K-12 Focus in 2021: Getting Back to School

K-12 Focus in 2021: Getting Back to School

In 2021, there will be a new U.S. Secretary of Education with a focus on making public education succeed and an expectation for more federal funds put toward education. But COVID-19 will continue to dictate how, when and with what K-12 students will be educated.

The goal is to get students back in schools this spring. To do so, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed a $2 billion plan to reopen California elementary schools beginning with the youngest students in February. Most of California's 6 million public school students have been learning remotely since the pandemic forced widespread closures in March.

Successful reopening remains a question. Generally, expectations are that K-12 learning will take place in a mix of in-person, remote and hybrid models through the rest of the 20-21 school year. As a result, the following are some issues that Simba expects to play out in the coming year.


There is more federal relief funding heading to schools. South Carolina alone will be getting about $1 billion in the newest round of federal COVID aid for schools being distributed.

Most states continue to view K-12 support as a budget priority. But, state budgets remain under pressure and much still remains to be accomplished at federal, state and local levels to address school education needs.

Instructional Resources

The pandemic sparked a surge in the use of platforms (including Google Classroom) that is  expected to be sustained when students return to classrooms. Particularly as teachers became more familiar and comfortable with using digital resources, continued use is expected.

According to a new RAND Corporation study, district leaders said online learning was the innovative practice most likely to persist.


Having students reach grade-level proficiency in reading by grade three long has been the goal in education for a successful school career. Tennessee, for example, is planning to use part of its COVID-19 recovery funding to boost resources and support to improve literacy under its Reading360 initiative. In fall 2020, the state estimated a 50% decrease in proficiency rates in third-grade reading and a 65% decrease in math proficiency as a result of extended school closures and the move to online learning.

The rise of the Black Lives Matter/social justice movement, the rancorous Presidential campaign and the insurrection at the Capitol in Jan. 6 are contributing to a growing focus on civics education and social studies curricula with a push in many states for inclusion of ethnic studies and a new look at how American history is taught. The University of Wyoming in December 2020 launched a virtual curriculum catalog of courses and free resources for schools, including the Malcolm Wallop Civic Engagement Project.


The national NAEP assessments scheduled for spring 2021 have been cancelled. College entrance exams were one of the hardest hit areas because of cancellations in spring 2020.

Still, the need to know the extent of learning losses persists, so there is a certain degree of demand for assessing students. Students with special needs and English-language learners are among students that most concern schools as they were especially challenged by remote instruction.

Given the need to know, schools likely will be looking for program with integrated assessments that use artificial intelligence to help pinpoint need and guide students to success. They also will need systems to collect and make sense of the data on student needs.