Learning loss, mental health needs, staff shortages: Most read Newark education stories of 2022

A classroom displays posters of Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, and others on the wall, along with other instructional materials. Several desks and a small table are also visible.

Newark students and educators called for an improvement to their school environments.

Standardized test scores gave educators a glimpse of the COVID-19 pandemic’s toll on learning — and led the teachers union to declare a “war on learning loss.”

And mental health needs reached unprecedented levels, prompting students to protest for more counselors in schools. 

Chalkbeat Newark covered all of this and so much more in 2022. Below is a list of our most-read stories this year.

Demands escalate for safer, fairer school environments

Students and educators throughout the city’s charter and traditional public schools raised their voices — either in public protests or through the legal system — for better learning and working conditions.

Educators across the country were reporting a rise in behavioral issues as students returned to full-time in-person learning for the first time since remote or hybrid instruction began amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But while those behavioral issues might have intensified after the pandemic, students and teachers also said that in many schools, such as Malcolm X Shabazz High School, they weren’t new. 

In the years before the pandemic, the school community at Shabazz pleaded with school officials to improve the school environment in terms of safety, academic achievement, and stability with enrollment and leadership.

Want to read more? Check out these stories:

Test scores show pandemic’s impact on student learning

The switch to remote instruction for 18 months caused a disruption to learning, especially for many Newark students who struggled to keep up with virtual lessons due to a language barrier, lack of laptop or mobile device, or no internet access. Standardized test scores released over the last year show just how much the pandemic had an effect on students’ education, especially in math and reading. 

The first snapshot of a significant drop in grade-level proficiency sparked the Newark Teachers Union to call for a “war on learning loss” and urge city leaders, educators, parents, and residents to unify in an effort to help catch students up academically.

Results from the New Jersey Standard Learning Assessments, which were administered for the first time this spring since the pandemic, showed that 13% of Newark students are proficient in grade-level math compared to 27% in 2019.

Want to read more? Check out these stories:

Children’s mental health needs reach unprecedented levels

The pandemic also took a toll on the mental health of students, teachers, and the entire school community. Newark ramped up mental health services for students by partnering with third-party providers, including universities, nonprofits, and private companies. 

As the need for mental health services reached unprecedented levels, access to those resources became top of mind. A study released over the summer found that Black and Latinx students in New Jersey have less access to school mental health staff than they did a decade ago.

Want to read more? Check out these stories:

Students with disabilities need more support, parents say

As the 2022-23 school year started, a familiar issue came to light: school bus assignments were delayed or missing. For students with disabilities, a lack of district-provided safe transportation to school can completely derail their routine and impede access to crucial services they can only obtain in school. 

Parents this fall began to raise concerns about the months of missed in-person services, including speech, occupational, and physical therapies, during the pandemic for their students with disabilities. Under a law passed earlier this year, school districts have until Dec. 31 to determine if compensatory education must be provided to students with disabilities as a result of disruptions to consistent services during remote instruction.

Want to read more? Check out these stories:

BONUS: COVID spending, staff shortages, and more

How are schools spending the millions of dollars pouring in from federal COVID aid? From tutoring to infrastructure, readers can see how Newark charter schools and the traditional public school district is spending this money using data look-up tools provided in these stories: 

Newark raised salaries for veteran and rookie teachers, and even brought back retired teachers to fill in gaps left by staffing shortages. Read more about those recruitment strategies here:

New Jersey stopped charter schools in Newark from expanding this year, slowing a rapid growth the schools had under the previous administration in 2016. The largest Newark charter school networks made a major decision to shift from the nearly decade-old public and charter school agreement to collaborate under one universal enrollment system, and created their own. Catch up on these stories here:

Catherine Carrera is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Newark, covering the city’s K-12 schools with a focus on English language learners. Contact Catherine at ccarrera@chalkbeat.org.

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