Two Wall Street Journal reporters write that the national experiment in remote learning, courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic, has failed, leaving students with a “learning slide,” especially those from low-income and minority families.
Tawnell Hobbs and Lee Hawkins reported a variety of reasons for the failure of virtual learning in America: students with no Internet access, teachers with no experience with remote technology; and lack of parental supervision, among them.
According to the report, NWEA, an Oregon company that specializes in personalized learning instruction and assessment, noted preliminary data suggest students nationwide will return to school in the fall with about 70% of learning gains in reading, compared to a typical school year, and less than 50% in math.
Currently, debates are occurring throughout the country over whether schools will reopen in the fall and, if so, how “school” will actually look, and whether teachers and students will simply continue where they left off in March or begin new material.
“The vast majority of it failed because of a lack of imagination, and a lack of effort,” Mara LaViola, a parent from Eanes Independent School District in Austin, Texas, told the Journal. She said her 17-year-old autistic son’s remote learning program consisted of little more than sharing an online morning greeting with teachers.
However, Molly May, executive director of special education in the district, told the Journal that “all of our students got a high-level of services given the platform and their ability to access remote learning. Teachers were innovative and creative and tried to meet the needs of each child.”
All of this, of course, leads to the question of how students will be graded during their time spent in remote learning. Hobbs and Hawkins wrote:
Many school districts aren’t comfortable issuing grades for remote work. Some have told teachers not to give failing grades because of equity issues. Many are using a “hold harmless” approach, where grades that negatively affect students can’t be used, but ones that help them or are neutral are permitted. Some teachers believe the rule has simply resulted in students not doing work.
Declining performance, achievement gap, equity interpreted to mean no student can fail, teachers lacking flexibility, no parental involvement.
If most of these issues sound familiar, perhaps it’s because they are the same ones being debated year-in and year-out while America’s children are actually attending school, in person.
Concerns about a “learning slide” due to students being out of school for several months?
In October 2019, results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, found U.S. fourth and eighth graders made “no progress” in either mathematics or reading over the past decade, while attending school, in person.
NEW: 4th- and 8th-graders' #reading scores declined from 2017 to 2019. Scores for students in both grades are higher than they were in the first assessment in 1992, but not higher than a decade ago. More: https://t.co/XcTmNviAOk#NAEP pic.twitter.com/sBcLpqkeiO
— NAEP (@NAEP_NCES) October 30, 2019
An achievement gap during the pandemic between higher performing, mostly white and Asian students, and lower performing, mostly black and Hispanic students?
Dr. Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics observed about the same Nation’s Report Card assessment results for students actually attending school:
Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance, and the lowest-performing students are doing worse. In fact, over the long term in reading, the lowest-performing students—those readers who struggle the most—have made no progress from the first NAEP administration almost 30 years ago.
Dr. Peggy Carr, Associate Commissioner, notes that the lowest performing students–those readers who struggle the most–have made no progress in reading since the first assessment almost 30 years ago. Learn more: https://t.co/EWajchXvIH#NAEPDay pic.twitter.com/9zanK5fPmv
— NAEP (@NAEP_NCES) October 30, 2019
“Over the last 10 years, higher performing students’ scores have increased and lower-performing students’ scores have decreased in math and reading,” NAEP also tweeted.
NEW: Over the last 10 years, higher performing students’ scores have increased and lower-performing students’ scores have decreased in math and reading. Read more about the growing gap in our latest blog: https://t.co/SL7gxP2aES#NAEP #edresearch #edpolicy #edchat pic.twitter.com/ywtfvF7uAv
— NAEP (@NAEP_NCES) October 30, 2019
Similarly, a study authored by education policy researcher Theodor Rebarber for the Boston-based Pioneer Institute revealed a historic drop in national reading and math scores among U.S. students actually attending school, in person, since the adoption of the Obama-era Common Core standards a decade ago.
Eighth graders also again showed a decline in U.S. history and geography test scores, and made no progress in civics, according to the assessment results.
Lack of parental involvement or supervision as virtual learning takes place?
Consider that, at the start of the pandemic as schools were beginning to close throughout the country, having a plan for a sound remote learning program was not as much of a top priority as was how to provide breakfast and lunch to 22 million students who are not fed at home.
“Schools should be thinking about what they’re going to do if they’re going to close and how they’re going to ensure that their students nutritional needs are going to be met,” said Crystal FitzSimons, director of School and Out-of-School Time Programs at the Food Research and Action Center, reported Politico.
The teaching of values is also no longer a parental responsibility in America’s public schools. Instead, community values are taught through “social and emotional learning” (SEL), which is instilled into ever subject.
In March 2019, the Pioneer Institute published another study titled “Social-Emotional Learning: K-12 Education as New-Age Nanny State.”
The report observed SEL is the latest panacea in a long line of so-called progressive “education reforms” that only serves to distract from the fact that American public school children are failing academically.
— CASEL (@caselorg) June 4, 2020
Join @NmaynardEdu and @messier_steve for our first #SELchat next Sunday evening! They'll be leading a discussion on the intersection of #restorativepractices, #emotionalintelligence and #empathy! Sunday, June 14th at 7:00PM EST! #SEL #edchat #bestEd pic.twitter.com/ZAme20CAYj
— SocialEmotionalLearning (@SELearningEDU) June 8, 2020
Today, with Black Lives Matter and Antifa provoking violent riots and looting throughout America’s cities, teaching SEL means promoting social justice activism à la Black Lives Matter and discussing with children “race, racism, & racialized violence”:
Our responsibility as educators is so much more than just teaching reading & math. Here's a set of resources for talking with young people about race, racism,& racialized violence from the Center for Racial Justice in Education. #bethechange #SEL #CRPhttps://t.co/g4FpAwbhQs
— LaQuiche Parrott (@LaquicheParrott) May 29, 2020
Perhaps America’s students will be more successful if school does look different in the fall.
After all, a USA Today/Ipsos poll released at the end of May found that 20 percent of teachers say they are not likely to return to their schools should they reopen.
Additionally, an EdChoice poll also released in May found 52 percent of parents have a favorable opinion of homeschooling since the pandemic shut down schools.
And, a RealClear Opinion Research poll, published in May as well, found 40 percent of families are more likely to choose to homeschool their children or engage in virtual learning even after schools reopen.
In his report on the devastating decline in reading and math abilities in American children since Common Core arrived on the scene, Rebarber concluded, “The sustained decline we’re now seeing, especially among our most vulnerable students, simply cannot be allowed to continue.”
“It’s time for federal law to change to allow states as well as local school districts to try a broader range of approaches to reform,” he said.
Perhaps America is on the verge of that “broader range.”