Redesign the Future of Education with ESSER Funds

8 min read

|By Heather Bassett|

As schools settle into the new year, educators return to prepandemic conditions: fewer masks and less social distancing, but with much greater expectations to reinvent education and much greater obstacles to reintegrate students into the social and academic aspects of school. Education is not like it was in 2019. The recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test results provide evidence that student needs are greater than ever. Keeping sight of academic and social reintegration should not diminish the huge opportunity brought on by crisis and made possible by funding. The infusion of federal funds goes far beyond responding to crisis or fixing problems with short-term Band-Aids; we must consider how we resource and redesign our schools to create a new path into the future.

Understanding the Final Rounds of ESSER Funds

While the first round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds― the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act―was spent for emergency response by September 2022, the second and third rounds of ESSER funding are still available for school districts to reimagine and rebuild. Though some students still require a crisis response and interventions, many of our students are seeking to return to schools that are newly energized to serve them. The second round of ESSER funds, referred to as Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSSA) funds, directed almost $55 billion to schools. These funds need to be committed by September 2023. Districts are using these funds to provide transitions and reintegration. The third round of ESSER funds, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, directs an unprecedented $122 billion to districts; these funds need to be committed by September 2024.

Both the funding level and the expectations to reimagine education demonstrate an unprecedented commitment to public education in our nation. Though there are key parameters in ARP, both the language and the spirit of the law is for each community to dream about rebuilding a school to prepare students for successful futures. The allowable expenses in the ARP Act largely mirror the broad uses allowed in the first two rounds, while asking districts to demonstrate that 20 percent of the funds are targeted to evidence-based practices to address unfinished learning. The ARP Act also requires districts to monitor spending to ensure high-poverty school communities maintain prepandemic funding and staffing levels, but largely the blueprint is a local design. The U.S. Department of Education asks districts to consult with stakeholders in meaningful consultation, not just to provide accountability for this unprecedented funding but also so that this opportunity to reinvent our education in America is designed and defined by our stakeholders. The inspiration to reinvent our schools is fueled by these funds.

Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

In every crisis, there is opportunity. Our students and educators demonstrated amazing resiliency through the pandemic, and they deserve to return to schools that continue to adapt and honor the lessons we learned from pandemic learning. Gale resources provide school districts a road map to reengage students and reinvent classroom instruction.

The pandemic taught us, for better or worse, that schools are a source for far more than just learning. Schools provide shelter, food, and whole-child support systems. The learning platforms of the future should continue to provide opportunities for students to develop soft skills, intellectual mindsets, and content that helps them make sense of their realities.

The Importance of SEL Now More Than Ever

Students who survived the experience of pandemic learning are adaptable and resourceful. They need to continue to have resources at their fingertips. Daily instruction in Gale resources provides students updated and credible content and practice toward the intellectual habits to enhance their lives. Embedding social and emotional learning into academics is an authentic experience with Gale resources. Not only can students access the precise content that answers their exact questions about any informational topic under the sun, but students can also seek Gale content from any device, at any time of the day, with a variety of tools for accessibility, translation, and differentiation. Students can seek information about mental health, bullying, suicide, and personal safety in published, credible sources.

For many students, social and emotional learning (SEL) is about soft skills. Students need to develop intellectual mindsets and habits as they learn, to equip them to feel confident about their future success. Students must practice or develop such things as resiliency, intellectual empathy, self-awareness, curiosity, and problem-solving.

Student learning of the future must prove to students that the practices of solving schoolwork problems are the same practices they use to solve their personal curiosities. Curious students are engaged students. When students complete their initial search in a Gale digital resource, they are provided results of published, updated content from credible sources. These results offer independent students a variety of perspectives that they might not ever encounter in a filtered internet search. They might see perspectives that differ from their own. As students decide if they accept or reject those points of view, they are clarifying their own stance and understanding the stance of others. Researching in a platform intentionally designed to provide a multiplicity of perspectives develops the intellectual empathy our students need to be successful in this world and the future.

When students review search results in a Gale digital resource, they will see books, academic journals, news, and magazine articles, arranged by source type, forcing them to become aware that there even IS a type of source and forcing them to learn what source is BEST for them. For some students, this platform is more difficult than the open internet; the students must spell the words correctly to get the best results, perhaps try other search terms, or change source-type results. All these decisions are supporting the development of intellectual resiliency and source awareness.

Supporting Educators Drive for Meaningful Change

Educators also survived pandemic learning, and the crisis created opportunities for them to change their practices and learn new skills. Educators gained tools to facilitate personalized learning. Gale digital resources continue to leverage that learning and use of digital tools to drive student learning in a customized space with credible content. The content is updated daily and available to teachers and students 24/7 on any device, and can be integrated into existing learning management systems. Teachers can deliver credible content to students for any discipline.  

Our educators never need to return to the prepandemic content delivery of print textbooks with funding that updates that source every 10 years, or even rely on one, single type of source. With Gale, educators can find trusted, credible content in a variety of source types, intentionally built to provide a variety of perspectives on any given issue or topic. Gale resources can support the teacher who still seeks to curate on their own, and they can support the teacher who wants an assembled list of lessons and resources. Information changes daily, and the content in Gale digital resources can adapt easily to support teachers in that quest. The content is adaptable, updated, credible, and available for all discipline areas. The tools ensure equity of access; there is translation, dyslexia screens, and read-aloud features.

Recent research verifies that Gale resources integrated into daily instruction impacts student outcomes. We live in an information-rich world, where citizens should regularly be fact-checking and seeking credible sources and updated content. The world is changing too fast for a published, static source of information to dominate classroom instruction.

There are 11 modules in the Gale In Context suite. Gale can provide access to cross-disciplinary resources and overlay that content with the Gale In Context: For Educators content curation tool that delivers content, lesson plans, and resources to your teachers and students as daily curriculum.

A Shift in Focus to Career and Technical Education (CTE)

Public schools have lost at least 1.2 million students since 2020, according to a national survey. To attract these students—and answer the age-old question of “When am I going to use this in real life?”—many schools are bolstering career and technical education (CTE) offerings. Spending ARP ESSER funds on video-based CTE resources like Gale Presents: Imago is a great use of these federal funds.

Additionally, Gale Presents: Peterson’s Career and Test Prep can help students both learn about and prepare for possible career paths. This database can help students land internships, craft resumés and cover letters, and prepare for college entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT.

Not only do school officials need to address unfinished learning but also remake what they offer to better fit students’ needs. As disruptive as the last two years were for students and schools, using federal funding in the next two years can be transformative. Learn more about how Gale can help schools and districts maximize ARP Act ESSER funds.

Meet the Author

Heather Bassett is a district sales manager at Gale, part of Cengage Group. Her career has been dedicated to improving education, so she has explored many lives as a teacher librarian, district policy analyst, and sales consultant.

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