MEA and AFT Michigan applauded today’s release of the MI Blueprint for Comprehensive Student Recovery by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Student Recovery Advisory Council, a group that heeded the advice of frontline educators in outlining steps that can be taken to help all students succeed as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From day one of her administration, Gov. Whitmer has been committed to hearing from educators about what they need to be successful in their mission to prepare students to be lifelong learners and the next generation of citizens, leaders, and doers,” said MEA President Paula Herbart. “She has stayed true to that commitment throughout the pandemic, and this Blueprint is another example of what emerges when educator voices are included in policymaking.”
“By including frontline educators from both AFT Michigan and MEA as part of this commission, the product generated isn’t just a long ‘to-do list’ of mandates for schools,” said AFT Michigan President David Hecker. “Rather, it is a guide to ideas that can help meet the diverse and individual needs of students in the myriad of ways that this pandemic has affected them. These are thoughtful, well-researched, actionable tools to help educators and students alike.”
Pandemic-driven academic disruption for students varies greatly, which is why the Blueprint focuses heavily on a tiered approach, providing greater supports for students in the most need. From focusing on learning skills vs. content, to providing additional learning time, to ensuring access to high-quality summer school and before- and after-school programs, the Blueprint provides a range of interventions depending on the level of student learning recovery needed.
“Providing more individual attention or intervention for students who need it is essential, along with ensuring those services are delivered by well-trained, certified educators who are the experts in determining and meeting the unique needs of students,” Herbart said. “We know the presence of high-quality educators is essential to student success and we must remain focused on providing that in every community so that our children have equal opportunity for success in school.”
Beyond core academic recommendations, overall student wellness is a main focus of the Blueprint, including recommendations to support the physical, mental and social-emotional health of students, families and educators. Among the recommendations are taking a deeper look to understand the needs of those groups in districts, ensuring access to school nurses and mental health professionals to focus on health needs, and ensuring school climate and equity issues are addressed.
“Teachers and other school staff cannot be responsible for addressing every challenge students face. We must provide critical wraparound services to meet needs beyond academics, ranging from health care to social services to basic physical needs like clean clothes and healthy food,” Hecker said. “We must support the full needs of students and their families in order to unlock full academic achievement in our classrooms.”
The two leaders called on districts to work with their local union leadership to discuss how to implement student recovery plans that address the needs of their students, their employees and their broader communities.
“Through discussions between employees and school districts, ideas from this Blueprint can be turned into localized plans of action that will make a difference for students and educators alike,” Hecker said. “Everyone has a part in coming together to help our students recover from the effects of this pandemic, and our members have unique experiences and vantage points that must be heard locally to make the most of this opportunity.”
In particular, MEA and AFT Michigan cautioned against end-running obligations to include employee voices in this process through collective bargaining. They also noted the Blueprint’s critical recommendation for the state to provide funding that is equitable, adequate and sustainable so districts staff to meet student needs, as outlined by the School Finance Research Collaborative.
The unions also emphasized that the ongoing educator shortage must be taken into account when making choices about intervention plans for this fall and how to invest resources, including pending school relief funds from the American Rescue Plan.
“There are and will continue to be increasing demands placed on educators to meet student needs, so we must be intentional about similarly increasing respect and compensation for the profession. Only then will we be able to stop and reverse the educator shortage trends we’re experiencing,” Herbart said. “Failure to do so will make the job of helping all students continue their learning post-COVID-19 even harder – and none of us can afford for that to happen.”