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Pandemic Learning Loss Is Exacerbating Existing Racial And Economic Inequities In Education

AISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde visits a classroom on the campus of LBJ Early College High School in October 2020.
Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
AISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde visits a classroom on the campus of LBJ Early College High School in October 2020.

From Texas Standard:

Many parents and educators are grappling with how to plan for the upcoming school year as the delta variant of the coronavirus spreads widely, and infects more people, in Texas.

What’s more, they have to figure out how to help kids who’ve fallen behind in school because of the constantly shifting learning landscape during the pandemic.

Sarah Mervosh, a national reporter for The New York Times, told Texas Standard that while students did make learning gains last year, they did it much more slowly than normal, amounting to widespread “learning loss.” Also, there were glaring racial disparities in learning loss, which Mervosh says exacerbate existing inequities in the education system.

Here are the takeaways:

– This year, students, overall, are estimated to be about four or five months behind where they would normally be a the end of the school year.

– Student learning loss continued even after students returned to the classroom.

– Learning loss was worse in math, but there was also significant loss in reading. Mervosh says that could have a greater effect on younger students just learning to read.

– Learning loss was greater for Black, Hispanic and Native students: they are, on average, an estimated six months behind in math, compared to white students who are four months behind.

– Lower-income students fell further behind their wealthier peers: they’re an estimated seven months behind, compared to four months for kids who are more well off.

Some possible solutions:

– High-intensity tutoring: Mervosh says tutoring in small groups multiple times a week has shown to help kids catch up. Schools can use federal COVID-19 relief money to pay for tutoring programs.

– Extend the school day by one hour.

– Add summer school.

– Encourage mask-wearing and vaccinations for kids 12 and older: Public health experts tell Mervosh that controlling the spread of the coronavirus is one of the most effective ways to prevent learning loss because it keeps kids in school. And masks and vaccines are two of the most “effective tools” for stopping that spread, she said.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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