By Olivia Bond, Master of Public Policy Candidate ‘22
On December 7, 2021, the Center for Child and Family Policy hosted Drs. Michael Maher and Jeni Corn as a part of its School Research Partnership event, The Road to Recovery in N.C. Public Schools: Comprehensive Planning, Strategic Investments, and Charting a Path Forward.
Drs. Maher and Corn lead the Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration (OLR), a new office established in March 2020 within the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) to address the widespread learning loss and achievement disparities caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The office specifically seeks to support public school units (PSUs) through research and evidence-based decisions in addressing persistent challenges facing the public education system. In their address, Drs. Maher and Corn outlined the office’s purpose and created a unique opportunity for open communication between NCDPI representatives and the academic research community.
The OLR has thus far pursued two main types of activities: learning recovery, and research and evaluation. Its learning recovery efforts have included three formal programs: a school extension program, offered in the summer of 2021; a summer bridge program, to be offered in the summer of 2022; and a career accelerator program, also to be offered in the summer of 2022. All three programs provide learners the chance to regain instructional time and enrichment opportunities that were lost over the course of the pandemic.
OLR’s research and evaluation function has sought to identify promising practices used by districts throughout the state that could be scaled to assist a wider swath of PSUs. Further, members of the OLR have worked in conjunction with a team from SAS to conduct a lost instruction time impact analysis. In addition, the office has recently issued a call for proposals to conduct a three-year longitudinal analysis of existing learning recovery extension programs. Dr. Corn also highlighted OLR’s extensive draft research and evaluation plan that ultimately aims to get, “the best and most rigorous data into the hands of the people making decisions for students and teachers in North Carolina.”
Funding for OLR endeavors has largely originated from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III funds as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act. Of the $320 million distributed to the state of North Carolina, $72 million has been allocated to enrichment programs and programs addressing learning loss.
This presentation offered a unique opportunity for academic researchers to learn about the role and goals of the OLR and for discussion around the potential for data sharing, prospective research projects, and relevant job openings that members of the academic community would be well-suited to fill. Because OLR is a new and relatively small office, getting input and ideas for collaboration from academics could exponentially increase the office’s impact on PSUs in North Carolina. Also, because one of the office’s core principles is making evidence-based decisions, crafting partnerships with academics who have the capacity and interest to produce that evidence could help the office execute its mission. As learning recovery will assuredly remain a priority for public schools in the coming years, efforts to foster strategic partnerships, such as those discussed during this event, should continue.