Credit: Brenda Iasevoli for EdSource
Andres Ochoa tutors a student in Alma Renterias 6th-grade math class at Oscar Romero Charter School in central Los Angeles. Tutors provide one-on-one support in all math classes at Romero. Credit: Brenda Iasevoli

Often considered the great equalizer, our education system is facing extreme stress under the ongoing ramifications of the pandemic. New national data show that math and reading scores are down across the board, with the steepest decline among lower-performing students. Lack of access to things like a tablet, internet, transportation, a caretaker or a sense of belonging in school can create chasms in learning from which it is exponentially harder for students to recover. That’s the reality we face right now in Los Angeles Unified School District and across the country.

The good news is that there is unprecedented funding flowing into education due to the largest-ever one-time federal investment of $123 billion for K-12 schools in the American Rescue Plan. Complementing that funding is the Biden administration’s National Partnership for Student Success, a coalition working with AmeriCorps to recruit volunteers all over the country to create more opportunities for students to learn.

The challenge for LAUSD — and districts all over California and the country — will be ensuring this support reaches students so we can begin to bridge gaps in academic achievement and accelerate learning.

At LAUSD, the second-largest district in the country, connecting the vast expanse of schools across Los Angeles has always been difficult. Most schools operate independently. The benefit is autonomy — our educators have the freedom to serve the specific needs of each community — but the downside is that beneficial information can get lost. Often, schools, educators or parents aren’t aware that support is available to them, and books, devices or other resources go unused. A new report from The 74 shows that LA schools didn’t start using the $2.5 billion in relief funds until this fall. Here’s what we can do right now to ensure this unprecedented support gets to our students.

Communicate better with parents

Communication in a district as large and diffuse as Los Angeles is a challenge in itself. Making students and parents aware of programs has always required extra effort. Schools and administrators must send home flyers, they must make phone calls and send texts, and they must work to talk with parents, caregivers and the community organizations that serve them. Many students, especially struggling students, don’t have the infrastructure of a caretaker to help ensure they get in front of a tutor. To help bridge this gap, administrators can work with families, students and community partners on a plan to ensure students are connected with support.

Coordinate better with schools

The funding is coming from the federal government, but many schools operate independently of the school district. As the district receives funding and support, it must work to ensure that schools know what is available, how to get it and how to use it. The freedom to serve their community is what makes LA schools work. However, when there is large-scale support available coming from the top, more must be done to ensure it arrives in classrooms now. Administrators must work to ensure that schools and teachers take advantage of these new resources and that they can use them to suit their needs.

Create tutoring labs

Finally, there is no way to make progress in academic recovery if we are not making use of every opportunity to learn. Tutoring continues to be one of the most effective ways to bridge gaps in learning, and with additional federal funding available, we can provide training to many more people and deliver it in more places.

Any time there are students gathered — for an after-school program or class — we should create tutoring pods. Students can work together to help each other learn concepts they may be struggling with or need additional time to learn. Every activity and every interaction with a local, trusted community partner can be turned into an opportunity to tutor.

The pandemic may have created a crisis within the education system, but it’s our responsibility to respond accordingly. As funding flows into education across the country, let’s make sure it’s used equitably and expeditiously, and ensure coordination across all student spaces from the classroom to after-school programs to students’ homes.

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Nati Rodriguez is the program director for Annenberg Learner, an initiative of the Annenberg Foundation that is working with Step Up Tutoring to expand tutoring access for students in Los Angeles. 

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