26, 2021 2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, left, talks with Fort LeBoeuf Middle School teacher Laura Friedman during a discussion on safely returning to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic on March 3, 2021.

The U.S. Department of Education has officially launched an effort to support summer learning programs, along with groups representing governors, state school chiefs, and local superintendents.

The Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative will support states and school districts as they develop out-of-school time programs in the upcoming months, relying on money from the COVID-19 relief bill signed by President Joe Biden last month. The collaborative is designed to help states use $1.2 billion in American Rescue Plan funding for summer enrichment programs.

It will also provide support to districts, which must use at least 20 percent of their funding from the relief package to address learning recovery for students, especially those who are disadvantaged and have been most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to identifying and building successful summer programs, the collaborative announced Monday is intended to help bring nonprofits, philanthropies, and other groups to support the work. And the announcement from the Education Department said the collaborative wants to focus on students’ social-emotional and mental health needs, as well as their academics.

The Education Department has launched the collaborative along with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. The collaborative is also drawing on the Comprehensive Center Network, a professional learning community supporting state and local education agencies, for support.

The collaborative is holding a virtual two-day kick-off event Monday and Tuesday; speakers at the event will include U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona; Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat; Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican; and Harlem Children’s Zone Founder Geoffrey Canada.

“Summer presents a key opportunity for school districts and community partners to accelerate learning and provide new avenues for students to safely engage with each other in fun activities,” Cardona said in a statement accompanying the official launch of the collaborative. Additional meetings of the network will take place through the summer, including a final meeting at the end of the summer to discuss what worked and challenges that remain.

Cardona announced the formation of the summer collaborative in March. In an interview with Education Week shortly after that announcement, Cardona stressed that schools and other groups shouldn’t simply rely on what they’ve done in previous summers after the disruption of the past year. “We really have to reimagine how we’re going to engage our students,” he said.

How schools and other groups should engage and support students during the summer months has gotten a great deal of attention in Washington and beyond, amid intense concern about the pandemic’s effects on students’ academic standing and their mental well-being.

There’s also tension between the desire to focus on academic instruction in the summer, and the belief that recreation and play should be the focus for many children.

The Education Department said 46 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other jurisdictions have joined the collaborative. The department did not say which states have not, and the agency did not immediately respond to a question about why all states aren’t participating. All 50 states were invited, according to the Comprehensive Center Network.

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