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Kids Can't Read. What's the Solution?, Part 3 in School Wars Series
Cook the books? Or teach them to read the books?
Source: New York Times
Every week, there’s another front page headline with the same theme: students are failing all the tests. This week’s bombshell came from Tom Kane and Sean Reardon in The New York Times option page. Tom Kane and Sean Reardon, top-notch researchers from Harvard and Stanford, penned an article: Parents Don’t Understand How Far Behind Their Kids Are in School.
In response to the public opinion polls, which show that parents believe their child caught up after the pandemic, Kane and Reardon offer a reality check. Students remain behind, and their damage is worse in schools that educate poorer children. They say, “the pandemic exacerbated economic and racial educational inequality.”
The battle lines over learning outcomes have been formed. One side questions the research, the value of the tests, and even the value of a traditional education. The other side wants to double down on a traditional education, without regard for the logistical nightmare involved with implementing their plans.
Kane and Reardon’s research is just one more piece of evidence that students are not meeting basic expectations for math and reading. To be sure, many students were struggling before the pandemic, but now things are at sickening levels of dysfunction.
In 2019, they say that students in the poorest schools were a year and half behind the national average and four years behind students in the richest schools for math and reading.
Let’s take a moment to absorb that fact. The poorest students were FOUR YEARS behind their peers in richer schools in 2019.
Okay, but things get worse. Because by 2022, poorer students are even further behind. They never made up for all that time away from their classroom. While all kids declined during the pandemic, the decline was most significant in poorer school districts.
As I was reading their article, my first thought was that poorer school districts were more likely to be shutdown for longer periods of time, so that’s why those communities were hit the hardest. But Kane and Reardon explains that communities with biggest drops in learning also had higher Covid death rates, higher levels of depression and anxiety among adults, highly strained teachers and parents, and significantly curtailed social activites.
In other words, school closures alone didn’t cause the learning loss.
Kane and Reardon say that parents need to be more aware of the impact of the pandemic on their children’s learning. They recommend everything including increased tutoring, an optional fifth year of high school that offer a bridge to community college or trade schools, and turning 9th grade into a triage year for intensive help.
They conclude that “In many communities, students lost months of learning time. Justice demands that we replace it.” Justice demands reform. Yes, I have been calling for reparations for students for a very long time.
The numbers don’t lie. Education administrators and political leaders know exactly what happened to kids.
And at the ground level, teachers know what’s going on. Last month, one high school math teacher in New York City told me that her Algebra 2 class includes a group of students who have a first or second grade math level. Can you imagine trying to teach Algebra 2 to students who can’t do long division?
These problems are immense and require bold solutions. However, those bold solutions, sadly, are politically impossible.
One of Kane and Reardon’s solutions — an extra year of high school! — would take decades to implement. Teachers’ contracts would have to be renegotiated. The costs would stretch into the billions. School building do not have the physical space — classrooms and desks — to house students for a fifth year. Students will probably refuse to attend school for another year.
While a fifth year of high school would benefit kids enormously, it has little chance of happening any time soon. Even modest solutions, like summer school and high-voltage tutoring, were attempted, but faced so many political obstacles that most students never had those opportunities.
While one side beats the drum for big reforms, the other side seeks to minimize the loss. Because the political and practical obstacles are so high to make the necessary changes, they say that it’s kindest to students and their hard working teachers to remove that failure label. They’re hopeful that young people don’t need old-fashioned educational skills anymore.
Opponents accuse politicians of “cooking the books” or changing standards to hide the fact that students can’t read. While the education establishment says they are just finding away to deal with reality. A third group has written off the older kids, but hopes to bring up the younger ones with major revisions of existing math and reading curriculum.
As this battle wages on, another cohort of students will graduate in June. Nobody cares whether they can read and do math. They will graduate regardless of their qualifications, because schools need to show high graduation rates, there is no money to pay for an extra year of school, and there’s no pressure to make sure students can really read or do math. Every student who shows up to the school building with even the most modest attendance records will graduate from high school.
And then what happens to these recent graduates, who are stuck with permanent educational deficits? They don’t have the skills for high level employment or advanced degrees, so they will face permanently depressed incomes and will suffer from the long host societal issues that arise from poverty and poor educational levels. This will be a long term problem, and an expensive one for social services in the future.
For the past couple of years, this newsletter was a Friday morning activity. I’m changing things up here. I have too much to say. I’m adding another day onto my calendar. Not sure if Tuesday or Wednesday will be my permanent second day. Everything is still free. For the moment. [Evil laugh.]
And I’m shaking up things everywhere in my life. A big cherry bomb. I wrote a bit about those changes on my personal blog.
Last week, I wrote about my own grief when a long time blogger took her own life. Others has written about her impact on their lives and the difficulties of navigating a public online life:
The ‘Queen Of Mommy Bloggers’ Left Us A Cautionary Tale About The Need For Community, Mark Hemingway, The Federalist
I was at a school function on Monday with school administrators. We talked about reading curriculum and ChatGPT. Have you played with it yet? I totally agree that this technology needs regulation. In the short term, high schools and colleges need to find a way to harness its good qualities without giving up on teaching writing skills altogether. Some recent articles about AI that caught my eye:
WATCHING: Succession, Lucky Hank
TRAVEL: Steve and Jonah went fishing for the weekend, so I took Ian to the Highland Park in NYC for the afternoon. Pictures here.
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