Learning Loss – The Myth

No Learning Loss for Troy as we build train stations, bridges, and tunnels with dominoes and blocks. If only life was this uncomplicated.

Turn to any news media sources and you’ll hear the often repeated myth that children are experiencing learning loss due to the pandemic-induced shutdowns happening in most schools across our country. The truth is, you can’t rely on the media to provide any credible information regarding the evidence that science presents on any given day, no matter what your political persuasion.

Because of our reaction to the unknown as well as our overt political polarization in these intense times, we deemed it appropriate to close everything down and stay inside to slow the spread of this unknown, killer Covid-19 virus. This included schools. A year ago in March the shift to “school” at home began for the majority of young people across our nation.

It took a while to catch on as the inequities of remote learning manifested in predictable ways. Now, one year later, there are still many schools that are not fully open except for a range of private schools, including Catholic. Depending upon the local teachers unions, some schools may never fully reopen or return to normal any time soon. Some are using a hybrid model and will complete the school year in that manner.

Without an end in sight, a moving target is hard to manage. Dr. Fauci in a recent interview responded to a current study suggesting that there is no marked difference between three and six feet distancing measures for students in schools. Dr. Fauci agreed with the research. However, the six foot requirement has been one of the main hurdles to reopening schools.

Many schools believe that remote schooling is not the same as in person learning. Teachers and their districts hope for the best even amid plans to require state testing this year. Testing seems a cruel and unusual punishment after a school year like this one but it’s proponents consider it an important accountability measure, one whose purpose is to address performance gaps among various demographics. That’s what it’s typically designed to do.

Even in the best of circumstances, schools have experienced performance gaps for many, many years. Remote schooling promises to shed a blinding light on the existing gaps even more so.

The “learning loss” mantra is not the same as performance gaps. Learning loss presumably effects everyone. Gaps are distances measured between groups. But it’s believed that the already existing gaps will be even greater due to this past year and a half outside of the school setting.

What exactly does learning loss mean?

Self-proclaimed experts say, learning loss is attributed to lack of in person teaching and learning for over one year now. It’s hard to imagine how teachers would be held accountable to ensure that every major grade level standard is covered let alone tested and graded during a time like this. It’s hard enough to covered the glut of standards in the a “normal” year of schooling.

Many have adjusted to working at home, but teachers had to basically shift gears midstream, likely without the adequate time, resources and training to pull off such a unique feat. Savvy teachers who use and understand the tools of technology may have had a small advantage, but the learning curve was still steep. Even more so if they have children of their own to care for while zooming with their class of 20-40 students everyday.

Parents too had a similar challenge of working remotely and keeping up with their child’s school work. Juggling computer time and access for themselves proved quite challenging.

I remember my former school district brainstorming this scenario many years ago. How we would ensure that students could still access learning if a catastrophic occurrence happened and schools were closed down. I was fortunate to work with forward thinking colleagues who tried to stay several steps ahead of the “what if” scenarios. I believe they are doing better than most during this current situation.

Learning loss has not been an issue of course with those who homeschool, unschool, or attend private schools that remained open.

Parents desperate to deal with what they perceive as an unacceptable situation took a critical look at learning alternatives. Some banded together to create learning pods as chronicled in a recent New Yorker article, Why Learning Pods Might Outlast the Pandemic, by Lizzie Widdecombe, March 14, 2021.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-education/why-learning-pods-might-outlast-the-pandemic

Another example is highlighted in a Forbes article written by Kerry McDonald titled, More Parents Opt For Private Learning Options, March 15, 2021.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kerrymcdonald/2021/03/15/more-parents-opt-for-private-learning-options/?sh=2413437e137e

From Kerry’s article, she states that, “Polling from both Gallup and Education Week last year estimated that the homeschooling rate has at least doubled during the pandemic response, suggesting that up to five million students could now be learning this way.”

She also cites that various edtech startups have emerged to meet the demands of parents for affordable, enriching and high quality digital education.

The article goes on to say that “school districts across the country have felt the exodus with public school enrollment down in most states since the fall as parents choose other options.” In addition, “support for school choice policies has grown since last spring’s school closures, with parents and taxpayers having a more favorable view of allowing the funding to follow students directly in the form of education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships and vouchers.”

Kerry explains that more than two dozen states currently have legislation proposing or expanding educational choice.

As a former public school assistant superintendent, I know this is problematic for those districts on many levels. School district funding is a slippery slope, as they rarely have a huge stockpile of emergency funds available to handle regular mandates let alone pandemics that wreak havoc on already strained budgets.

It is no wonder that the Covid relief bill includes $128 billion for K-12 schooling. When school enrollment is down, overall school funding takes a major hit and since the bulk of K-12 spending is dedicated to salaries, one can imagine the impact. Thus the uproar from the teacher unions.

The Covid relief bill covers a wide variety of perceived needs. Every aspect of life and work is impacted by the shutdowns. For public schooling to stay afloat during this time, federal and state aid is considered essential to survival.

Reason opinion article written by Peter Suderman, February 18, 2021 below.

The article concludes, “How much of this alleged coronavirus relief plan is actually related to the coronavirus?  According to CRFB, just 1 percent of the relief plan’s spending would go toward vaccines, and just 5 percent would go toward pandemic-related public health needs. Meanwhile, 15 percent of the spending—about $300 billion—would be spent on long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis. For proponents of these long-standing policy priorities, this relief package is a huge step in the right direction.

Perhaps you might want to read the legislative and budget office cost estimates here. https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/2021-02/hEdandLaborreconciliationestimate.pdf

For those concerned with the impacts of learning loss among students this past year and a half, this relief bill does little to address that as the spending is rolled out over a period of years. As noted in the Reason article, “Previous coronavirus relief and congressional spending bills have already included more than $100 billion in funding for schools. But according to the Congressional Budget Office, “most of those funds remain to be spent.”

When you depend upon the pubic schooling system to educate your child there are a number of strings attached. If you don’t mind the strings and you love your local school then stay the course.

If you find that this pandemic has broadened your viewpoint and perspective on learning, I encourage you to seek out alternatives. There is a vast supply of resources and networks available to parents as they consider the options.

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