News and Insights

Teacher ‘Superpowers’ and More Needed to Keep Students on Track

April 29, 2020

Students will return to school with a whole host of needs, not the least of which is continued academic growth.

A letter making its way around social media attempts to quell parents’ anxiety over whether children are learning enough while they are stuck at home amid the pandemic. The letter, penned by an educator, advises parents not to sweat the schoolwork too much and promises to get students back on track academically when schools reopen. 

“I am a teacher and that’s my superpower,” it says. For anyone who has known a teacher with an unwavering commitment to his or her students, this determination rings true. As someone who covered education for decades as a reporter and editor, I have met hundreds of teachers with this kind of passion and confidence. More than a dozen teachers who are among my friends on Facebook have shared and affirmed the letter themselves.

The unnamed teacher goes on to ask parents to take care of their children’s physical and emotional well-being, and let the teachers work to recoup and reignite learning when they return to their classrooms. “No kids are ahead. No kids are behind,” the letter continues. “Your children are exactly where they need to be.”

I appreciate that the letter writer is trying to calm the fears of parents and get them to be realistic about what they can do at home. And I have faith that many teachers will be able to bridge the months of lag time and get their students back on track. Unfortunately, there will be kids who are ahead, and perhaps more than ever before, kids who are behind. There is universal agreement that schools and teachers (and parents, and so many others) will have a massive task on their hands to evaluate where students are relative to where they ideally would have been without this disruption to their learning, and then to take effective steps to catch them up and move them forward.

Learning loss will be a real thing, perhaps for the vast majority of children, but especially for the ones who were already behind or have not been immune to the traumas caused by illness or economic hardship or stress or abuse in their household.

For schools across the country, the first urgent priority in developing a plan for reopening schools will be the safety of students and staff. But students will come with a whole host of learning, social and emotional needs, not the least of which is continued academic growth.

That is one of four priorities outlined in the charter of a task force for reopening K-12 schools convened by the Southern Regional Education Board and its 16 member states. The task force will develop a playbook for states that provides recommendations for addressing the learning loss, equity, funding and technology issues that have emerged out of the COVID-19 crisis, among others.

Projections based on a research review by the nonprofit Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) “suggest major academic impacts from COVID closures for students, especially in mathematics.” 

Schools will need creative solutions that do not solely depend on seat time and traditional grade-level-focused curriculum and instruction. As RAND researcher Jennifer McCombs noted in a recent Harvard EdCast, “We don’t have to replace every single hour…It’s really engaged time in academic learning that’s creating the learning, not necessarily the number of academic minutes in a school day.”

The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), which has long drawn attention to the “summer slide” in learning during the months out of school each year, has promoted this idea of engaged learning through the kinds of enrichment and hands-on, place-based lessons that are possible in high-quality summer and after-school programs. The NSLA also noted that the $13.5 billion set aside in the federal stimulus package for K-12 schools allows states and school districts to invest funds in summer learning and after-school programming, especially for those student populations that may have the greatest difficulty getting back on the academic track.

Indeed this is a top concern among superintendents and principals across the country, and many are already forming committees and study groups and thinking through strategies in anticipation of “the coronavirus slide” among all student groups. 

Yes, teachers will need to use their superpowers to work through the academic needs of individual students. But they can’t do it alone. They will need broad support, additional resources, professional development and strong partnerships with parents and community groups to ensure their chances of success. 

TAGS: Education