The COVID-19 Learning Loss

I’ve been thinking lately about this Paul von Hippel piece  for Education Next on summer learning loss. After looking closely at the data, he does not find evidence for the idea of a “summer learning loss” that particularly hinders low-income students. 

While perhaps not as compelling, von Hippel writes that there is one finding that continues to stand up:

There is one result that replicates consistently across every test that I’ve ever looked at. It’s so obvious that it’s easy to overlook, but it’s still important: nearly all children, no matter how advantaged, learn much more slowly during summer vacations than they do during the school years. That means that every summer offers children who are behind a chance to catch up. In other words, even if gaps don’t grow much during summer vacations, summer vacations still offer a chance to shrink them.

What does this mean for the extended break remote learning experiment being forced on us by COVID-19? My fear is that most education leaders will be content to take a breather this summer in the hopes that everything can resume as normal in the fall.

I think that would be a mistake on two levels. First, from a logistical standpoint, schools and districts should be preparing now for a potential second wave of outbreaks. Those outbreaks may not be as intense or as widespread, but school and district leaders have no way of knowing how bad it might be in their particular communities, and whether the coronavirus will again force them to close schools for extended periods of time. Regardless, given what we know, it would be irresponsible to blindly assume everything will be back to normal for the 2020-21 school year.

And second are the equity implications. Regardless of exactly how large the COVID-19 learning slide is going to be, there’s no question that students are losing precious learning time that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Education leaders should be thinking NOW about how they will make that up. Will they extend the current school year into the summer? Will they start the next school year early, or extend it somehow? Districts should be starting that planning process now.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

2 Replies to “The COVID-19 Learning Loss”

  1. Are there K-12 MOOCs available? Feels like the sector should invest in high-quality MOOCs and mobile-enabled learning platforms, that schools can adopt (for free) and facilitate over the summer months. Given common standards, this can cut across state lines (ex. DC + MD + ME). Who is working on these courses, platforms, apps, and tools? Khan Academy, Learn Zillion? Teachers would then oversee process, provide 1:1 coaching, v. creating own virtual curricula, duct taping different platforms together (ZOOM, email, PDF packets, etc.) Would certainly I’d love for my 6th and 4th graders her at home.

  2. Unfortunately, I have not seen or heard of any summer programs to shrink the effects of the Covid-19 closures. This means the loss students are experiencing has now continued for almost a year. This loss, as mentioned, will effect them for years to come. I think that low income students are effected by summer loses and are even more impacted by the loses during these Covid semesters. The policies in poorer schools sometimes do not allow for synchronous learning. These ideas are expressed in this article as well, Something must change to prevent this continued loss and I believe summer learning could help.

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