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Editorial: Addressing the learning gap crisis

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Social impacts of online learning (copy)

Are there social, developmental, or other pros or cons of virtual education?

Our recent state and local campaigns included a lot of discussion about education, but very little about the most important issue on that subject.

There was the debate over critical race theory (CRT) and now the upset about books some parents don’t want in their child’s school library. However, few candidates, from those seeking statewide office to local school boards and boards of supervisors, talked about the most pressing problem there is when it comes to post-COVID education: the “learning gap” it left behind.

This is a serious problem. Indeed, it’s a crisis.

The learning gap refers to all the lost instruction time during the COVID crisis. It lasted over a year and left a crucial question: How do we get the kids caught up to the grade and level of performance that’s expected of them?

If we don’t, school life is going to be harder for our students, with impacts on Standards of Learning exams, graduation rates and SAT scores. Whether we get them back on track is entirely up to us.

For the schools in our region, COVID was a long haul. They lost instruction time when school buildings were closed, and later, even with remote instruction, the efficiency of class instruction suffered. Some lower-income students without access to the internet lost out badly, and the same goes for households where there wasn’t a parent able to stay at home to help keep the kids focused on their studies.

There is no arguing that remote instruction was a tremendous asset. However, it was not a panacea. These aren’t college students. These are children who were asked to maintain a level of focus, sometimes without supervision, that many people much older would have trouble managing.

Teachers worked 12 hours days, and weekends, often providing extra help online and over the phone. For the record, teachers don’t get paid overtime.

Remote learning for children has its shortcomings. A teacher with one laptop and 25 images on a single screen, all very small, can’t be sure every child is paying attention. Nor could teachers pay close enough attention to their students’ faces to see if they were “getting it or not.” That’s a critical skill in teaching.

Having an adult at home, if that was possible, to keep the child focused and answer — or prompt — a question when needed made an immense difference. But even when moms and dads were home, they were trying to do their regular jobs on a remote basis.

Perhaps most costly in all this was the damage done to low-income households. Many low-income families don’t have the money for the broadband hookups necessary for remote instruction. Many have jobs that don’t allow them to stay home to monitor the child’s progress. And some don’t speak English well, if at all.

There are also rural homes and isolated developments throughout the area that have no broadband access. Those kids missed out on remote instruction as well.

Many teachers also felt pressured. They were isolated, not always getting the information they needed from their supervisors, and often felt a lot of frustration. Some, along with teaching their classes, also had children of their own to monitor during remote instruction. Some reported suffering from depression.

This had a consequence we should have seen coming. A substantial number of local teachers have joined the “great resignation.” And why not? There are plenty of employers ready to hire these educated and capable people. Now every school system in our region has a critical teacher shortage and substitutes are scarce.

Somehow, with not enough teachers, at least for the short and medium term, we’re going to have to address the learning gaps created as the result of the pandemic. The actions required need to occur simultaneously and they don’t come cheap.

To begin with, we need to identify the educational gaps, child by child, and establish remediation plans. Saturday and more school time in the summer may be necessary.

We need to pay teachers the salaries that will once again allow us to fill the ranks. Without good teachers, there is no fixing the learning gap.

Editor’s Note: Editorials shared from other publications do not always represent the views of The News Virginian, but are offered in an effort to spread information and share different opinions.


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