The Source of Learning Loss Is a Rigid, Inequitable System That Puts Adults First; Next Steps

The Center for Reinventing Education (CRPE) is the go-to resource for K-12 education since the onset of the pandemic, collecting data and issuing analyses on everything from the most effective interventions for remediating learning loss to how districts are spending federal stimulus money to teacher shortages and enrollment drops. This week the non-profit research center issued a new report, “The State of the American Student: Fall 2022, A Guide to Pandemic Recovery and Reinvention,” with the goal of “building a new and better approach to public education that ensures an educational crisis of this magnitude cannot happen again.”

Here is the big picture:

  • “The harms students experienced during this pandemic can be traced to a rigid and inequitable system that put adults, not students, first.”  Prolonged (unnecessary) school closures, poor remote instruction, and the attendant learning loss came about because “politics, not student needs, drove decision-making.”
  • Our kids are in trouble, with the typical American student losing several months’ worth of learning in language arts and more in mathematics, as shown by the new NAEP scores that reveal historic drops in proficiency. The rates of depression and anxiety among children have spiked; after all, one in 360 American students lost a parent or caregiver to COVID. The students who paid the highest price for disrupted schooling were those with historically disproportionate achievement gaps (Black, Hispanic, and low-income students).  Students with disabilities “were cut off from essential school and life services.” Also, the current data may be understating the breadth of lost learning.
  • At the current pace of recovery, “too many students of all races and income levels will graduate in the coming years without the skills and knowledge needed for college and careers.” Students in the most dire straits are those whose schools stayed closed and remote for the longest periods.
  • All this pain and damage revealed a hidden fact: our fidelity to a single institutionalized education model–one size fits all—is hurting kids. In fact, some parents and teachers discovered that students thrived outside of traditional school and classroom settings. “Informal pandemic pods, virtual IEP meetings, and new connections between schools and community members showed a more equitable, joyful, and individualized education system is not only necessary but also possible.”
  • The US education system is ill-equipped to handle crises; that’s no one’s fault, just a result of our “adult-centered political dynamics.” If we are going to rebuild our system, we’ll need an “ambitious national vision, goals for rebuilding, and a commitment to tracking progress. It will require bold leadership to build new constituencies for change across the education, health care, business, faith, and civic communities.”

So what should we do right now? From the report (which is the first in a series):

  • Districts and states should immediately use their federal dollars to address the emergent needs of the Covid generation of students via proven interventions, such as well-designed tutoring, extended learning time, credit recovery, additional mental-health support, college and career guidance, and mentoring. The challenges ahead are too daunting for schools to shoulder alone. Partnerships and funding for families and community-driven solutions will be critical.
  • By the end of 2022–23, states and districts must commit to an honest accounting of rebuilding efforts by defining, adopting, and reporting on their progress toward 5- and 10-year goals for long-term student recovery. States should invest in rigorous studies that document, analyze, and improve their approaches.
  • Education leaders and researchers must adopt a national research and development agenda for school reinvention over the next five years. This effort must be anchored in the reality that the needs of students are so varied, so profound, and so multifaceted that a single system can’t possibly meet them all.
  • Recovery and rebuilding should ensure the system is more resilient and prepared for future crises. School systems must be equipped to deliver high-quality, individualized pathways for students and build on practices that show promise.
Laura Waters

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