Delaware uses ESSER funds to provide digital books to students
K-12 districts have received numerous rounds of federal funding through state governments. Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds allocated in the pandemic relief recovery plans total around $ 190 billion. For some, navigating these waves of federal K-12 funding – along with their timelines and requirements – has been a challenge. Others, however, have found innovative and creative solutions to tackle the learning difficulties imposed by the pandemic using available government funding.
In Delaware, the state Department of Education uses ESSER funds to provide digital books to students in all grades. He specifically used the Education Stabilization Fund to launch this program, which aims to accelerate learning rather than focusing on remediation.
“We were constantly brought to understand that we had to look at acceleration as the model compared to remediation, because remediation only continues the cycle of students stranded in the same place,” explains Monica Gant, associate secretary for academic support for the Department of Delaware. education.
Through this program, students can access required and recreational reading material. Because students are tied to topics they enjoy reading and learning, they are more likely to take advantage of the books available to them. They can choose between eBooks and Audiobooks in their Sora student reading app. “Literacy is definitely our goal, and we wanted to make sure the students had the materials they needed to practice this skill,” says Gant.
The importance of literacy and the interruption of learning
Literacy is critically important to students every year, but this year in particular raises concerns for children learning to read. In 2020, kindergarten enrollment fell 16% on average in the United States, according to an NPR report. Meanwhile, a joint analysis by Chalkbeat and The Associated Press states that “a drop in kindergarten enrollment accounts for 30% of the total reduction in the 33 states.”
Successful students may face significant disadvantages compared to their academically engaged peers. Young learners who are not enrolled in classes miss the opportunity to develop basic reading skills. In fact, students who don’t read at grade three are more likely to drop out of school later, according to a long-term study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The percentage of high school students who did not graduate and have difficulty reading in third grade
Source: ncsl.org, “Pre-Kindergarten – Third Grade Literacy”, December 17, 2019
Students who are not attending kindergarten this year and those who have fallen behind in school at all grade levels are missing the opportunity to learn. The reading program for which the Delaware Department of Education used ESSER funds aims to support these students.
“We really focused on unfinished teaching and learning versus learning loss,” Gant said. “The loss of learning indicates a deficit for students, where unfinished teaching and learning means they haven’t had this opportunity yet for various reasons that we attribute to the pandemic. With reading materials from the Delaware program, students have broadened their learning opportunities.
READ MORE: Schools find solutions to support students who have had difficulty during distance learning.
Delaware program supports school districts
Between May 17 and mid-August, the program saw 18,697 books borrowed. Students in 221 schools across the state logged 7,806 hours of reading in three months. Other states facing uncertainty about how to use ESSER funding may emulate Delaware’s positive approach to literacy.
Since the state’s Department of Education typically focuses on supporting professional learning or aligning standards, it knew the best way to use the funding was through support, Gant explains. “The additional funds have given us a unique opportunity to be able to get the resources we can provide to complement what they do in their districts and charters,” she notes.
Other state departments looking for creative uses for their funds should partner with their own local districts and charters to find out what they need and support them. The Delaware partnership involves the state’s public libraries, another resource to consider when it comes to bridging the learning gap for students this year.
“The key for us was really to make sure we reflected on the job that we were trying to do,” says Gant. “It was really about unfinished teaching and learning and providing students with equitable access no matter where they were in the state.”