Connecticut students have been out of school for more than a year and considerable learning loss has resulted.
So go the typical comments I see lately regarding public education. But I question both points of this COVID-era conventional wisdom.
First, the vast majority of Connecticut schools have actually been open since the start of this school year. In October, the Connecticut Department of Education noted that “most school districts continue to operate on a hybrid model mixing online and in-person learning, with only two districts statewide opting for fully remote education.”
In addition, as I wrote two months ago, schools quickly rebounded following a holiday-induced spike in COVID: “Immediately following the holiday break in December, almost half of all schools were fully remote (46.7%), according to the SDE. Just one week later, that number had dropped to 27.4%.”
Two weeks later, only 12 total districts were operating on a remote schedule, according to the Yale Covid Mapping Team. Of those 12 districts, 11 were charter schools.
Connecticut school districts, in fact, have been welcoming students into their buildings throughout this entire “COVID School Year.” If not, then who the heck are those kids who’ve shown up in my classroom every day since September?
The second point about “learning loss” is dubious, as well. To begin, what does the term even mean?
“The truth is that we know that learning does not steadily drip out of the human head when that human is not in a classroom,” explains education writer Peter Greene. “The truth is that we have no way of knowing the cumulative effects of the personal family traumas, the air of distress, the many varied versions of distance or hybrid learning, nor face-to-face learning under pandemic restraints. We don’t even have a good record of which students have been through which experiences.”
Says UConn’s Rachael Gabriel, associate professor of literacy education: “Since schools shut down, students have been called the ‘hobbled’ generation and the ‘Covid class.’ They have been told they have or will experience Covid-related slides, losses, gaps and other deficiencies that are ‘disastrous’.”
She’s quick to add: “They should be told the opposite,” considering the challenges they have faced and the learning adaptations they have made.
That’s not to say certain students have not faltered over the past year. Many students have indeed struggled, particularly those from Black and brown families, as the pandemic has expanded the already wide education gap in Connecticut.
Schools, obviously, need to close the logical gaps. Remedial classes should be scheduled in the summer, tutors and counseling should be offered, and laptops and internet service should be made available to all schools and families. Each of these measures are achievable, thanks to the American Rescue Plan that earmarks $1.2 billion in federal aid for Connecticut’s schools – that is, so long as “budget moves by the state” do not cause schools to see “only part of this money.”
Leaders at the local and state levels must not only insist that these funds be allocated fully and fairly, but must also ensure that a healthy portion be dedicated to summer schools, counseling and technology.
But please, let’s refrain from the obsession over “learning loss” as we conclude this school year and prepare for a new and, hopefully, more ordinary one. In particular, let’s forgo the focus on “data,” which sounds scientific but is anything but when connected to a concept so vague as “learning loss.”
“A 2021 test, given under current conditions, will not provide any useful data to illuminate the picture,” explains Peter Greene. “Anyone who claims that their product or policy initiative will fix Learning Loss is just selling something.”
Instead, I propose that adults – the politicians, the parents, the administrators and the teachers – sell kids on the idea that they have endured one of the deadliest pandemics in history and should feel strong. What’s more, they should know that with hard work and support, they will continue to learn what they need to learn in order to prepare for the future.
Connecticut’s teachers, after all, have been right there with the students all along and will continue to be there. That’s just what we do.
Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and in his 15th year as assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School in Higganum where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language and Composition. Email Barth here.
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