Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools across the United States to close their doors and pivot to an online learning platform for months on end, numerous elementary, middle and high school students are still feeling the after-effects. The necessity of switching to remote learning in an effort to protect students and teachers from contracting the novel coronavirus ended up having a significant, devastating impact on learning, with many students falling far behind grade level expectations.
The events of 2020 may seem distant now, as everyday life continues to return to a close approximation of pre-COVID times. Mask mandates have been dropped and businesses have been allowed to return to full capacity. People are back in movie theaters and restaurants. And most importantly, kids have returned to full-time, in-person classroom learning. In fact, according to a U.S. News report, 99 percent of all K-12 students in the United States were back at school on a full-time basis as of December 2021.
Despite this, however, a significant number of students continue to struggle academically after falling behind as a result of the pandemic. According to research from i-Ready Learning conducted in Fall 2021, the percentage of students in the early grades who are on grade level in reading is lower than before the pandemic, as is the percentage of students who are on grade level in mathematics across all grades.
Taking Action to Close the Learning Loss Gap
Fortunately, teachers and school administrators across the country are taking action to help reverse the course and close the learning loss gap caused by COVID-19. With the help of major actions and investments from the government, the private sector and nonprofit organizations along with the U.S. Department of Education, in conjunction with the American Rescue Plan, are channeling its efforts into helping American students recover academically through summer learning and enrichment programs.
“As we move beyond reopening, the Biden-Harris Administration and the Department of Education will remain laser-focused on helping students recover academically from the pandemic and access the academic, mental health, and other supports they need to thrive,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said about the program. “We are already seeing the impact the American Rescue Plan is having on schools, students, families, and educators—from increased access to academic and mental health supports to expanded summer learning and enrichment programs funded by federal pandemic relief funds. With additional investments from the Department’s grant programs and the philanthropic community, we can scale our recovery efforts, make ARP dollars have an even greater impact, and ensure every student—no matter their background, family income, or zip code—has the academic and mental health support they need to succeed. In states and districts across the country, American Rescue Plan funds are having a direct impact on student, family, and educators’ recovery.”
2022 - A Summer of Rebuilding
With $3 billion earmarked for summer programming, nearly 2,000 school districts across the country are prepared to address learning loss head on. But which types of summer learning programs are the most effective? According to research conducted by FutureEd, the best-designed summer programs support students’ social-emotional development while also leading to gains in math and reading. Additionally, according to a study conducted by the RAND Corporation, the most effective summer learning programming runs for at least five weeks, preferably six, with at least three hours of academic instruction per day, combined with enrichment activities, often in partnership with community organizations. The students who achieve the best, most lasting results are the students who attend at least 80 percent of the summer classes and return in subsequent summers.
How successful each school district will be in its efforts to close the learning loss gap is largely dependent upon how well it is able to adhere to the above standards. This can be a challenge for districts in underserved communities. While COVID-relief funding has made summer learning programs free of charge for all students, a number of disadvantaged students still face transportation barriers and other complications that could prevent their attendance.
Fortunately, a number of online summer learning opportunities also exist to help educators improve their outreach to a critical portion of their student bodies. Numerous educational institutions, including Harvard University, Khan Academy and K12, are offering tuition-free summer programming online for all K-12 students. Additionally, a number of public school districts have expanded their summer programming offerings to include a hybrid or online summer learning format for those who are unable or unwilling to attend class in person.
According to popular online school Connections Academy, certain differences between online learning and in-person learning can actually do more to close the learning loss gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, their curriculum was designed to be taught in an online-only format, allowing for consistency. Also, an online summer learning program can be individually tailored to each student’s unique learning schedule, allowing for greater flexibility which can lead to improved focus and minimized distraction.
The best part of an online summer school format is that it can require as little as a reliable Internet connection and a working computer. Since numerous district schools now allow students to check out Chromebooks and other types of laptops or tablets for educational use at home, this could be an extremely viable option for students who live far away from campus and face transportation barriers during the summer months.
For students who have a difficult time staying focused, many school districts are going the extra mile and purchasing bulk headphones or headsets to ensure a distraction-free remote learning environment over the summer. These high-quality disposable headphones are affordable enough to distribute one to each student without having to worry about whether they get returned. Students can hang onto their disposable headphones and headsets for future classroom use as well as for personal use, or they can upgrade to the comfort and quality of their own deluxe headphone or headset like the AVID Products AE-55 or AE-75 for remote/online learning..
The COVID-19 pandemic took a devastating toll on multiple facets of our society, including education. Through our combined efforts as educators, we can ensure that our students catch up and that we successfully close the learning loss gap and get back on track in the coming school years.