November 25, 2020
Spotlight: Our Education Program
The 2020-21 school year began amid the global pandemic, an economic collapse and a reawakening to entrenched racial injustice. For Chicago Public Schools and for Fry Foundation grantees, the year presents challenges that no one working in schools has previously seen or experienced. A common refrain is This year, every teacher is a new teacher, and every principal is a new principal.
Fry Foundation grantees are working alongside principals and teachers as they navigate new operating realities for themselves and for their students. We have learned, and the research tells us, that investment in principal leadership is one of the most essential strategies to improve instruction and academic outcomes. Principals are vital because they develop a climate for learning that promotes rigorous teaching and learning practices. Principals ensure that teachers have opportunities to participate in professional learning that aligns with school improvement efforts. And principals cultivate collective ownership of the school’s vision and goals.
Fry Foundation grantees help principals drive improvements at the school level and help the District test new policies and strategies intended to improve school leadership conditions in all schools. We have seen the essential role principals' instructional leadership plays in improving student outcomes. Between 2013 and 2017, Chicago Public School student outcomes improved at a rate higher than most districts in the nation. District leaders believe that developing a cadre of highly effective principals was a core strategy that fueled student growth in these years.
Despite remarkable student academic improvement across CPS, Black and Latinx students are still not reaching the same academic benchmarks as their white and Asian American peers. This school year, due to the pandemic, we are seeing early indicators of growing racial disparities. Black and Latinx students are logging on to remote classes at lower rates than their peers. And Black and Latinx parents are registering their children for pre-K and Kindergarten at much lower rates than other families. This could be a precursor to longer term achievement gaps because early childhood education is highly correlated with later student achievement.
The Work Ahead: Addressing Racial Opportunity Gaps
We know there is no single strategy that can reduce or eliminate opportunity gaps. Opportunity gap refers to the fact that the arbitrary circumstances in which people are born –such as their race, ethnicity, ZIP code, and socioeconomic status –determine their opportunities in life. Not all people have the same opportunities to achieve to the best of their potential.
Fry Foundation grantees are working to leverage their expertise in improving instruction in schools in order to improve access to high quality instruction and strong learning climates for Black and Latinx students.
We see two interrelated strategies to help principals and teachers address opportunity gaps:
1) Improving the Quality of Curriculum and Instruction for Black and Latinx students: High-quality curriculum and instruction are critical for student learning but not all students get curriculum and instruction that is high quality. Ensuring rigorous, engaging, relevant, and grade-level curriculum and instruction for all students is essential for eliminating the racial achievement gap.
Our grantees and CPS are helping schools adopt instructional approaches that improve Black and Latinx students' educational experience. These approaches include:
✓ supporting schools as they adopt and transition to improved curricular resources;
✓ helping schools and teachers adopt instructional practices that accelerate learning to help students who have fallen behind as a result of the pandemic;
✓ and helping schools test culturally responsive instructional practices.
2) Helping principals and teachers understand how systemic racism and implicit bias play out in schools and perpetuates opportunity gaps: As the 2020-21 school year begins, Fry Foundation grantees are helping principals and teachers adopt strategies that diagnose lost learning and fast-track students to grade-appropriate work. Over the last five years we have seen a growing number of grantees integrate approaches to address implicit racial bias and improve educators' cultural competency into their professional learning programs. Fry Foundation grantee The Achievement Network has published learning recovery planning guides for diagnosing learning loss and accelerating learning to ensure students receive grade-level instruction. All of our grantees believe that helping educators deepen their understanding of systemic racism and implicit racial bias is foundational to recognizing and addressing racial opportunity gaps in schools and school systems.
And since the pandemic, ensuring that children have access to high quality instruction has become more complex and addressing racial opportunity gaps is ever more urgent. Grantees are helping principals and teachers improve their capacity for remote instruction, diagnose and respond to learning loss, and develop scenarios to prepare for the time students begin returning to school buildings.