For Students, Virginia’s “Bridging the Gap” Program is a Bridge too Late & to Nowhere

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), Virginia’s largest school district—and one of the largest school districts in the nation—has spent merely 5% of the $188.7 million from the American Rescue Plan. This number was reported today in Linda Jacobson’s article for “The 74”, “Facing Pandemic Learning Crisis, Districts Spend Relief Funds at a Snail’s Pace“.

FCPS’s ARP funding failed to address the needs of students from the classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022, who graduated or dropped out of school before funding could benefit them. Recent announcements from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Virginia Department of Education, and Governor Glenn Youngkin’s office indicate that this trend will continue.

In Virginia’s case, this follows a downward trend in academic performance that started before COVID.

A National Concern

This dismal reality is a concern throughout the United States. In her article today, Jacobson shared the comments of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board member Tanya Ortiz-Franklin and Marguerite Roza, who is the director of Georgetown University Edunomics Lab.

“I definitely have concerns about spending it all in time — not just for the practicality of getting it done,” Ortiz-Franklin said, “but also strategically to best serve our students’ short- and long-term academic and social-emotional recovery.”

Extending the timeline has political ramifications, Roza said during a recent webinar.

“The accusation will be that we didn’t really need it, or at least if you needed it, you’re not even spending it on the kids that were impacted in the pandemic because they got older and they graduated,” she said. 

Building the Bridge—Not “Bridging the Gap”

September 1, 2022, Youngkin signed an executive directive to address teacher shortages and learning loss. A press release announcing the signing and the launch of the program “Bridging the Gap,” states:

The Bridging the Gap Initiative was also launched today in partnership with 15 school divisions. It is a critical piece of our efforts to restore educational excellence to Virginia’s public schools through individualized data, Personalized Learning Plans, and training to cultivate partnerships between teachers, parents, and students. 

“We must empower students, parents and teachers with timely, actionable and tailored data, as well as the tools and training to use that data to address learning gaps together,” said Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera. “This transformational effort uses data as a flashlight to change conversations, decisions, actions and, most importantly, results.”

The next day, a VDOE press release included the following quote from VDOE Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow:

“While we won’t have state-level NAEP data until later this fall, it is reasonable to expect that the performance of Virginia students — which began to decline well before the pandemic — will mirror the national trends in reading and math, especially given how long our students and teachers were kept out of their classrooms.

“Governor Glenn Youngkin, Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera and I are committed to the recovery of every student in every school. The announcement of the Bridging the Gap initiative yesterday represents our first step toward meeting this unprecedented challenge.

VDOE knew Virginia’s academic slide started before COVID, yet it took another two years for it to announce its “first step toward meeting this unprecedented challenge”—and that step merely is a pilot program. According to VDOE’s site, the pilot will take place during the 2022-23 school year. While it will involve 15 school divisions, it won’t “necessarily include an entire division.”

VDOE sums up the pilot with the following outlook:

By the time students head back to school in 2023, every student, parent, and teacher should have access to these individualized student data reports, personalized learning plans as needed, and comprehensive teacher training.

There is no mention of all other students in the state—nor any mention of the class of 2022-23 which is on track to graduate without its students having their needs met either.

Photo Credit of “Bridge to Nowhere”: By Frank Vincentz – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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