Using ARP ESSER Funding for Professional Learning
This is the fourth post in Lexia's ESSER funding series by Jon Hummell, National Manager of State Initiatives, Lexia®
The Glossary of Education Reform defines backward mapping as a process that educators use to design learning experiences and instructional techniques to achieve specific learning goals. Or, as author Stephen Covey says, “Start with the end in mind.”
Educators are dealing with an historic infusion of federal funding from the three pandemic stimulus packages. Five years from now, when all these taxpayer dollars are spent, a moment of reckoning will come. What did the educational community do with all that money? And what has this meant for our children?
Now is the time for educators to backward map and “Start with the end in mind.” The initial wave of crisis spending was rightly focused on devices, connectivity, and hygiene. The next phase of spending comes with a big responsibility: Delivering quantifiable results in student outcomes.
The legislation itself emphasizes effectiveness by requiring interventions purchased with ARP ESSER funds be targeted and evidence-based.
ARP ESSER funding: A recap
The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) and Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS II) allocations to the Education Stabilization Fund in 2021’s American Rescue Plan are the largest of the three rounds of funding provided to K–12 education since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two thirds of ARP ESSER funds were made available to school districts immediately. The remaining funds were made available upon state plan approval.
As educators finalize their plans, it is important to understand the scope of allowable spending. First, ARP ESSER/EANS II funds are intended to support the safe and effective return to in-person instruction.
Beyond that, the funds are meant to ensure schools have the infrastructure needed to address the social, emotional, and academic needs of all students—notably those especially impacted by COVID-19.
That language is broad for a reason: Legislators understood the disruption caused by the pandemic year could have long-term ripple effects for students. Districts and schools would need the financial resources, and the latitude in allowable uses, to support a wide variety of needs among students.
To ensure the use of funds matches the intention, guidance from the federal Department of Education (DOE) requires local education agencies (LEAs) obligate no less than 20% of their ARP ESSER award to address the impact of lost instructional time and have also prescribed use for state education agencies (SEAs).
Funding interventions for literacy
Teacher effectiveness is the most significant and sustainable factor in addressing the needs of students impacted by the disruption to learning, so investments in professional learning will enable teachers to help students get back on track. For maximum effectiveness, professional learning should be paired with evidence-based literacy interventions that meet the comprehensive needs of students.
While the legislation doesn’t specifically call out literacy interventions for funding by the ARP ESSER, an FAQ document on Use of Funds published by the DOE in May 2021 directly addresses this question:
“May an LEA use ESSER and GEER funds to stabilize and support the educator workforce?”
“Examples of strategies that could be employed to stabilize and support the educator workforce include...Providing teachers professional learning opportunities on strategies for the effective use of technology for remote, hybrid, and accelerating learning.”
There is a growing consensus that the right approach when students return in the fall is to promptly diagnose lost learning and then get every student on a fast track to grade level. In other words, accelerate their exposure to grade-appropriate work rather than delay it.
To accomplish this, teachers will need professional learning to be able to diagnose students’ unfinished learning and provide acceleration support for literacy. For example, LETRS® (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling), our evidence-based literacy professional learning solution for K–5 teachers, shows teachers how to implement instructional routines and activities that differentiate instruction to meet the literacy needs of all students. Based in the science of reading pedagogy, teachers gain the deep knowledge to be literacy and language experts.
Beyond the specific mention in the Use of Funds FAQ, there other options to support teacher effectiveness and literacy intervention that fall within the scope of these ARP ESSER allowable uses:
- Educational technology
- Addressing learning loss among students (including low-income/SPED and Emergent Bilinguals)
- Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental after-school programs
- Allocating resources to a sustainable infrastructure
Therefore, spending on any of the following would be allowable uses:
- Professional development
- Summer school or after-school programs
- Software purchases
- Disrupted learning
Ensuring the effectiveness of literacy programs
In identifying where to allocate funds for professional learning and literacy interventions, LEAs should prioritize aspects that will maximize the impact of the funding over the long term.
- Is it evidence-based?
Federal guidelines require educators invest relief funding into interventions, strategies, and approaches that meet ESSA criteria for evidence of a positive impact on student outcomes. With the "five years from now" perspective in mind, LEAs will want to address the disruption to learning with options proven to work.
- Is it sustainable?
While educators will have access to ESSER funding through fall 2024, it is important to make early investments and to determine the sources of funding that will sustain the implementation post-ESSER.
- Will it accelerate learning?
Students returning to school will have more profound learning needs than ever before, and there will be little data to help teachers understand where they are. Interventions implemented with ESSER funding should support the identification of learning gaps, provide instructional strategies and resources to target language and literacy development needs, and support monitoring and evaluation of student outcomes as they journey to grade-level content mastery.
- Does it advance educational equity?
ARP ESSER includes a maintenance of equity provision to address the disparities in educational outcomes for students from underserved populations that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Educators should be sure to consider the potential for an intervention, strategy, or resource to close opportunity gaps for students of color, students with disabilities, and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
- Does it empower educators?
Teachers must be empowered in their planning and implementation of Tier I, II, and III interventions. Educators should consider how ESSER-funded implementations will ensure teachers have the knowledge, skills, and tools to meet the needs of their students.
- Is there value in partnership?
Vendor partners can offer added capacities that many school districts and state agencies need, such as data and evaluation, marketing and communication, implementation support, and thought leadership.
LETRS: ARP ESSER funded, proven effective
While all these criteria may seem like a big ask, there are literacy interventions—like LETRS—that deliver.
LETRS provides teachers with the research, depth of knowledge, and skills to make a significant improvement in the literacy and language development of every student. Falling specifically under the “...accelerated learning,” "Educational technology" and "Addressing learning loss among students" allowable uses, LETRS can be funded under ARP ESSER. It also meets all the additional criteria for effectiveness:
Sustainable: Lexia® can customize a solution to fit long-term funding and delivery needs. LETRS training can be tiered by grade level, targeted to build administrative capacity, or offered in partnership with regional service centers by certified facilitators.
Accelerated learning: LETRS is designed to fill a gap in teacher knowledge that can have a dramatic impact on literacy success for students. It incorporates successful teaching and learning strategies that are evidence-based and have proven themselves over time.
Educational equity: A LETRS-trained teacher is better equipped to cultivate the foundational literacy skills students need to access transformational educational opportunities like advanced placement courses and post-secondary learning. Additionally, a LETRS-trained teacher is a better diagnostician in the classroom and is able to target interventions for students who may have fallen behind.
Empowered educators: A study of the impact of the LETRS program on Mississippi educators found the program was associated with improvements in teacher knowledge, quality of instruction, student engagement, and teacher competencies.
Partnership value: LETRS implementation plans are unique to each state and local education agency and are mindfully planned to meet goals and expectations while taking into account the challenges that are present when implementing professional learning on a large scale.
Future you will thank you
LETRS is designed to be the cornerstone of a multiyear, systematic literacy improvement initiative, which makes it ideal for this crucial moment in education. Educators will want to look back on this historic infusion of federal funding with confidence that every dime spent shows in teacher proficiency and improved student outcomes in literacy.
For a deeper dive into how literacy interventions like LETRS qualify as allowable uses for ARP ESSER funding, view this presentation.
–Jon Hummell, National Manager of State Initiatives, Lexia