Even before an explosion of COVID-19 cases closed schools 18 months ago, it was clear some students were being left behind.
Now, tests across the country show that, on average, COVID has put students five months behind in math and four months behind in reading. For those already struggling, it got worse. Students in predominantly black schools are on average six months behind in math, and seven months in low-income schools.
The inability to properly serve students with special needs was also heartbreaking, as 46% of New York City’s disabled students lost some or all of their basic services. On Long Island, many districts report similar deficiencies.
The struggles go beyond academics, as socialization, athletics and the arts have suffered. The pandemic also breeds fear and grief, and many children have lost loved ones. Surveys show that 80% of parents are concerned about the mental, social or emotional health of their children.
But what COVID-19 has done to schooling is also an opportunity, as schools too stuck in their tracks have been forced to innovate. The opportunity for evolution and revolution is a godsend, the $ 200 billion in federal funding given to schools across the country a launching pad.
To compensate for the learning loss from COVID and identify the broader changes needed, we need to figure out what children know. Each district performs its own standardized tests, and now more than ever, the data must be properly used to guide every child and inform education for schools, districts, and the state.
Even those who do not have children currently enrolled deserve to know how their district is performing, as so much of the value of housing and taxes is based on the districts.
We need to learn what is needed and what methods to fix it work best. Observations from trained educators are part of it, but so are quantifiable results.
NEW CHALLENGES, APPROACHES
When schools went virtual, many parents learned how difficult teaching is. Many have also become more involved in their children’s education and are happy they did.
The appreciation of teachers and the practical help of parents must continue.
Even so, children are late and need to catch up. Tutoring, summer school, and afternoon, evening and weekend remediation are crucial and unpopular. But there are innovations for this.
In Rhode Island, the summer school combined core subjects with sailing and cooking lessons and Olympic sports lessons, to great effect. In Malverne, the youngest learned to code by creating video games, and the lessons for the older ones incorporated drones. âWe couldn’t get the kids out of the buildings,â said Superintendent Lorna Lewis.
Even if the students are catching up, they have to get up. Lessons from the pandemic can help. Take just one innovation: âthe reverse schoolâ. The idea is to have children do âhomeworkâ at school under the supervision of a teacher, but to watch lessons at home. It has long been resisted, but distance learning COVID has given it new life.
This allows for further improvements. Students who watch lectures on screens should see top state or nation speakers on this topic. This allows local teachers to really work with the students.
What if these teachers took turns ‘on call’, taking care of a help desk, so that students could get help by computer or over the phone with difficult concepts in any subject at night or the weekend ? What if municipalities and regions collaborate on this, and on offering niche and enrichment courses?
What if the functioning of schools is not based on past habits or the preferences of teachers’ unions, but in response to what works best and what students need most?
THE RESISTANCE WILL BE CLOSED
Defenders of the status quo say the “learning loss” is imagined or, because children learned new skills during a pandemic, insignificant. Some argue that the assessment that students in low-income, majority-minority schools have the worst is not a fact but a trope of racism and privilege. They say the only change needed is bigger fistfuls of money.
And it doesn’t help that districts desperate to focus on teaching children are bombarded with rumors of “critical race theory” and arguments that crucial vaccination and masking initiatives violate student rights. .
SCHOOLS MUST LEARN
As technology and changing social models revolutionize society, even schools with computers and smart boards can be outliers. In many ways, a student or teacher transported since the year 1900 would feel at home in a Long Island classroom.
But the challenges have changed radically, as have the educational tools available. Schools must too. The current learning loss is real.
Over the next several years, schools will benefit from a stream of federal funding to make change possible and a transformative emergency to fuel innovation and invention.
There will never be a better time to rethink our education system. And there will never be a worse time to fail students who have already been through so much.
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MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are seasoned journalists who offer reasoned, fact-based opinions to encourage informed debate on the issues facing our community.