What a Return to School Will Look Like as Districts Across the Country Work to Address Learning Loss

With several weeks of summer vacation now behind us, there are many decisions left to be made regarding what the upcoming 2021-2022 school year will look like for districts across the United States. As vaccination rates have slowed and infection rates climb in many states where vaccination rates are low, parents, teachers, and administrators are left wondering what affect the pandemic will continue to have on this upcoming school year.  While most states have declared that students will go back to brick and mortar school rooms, it is clear that we are not out of the woods yet.

There are many questions that school boards, superintendents, principals and parents face?  Which districts will require all students back in the classroom, which districts will offer for a hybrid approach, which districts will continue to provide a virtual option to parents, and whether or not masks, social distancing, and sanitation protocols will remain in effect. But most are left wondering how academics will be addressed this next school year in response to the noticeable learning loss that has taken place since March of 2020.

According to a study completed by Horace Mann, 44% of educators reported seeing some loss of learning in their students as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, while 53% of respondents categorized the loss of learning as significant. The study went on to report that 30% of teachers say their students are an average of 1-3 months behind, 27% say their students are 3-6 months behind, and 23% say their students are a full 6-12 months behind. 

Perhaps the most troubling data from the Horace Mann study shows that the top challenge teachers will face this next school year is that the gap between students who are academically successful and those who are struggling continues to widen. This means that teachers will be working even harder to balance their time between challenging their more advanced students while also doing their best to help remedial students catch up.

And low-income families and families of color were the ones hit hardest by school closures.  50% of low-income families and 42% of families of color struggled to attend school online due to not having reliable internet access or technology devices in the home. So the gap in these demographics will certainly need to be addressed and work focused to close these gaps.

Fortunately for school districts, Congress has passed three stimulus bills since 2020, diverting $190.5 billion to the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) to address some of these important issues. From hiring additional teachers and support staff to assuring equitable access to technology and developing supplemental summer and after-school programs, states are utilizing these additional ESSER funds to make sure that all students are receiving the academic and social support when they need it most.

And many districts around the country are choosing to focus on acceleration moving forward. By teaching students at their current grade level and only teaching skills from past grades as needed, school districts are hoping to keep students engaged and on pace to meet required learning standards.

With so many things still up in the air, the only thing for certain is that educators have a lot to accomplish when they return to the classroom in the fall. And, if the classroom is driven by a hybrid approach, fully virtual or traditional brick and mortar ensuring that learning and classroom technologies are a part of the program is key.