As many students returned to their classrooms on Monday for the first time since the start of the pandemic, Education Trust-Midwest Executive Director Amber Arellano joined Stephen Henderson on WDET-FM’s Detroit Today to talk about this pivotal moment for education.

During the conversation, Arellano celebrated educators and parents for their hard work during this unprecedented time of disrupted learning. She also highlighted the need for policymakers to focus not only on immediate logistical challenges of returning to school but also on planning long-term to address equity issues in education that existed long before the pandemic.

Arellano noted that Michigan’s funding system is among the worst in the nation for gaps between wealthy and low-income districts and cited examples demonstrating how longstanding inequities impacted students during the pivot to remote instruction. For instance, she noted that the digital divide left many under-resourced Michigan districts, including both urban and rural districts, struggling to provide the technology and resources students needed for high-quality remote instruction.

Arellano highlighted some of the ways the federal stimulus funding can be used to bridge the equity gaps.

“The stimulus is an opportunity to invest those dollars to make sure we are catching up all kids up in the state,” including options for free summer school and intensive tutoring, she said.

A recent poll by The Education Trust-Midwest suggested that a majority of Michigan parents support optional, free summer school to help students catch up. In addition, educational recovery discussions should include ways to leverage dollars not just for immediate stabilization but also to modernize districts, she said.

Following a question from Henderson on whether there should be a reconsideration of what it means for students to be “behind,” Arellano underscored the need for data about disrupted learning to understand whether students are on track for their grade level and to graduate.

Understanding how students have been impacted by the pandemic can help drive needed support, she said, adding that much important work will be needed now — and in the years ahead — to address the learning disruptions.

“We don’t want kids to become on track to drop out of high school or be on track to earn less money for the rest of their lives,” she added, citing past examples like hurricanes when children’s education has been disrupted. “We have to learn from those experiences and make sure COVID-19 doesn’t become the driver of losing a generation of students.”

Listen to the full interview here.


Go deeper: Watch a panel discussion on The Education Trust-Midwest’s 2021 State of Michigan Report, The Urgency of Now: Michigan’s Educational Recovery.