Schools Are Losing Students

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As the pandemic took hold, more than 1 million children did not enroll in local schools. Many of them were the most vulnerable: 5-year-olds in low-income neighborhoods.

New York Times, August 7, 2021

The Pandemic’s toll is vast. The closing down of the world is unlike anything we have ever experienced. For education, the shut down raised the worth of teachers as parents more fully understood the professional nature of teaching. Parents were left with the difficulty of teaching their children all day long at home. Many students, including the youngest and most vulnerable, have experienced learning loss. And now the Delta Variant again threatens full attendance in schools.

Pandemic Means Stay Home

The response to a virus that was spreading everywhere was for students to go home and stay home. The educational outcome however was less effective learning due to online learning and parents who needed to work. Especially in lower grades and younger children, the learning loss was more substantial. Also greatly affected were daycare centers that closed and parents who then struggled to juggle it all—work from home, oversee remote learning of their children, and find some day care help that wasn’t closed and was safe.

Last Year Loss, This Year Too?

The Delta Variant is surging and schools are scrambling. In some states the thought of having a repeat of last year has scared them into saying all children must be at school regardless of potential safety concerns. It is hard to help these states understand that safety must come first. So how can we promote safety, reduce hunger, increase employment and make communities more safe so that we can send our kids to school to learn?

Lessons Learned

The number one lesson learned during this multi-phase pandemic is that students are more safe when following scientific recommendations such as vaccines, masks, distancing, early reporting, classrooms as pods, and washing hands. The number two lesson learned is that remote learning will never successfully replace in-person learning, but it could be helpful in terms of reinforcement. Remote learning also tends to fail at younger grade levels when in-person is so important to students and their development start in life. The third lesson is that teachers need more money, more professional development, and more support for growing their skill sets more quickly in response to the new reality. The fourth lesson is that we need better assessments to more accurately assess where student learning has progressed or lags, and what social emotional learning needs are being addressed or are missing.

Policy Recommendations

Policy is the collaborative exercise of finding the best lessons learned and making it possible for others to adopt those changes. So to review, these are the policy changes needed:

  1. Science recommendations need to be developed, implemented, and followed
  2. In-person learning supported by remote learning needs internet access support
  3. Professionalize the teaching force needs more peer-to-peer training and financial support
  4. Accuracy of student assessment need to be strengthened through performance assessments

These policy recommendations are recommended changes to schools so that student loss, both physical loss of attendance and learning loss because of environmental changes, are needed to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on student learning.