Discover more from The Achievement Plateau
The focus on "learning loss" is a distraction
Ketchup is not enough.
Early in my teaching career, a veteran math teacher told me about “ketchup” and “mustard” days. Must-do “mustard” days were the meat and potatoes of her teaching — the grade-level lessons students couldn’t miss. “Ketchup” days were built into her plans so that she could catch students up on skills they were missing.
The discussion about learning loss has been going on since the start of the pandemic — how are we going to “ketchup” students after so much virtual and hybrid learning? I’ve addressed it previously, but some recent pieces, including this article in The Atlantic and this WaPo article, along with a conversation with a colleague, have gotten me thinking about it again.
The above pieces — and many other education voices — argue that accelerating learning is the key to fixing learning loss. Indeed, there’s an effort in Philadelphia and elsewhere to use stimulus dollars for summer programming to help remediate students on the skills they might’ve missed from a year of virtual instruction. The effort is even getting a name: The Great Catch-up.
But what are we really catching students up to?
In the last normal year of full, in-person instruction, we could only get 29% of students at my school to pass the reading assessment, and just 14% to pass the math test.
Across Philadelphia, just 36% of students earned proficient scores on the state reading test. Just 21% earned proficient scores on the math test.
The focus on learning loss is built on the assumption that we need to fill in the gaps caused by a year of remote instruction and return students back the baseline performance established by full, in-person instruction.
Let’s imagine we have a magical remedy (I’m not convinced the focus on “acceleration” is it — and I’ll address that in a future post) that could fill in the gaps caused by remote instruction. Even if we did, we’d still only get about 1/3 of kids reading proficiently…and 1 out of 5 understanding math.
The National Education Policy Center recently highlighted a new article from the journal Education Policy that addresses what the writers call a policy distraction. Policy distractions, they argue, narrow issues, distract from larger systemic issues, and reinforce the status quo.
“Learning loss” is a policy distraction.
The danger here is that we will spend billions of stimulus dollars across the country to return students to a status quo that was and will be grossly unacceptable.
Instead, we should be trying to look past this policy distraction and address the structural and root issues holding so many districts back from delivering a world-class education for their students. What might those be? That’s what I’m writing to figure out.
Speaking of which: I apologize for the one-day delay in delivery. Yesterday was our first day back for in-person instruction in over a year, and I was exhausted after my first full day of in-person principalling in as much time!