As the world strives to return to normalcy, every week seems to bring us a deeper appreciation of the scale of learning loss and the human toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Newark the last two weeks delivered us the sad news that 9 of 10 students in Newark’s district schools are projected to fail state tests they’re taking this Spring. That news led the Newark Teachers Union (an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers) to call for a “War on Learning Loss” in the city–a call to action we wholeheartedly support.

In so doing, Union President John Abeigon asked “where is the sense of urgency on learning loss?”

That’s a great question. 

Urgency is often a term attributed to education reformers and charter school educators–as it can be the cultural “special sauce” to help people find the extra gear to do the things necessary for schools to truly be excellent. 

Urgency alone won’t solve problems, but we’ve known for a while that it’s a necessary ingredient for change, and it was a breath of fresh air to hear it from our local teachers’ union president.

Also heartening was Abiegon’s call for a collective community effort to wage this war on learning loss. That’s something we’ve talked about for a while: the federal and state government’s stimulus funding strategy for students has been lacking in my view, because it is overly reliant on funneling cash to districts and leaving them to solve the problems on their own. Large urban districts never felt they had enough money to meet their pre-covid needs, so there’s going to be a natural tendency to allocate funds to those pre-existing priorities, rather than the newer, more emerging needs of kids who are many grade levels behind with only a few years to catch up.

Our hope is that more community leaders step up like John Abeigon to call this what it is: a natural disaster-level crisis that requires an all-hands-on-deck recovery effort from government, schools, non-profits, faith institutions, and parents on behalf of our children.

Our foundation worked to pilot efforts like this starting last summer, with our Newark Unites Tutoring Center. This program is a partnership between the city’s largest Black church, Metropolitan Baptist, and Great Oaks Legacy Charter School’s high-dosage tutoring corps. Our hope is that partnerships like NUTC will become larger and more common throughout the city and non-profit, community-based organizations can become a growing part of the solution.