The COVID Cohort: Taking a Mulligan on 2020
I already know this sentiment will be unpopular. My own friends in the education field have given me a little flak on it, but I need you all to hear me out on this. For nearly everyone on this planet, 2020 has really blown. If you are a middle-class person with a job, it’s been easier for you, and it has still been awful. Imagine how much more difficult this time has been for those without resources, without access, without a job.
Now let’s focus that down to the public school. Students in our state finished the fourth quarter without face to face instruction from a teacher. We all know Zoom is a poor substitute for face to face instruction, so let’s move on. I won’t even get into all the other things that students don’t have when they don’t come to school. Suffice it to say that going to an actual school building is literally a life-saving activity for so many students.
No, let’s focus on the academics. I don’t know about your parents, but mine could not have helped me with the challenging Honors Algebra II (Mrs. Clingenpeel was the best) or the translation of my French (thank you Mrs. Malahy and Mrs. Johnson!) that I needed in high school. They could not have helped me learn my choralography (Ms. Tate made me “dance”) or taught me the ins and outs of various economic systems (I miss Mr. Shenold regularly). My parents are amazing, but they weren’t teachers.
Add to that the possibility that a child might not have enough to eat, might be taking care of younger siblings, might not have any internet connection or device to do school work on, and doesn’t it become obvious that distance learning is not the ideal situation for most children?
The efficacy of purely online instruction has been called into question by several studies. The bottom line is, technology learning is a poor substitute for direct instruction, and students do best when technology supplements — not supplants — direct instruction.
And now we find ourselves in COVID Time. Students have lost that direct instruction, and there is no promise that it will return to normal in August. Students already lose a month of academic gains over the summer on average, so those will be exacerbated. There are options to remedy this, or at least try to remedy it, but none is going to make anyone jump for joy.
We could extend the direct instruction school day to provide extra practice on targeted skills for identified students. This is similar to a program we already conduct, but would require testing students upon returning to isolate the missing skills, and then dividing them accordingly to spend thirty minutes or so a day with teachers working through those skills. In order for this to be successful, the teacher should have small groups — like 5 kids max.
We could start the school year earlier and provide a summer school-like experience for the students. Summer school’s intense pace will be challenging for many, but research shows it can be effective to have that kind of intense immersion. It would require yet another data assessment so we would know what kids need what skills to prepare for the next grade.
We could just take a mulligan and have all students repeat the 2019-2020 academic year. Yes, three-quarters of the year happened, but honestly, who really thinks that our students couldn’t benefit from another year of preparation before entering the real world? So most kids graduate at 19 instead of 18. The COVID Cohort will undoubtedly have experienced some PTSD symptoms from this time, and those feelings make learning harder. Wouldn’t another year in the relative safety of school help prepare them mentally for the challenges of adulthood?
Ideas one and two cost money. Teachers should never be expected to work more without being compensated more. At $25 an hour, both ideas will add up to real costs quickly. There may be federal relief money available for education to offset these costs, but who knows how that will be implemented.
While some research shows that repeating a grade is not actually helpful, that applies to the individual student who gets “held back.” That is not what I am proposing. We are just going to take a mulligan — redo the whole darn year for everyone.
You can come up with tons of pitfalls to this plan, but in the end, I believe it is what is best for kids. We’ve spent way too much time doing what is inexpensive or doing what is most convenient for families. It is past time to do what is best for kids.
By Jennifer Seal
May 21, 2020