August 3, 2022

Distance education has created a new kind of dropout | EDITORIAL

Remote learning during the pandemic has been disastrous even for children who have gone online. But many “registered” students didn’t really pay attention.

Writing recently in The Atlantic, Meira Levinson and Daniel Markovits offered an in-depth look at how school closures have disrupted students’ lives. Ms. Levinson is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Mr. Markovits teaches at Yale Law School. Amid a series of staggering statistics, what stands out is how often students simply don’t show up.

They estimated that the average public school student “experiencing 65 school days without any contact from their schools or teachers” at the end of the 2020-21 school year. Contact is far from learning. A phone call from a teacher counts, but that alone is unlikely to lead to much academic advancement. It was after more than 20% of students were skipping school during spring 2020 online classes.

Not surprisingly, low-income students were more likely to be absent. Public school students living in households earning less than $25,000 lived 76 days without any formal learning. Students whose parents earned more than $200,000 experienced about 54 days without schooling. Neither is ideal, but the difference is noticeable.

There are many possible explanations. A poorer family was less likely to have an assistive device and an internet connection. There was less chance of a parent being at home to ensure students logged on in class. Financial pressure could have meant that an older brother had to look after younger siblings who would otherwise have been in school.

These are less important issues for wealthier families. These families also had other options. Many sent their children to private schools. While the Clark County School District closed for most of the 2020-2021 school year, some private schools remained open for in-person learning. Other families could homeschool. This is further proof that all students in Nevada need school choice.

To address pandemic issues, the federal government poured money into schools. In total, our community received over $1.2 billion. While some programs – such as summer learning courses – seem helpful, many are unlikely to fill these learning gaps. For example, on the latest batch of funding, the district is spending nearly $200 million to “upgrade technology” and about $200 million for new instructional materials. In contrast, its summer apprenticeship program is budgeted at $69 million.

Here’s an idea: To make up for lost learning, students need more in-person instruction, not an expensive computer or program.