After years of success, schools have an opportunity to tackle learning loss

Schools in the United States are at a pivotal moment. The National Education Progress Assessment, released earlier this month by the Department for Education, found a dramatic drop in reading and math scores for 9-year-olds this year compared to 2020. This is the bad news. The good news is that districts have an unprecedented amount of money to help children make up for lost ground.

Researchers know that certain things can help children catch up: Intensive tutoring. Double the duration of math lessons. Additional instruction after school.

“Everyone is eager to get back to normal. But normalcy just won’t do right now,” said economist Tom Kane, faculty director at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard.

The US bailout has provided $122 billion to help public schools recover from the pandemic, and at least 20% of that must be spent on academic catch-up.

“Nobody says, ‘But wait a minute, is that going to be enough? ‘” Kane said.

“Part of the problem is you can have all the money in the world. But if you don’t have the people to do it, it can’t be done,” said Natty Messick, principal of the district’s only school. Fertile-Beltrami, in northwest Minnesota. He received just over $1 million in federal stimulus funds, and Messick has been trying to hire someone to teach an elementary afterschool program for more than a year. year now.

He said his current teaching staff is tired.

“We just didn’t have anyone on staff who was really enthusiastic about putting in more hours a day than they already put in,” he said.

At Oak Mountain Middle School in Birmingham, Alabama, principal Larry Haynes uses what he calls a “zero period” where students can bring breakfast to class just after 7 a.m. and get extra time with the ‘teacher.

But he said it had been difficult to communicate with parents during the pandemic to help them understand the need.

“During these two years, we didn’t allow anyone to enter this school because we were trying to prevent people from getting sick. And we opened the doors again,” Haynes said. “And it sure is nice.”

According to the new federal assessment, low-income children experienced much larger declines in reading and math.

And, there could be long-term consequences.

“If there’s no catch-up, these kids will, their incomes will be about 5% lower for the rest of their lives,” said Tom Kane, the Harvard economist.

The schools have spent the past two years trying to get by. They now have the opportunity — and the money — to help students make up lost ground.

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