Research Shows Students Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions – The New York Times - Freelance Rack

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Saturday, June 6, 2020

Research Shows Students Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions – The New York Times

While a nation of burned-out, involuntary home schoolers slogs to the finish line of a disrupted academic year, a picture is emerging of the extent of the learning loss among children in America, and the size of the gaps schools will be asked to fill when they reopen.

It is not pretty.

New research suggests that by September, most students will have fallen behind where they would have been if they had stayed in classrooms, with some losing the equivalent of a full school year’s worth of academic gains. Racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps will most likely widen because of disparities in access to computers, home internet connections and direct instruction from teachers.

And the crisis is far from over. The harm to students could grow if schools continue to teach fully or partly online in the fall, or if they reopen with significant budget cuts because of the economic downturn. High school dropout rates could increase, researchers say, while younger children could miss out on foundational concepts in phonics and fractions that prepare them for a lifetime of learning and working.

In South Los Angeles, Danielle Gandy has spent countless difficult hours guiding her energetic 6-year-old, Cadynce, through online meetings and assignments provided by her charter school. Still, Ms. Gandy is under no illusion that Cadynce has completed the normal kindergarten curriculum, and is especially concerned about her progress in math.

“Looking at the work the teacher has done, I applaud her,” Ms. Gandy said, “but it’s maybe a fraction of what they would be learning if they were in an actual school setting. If they are transitioning into first grade, will there be time to catch up and get them up to par?”

Teachers across the country share such worries. In Aurora, Colo., outside Denver, Clint Silva, a seventh-grade social studies teacher, was planning to spend the spring working with his students on research skills. For one remote assignment, he asked them to create a primary source about the pandemic that future historians could consult.

But a majority of his students have not consistently engaged with remote assignments. They are not receiving traditional grades, and some have parents who are working outside the home or who are not tech-savvy, and are unable to assist with online schooling.

“We know this isn’t a good way to teach,” Mr. Silva said. “We want to hold kids accountable. We want to see their progress, be in the classroom with them and see them struggle and overcome that. Instead, we are logging in for an hour a day, and kids are turning their cameras off and staying quiet and not talking to us.”

Research can now estimate the size of the learning loss students have experienced under such conditions. Because regular standardized testing has been suspended, some of the research uses past disruptions to learning — such as natural disasters or even summer break — to project the potential impact of the current crisis. Other studies look at schools that used online learning software before the coronavirus shutdown, and check to see how students performed using the same programs from home.

The average student could begin the next school year having lost as much as a third of the expected progress from the previous year in reading and half of the expected progress in math, according to a working paper from NWEA, a nonprofit organization, and scholars at Brown University and the University of Virginia.

A separate analysis of 800,000 students from researchers at Brown and Harvard looked at how Zearn, an online math program, was used both before and after schools closed in March. It found that through late April, student progress in math decreased by about half in classrooms located in low-income ZIP codes, by a third in classrooms in middle-income ZIP codes and not at all in classrooms in high-income ZIP codes.

When all of the impacts are taken into account, the average student could fall seven months behind academically, while black and Hispanic students could experience even greater learning losses, equivalent to 10 months for black children and nine months for Latinos, according to an analysis from McKinsey & Company, the consulting group.

There are several reasons low-income, black and Hispanic students appear to be suffering the most through the crisis. The Center on Reinventing Public Education, a think tank, will release an analysis next week of the pandemic learning policies of 477 school districts. It found that only a fifth have required live teaching over video, and that wealthy school districts were twice as likely to provide such teaching as low-income districts.

Rural students have been especially cut off from their teachers. Only 27 percent of their districts required any instruction while schools were closed, according to the center.

While almost every school has provided assignments for students to complete independently, that does not necessarily mean that teachers conducted remote lessons. Schools with many poor students sometimes chose to relax instructional expectations on teachers because they knew families did not have reliable access to home computers or internet connections able to stream video.

The disparities in educational progress do not appear to be caused by any lack of effort on the part of families. The poorest parents spent about the same amount of time during school closures assisting their children with learning — 13 hours per week — as those making over $200,000 per year, according to a May Census Bureau survey of households with children.

Administrators and teachers know they will need to catch students up in the fall, perhaps through reviewing skills and content that would have normally been covered this school year. But they face major hurdles and competing priorities. Preparing school buildings to meet new state and federal health guidelines — including smaller class sizes, temperature checks and increased access to sinks, soap, personal protective equipment and disinfectants — requires money and careful planning.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 5, 2020

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


It is just as important to improve the quality of remote learning, given the likelihood that schools in many parts of the country will face continued intermittent closures to contain the virus, and that some parents will simply choose not to send their children to classrooms before a vaccine is available.

Students are also expected to need a greatly increased level of social and emotional support from counselors and therapists, in part because of the impact of spending months in social isolation, often while families experienced job loss, economic hardship and health distress.

All of this will need to happen as schools face significant budget cuts that will not be offset by the federal infusion that has been promised so far, according to Marguerite Roza, a school finance expert at Georgetown University.

Schools could freeze hiring, especially for support roles like reading specialists and counselors, and might cancel programs like pre-K and after-school enrichment, she said.

For protesters flooding the nation’s streets in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man killed while Minneapolis police officers arrested him, the idea that school budgets could face greater cuts than police budgets as cities deal with the economic impact of the pandemic has emerged as a major concern, and yet more evidence of racial inequality.

Already, New York City, the nation’s largest school district, has said it would slow down the expansion of its universal pre-K program to 3-year-olds. California’s urban schools have warned that budget cuts proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom could make it impossible for them to reopen safely while simultaneously helping students catch up academically.

In Broward County, Fla., north of Miami, Iman Cassells Alleyne, an elementary school special education teacher, spent much of the spring semester filming herself giving remote lessons on multiplication and phonics, even as she home-schooled her own three sons. She wanted to provide one-on-one tutoring and reached out to students numerous times, but many were not able to regularly get online for remote learning because of issues at home.

Her students have learning disabilities and behavioral disorders that make school challenging under normal circumstances. Now, she is concerned they will fall even further behind.

“If we continue doing things the way we do them,” she said, “we won’t be able to fill those gaps.”



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