It appears the costs of pandemic-era remote learning far outweighed the benefits, based on the average student’s comprehension in math and reading.
According to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data released Monday, Arizona students were middle of the pack in a nationwide decline. The state’s scoring revealed severe learning losses in math and nominal losses in reading.
Nationwide, the NAEP report revealed a negative correlation between remote learning and learning loss. Chalkbeat displayed the correlation through graphs. Public schools and large cities experienced the greatest decline in math scores.
In a press release, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) associate commissioner Daniel McGrath warned that learning losses in math could limit STEM candidates.
“Eighth grade is a pivotal moment in students’ mathematics education, as they develop key mathematics skills for further learning and potential careers in mathematics and science,” said McGrath. “If left unaddressed, this could alter the trajectories and life opportunities of a whole cohort of young people, potentially reducing their abilities to pursue rewarding and productive careers in mathematics, science, and technology.”
The scores come after several years of Democratic leaders advocating for school closures amid the pandemic.
Julie Gunnigle, Democratic candidate for Maricopa County attorney, claimed in an August 2020 interview that remote learning would make kids smarter and stronger. Throughout the pandemic, she insisted that schools be restructured to prevent COVID-19 transmission before reopening.
“I think these kids are going to come out a lot stronger than, for example, my generation is. Like, having to cope with all of this. And a lot smarter, too,” said Gunnigle. “They’re going to be really prepared to brave this, well, brave new technological world.”
Last October, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told NPR that the number of school age-youth with mental health issues rose from 13-22 percent to 80 percent over the course of the pandemic. Last December, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy reported that the pandemic caused a mental health crisis in the nation’s youth.
“The COVID-19 pandemic further altered [youth] experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating,” stated Murthy.
Kathy Hoffman, incumbent Arizona Department of Education (ADE) superintendent, advocated for remote learning as recently as January. Like Gunnigle, Hoffman insisted that preventing COVID-19 illness was more important than an in-person education.
Just what exactly are the priorities of the Chandler Unified School District (CUSD)?
Every parent and taxpayer would love to know. But unfortunately, these priorities do not seem to be clearly presented in any readily available public communication. This makes it difficult to understand what the district is doing, why they are doing it, or hold them accountable for their performance. It’s time for the district to be much more transparent with the public.
That’s why I would like to suggest these five priorities for CUSD, which should be communicated clearly and made readily available to the taxpaying public that supports them.
Catch up on learning loss from recent school closures. Some information indicates that our students are up to two years behind on their academic achievement. Many are falling behind, and CUSD must take this seriously.
Ensure that Reading and Math proficiency is greater than 50% at every school. CUSD should direct massive amounts of resources to any school that falls far below this standard.
Increase student retention. The district must compete effectively to increase their headcount by better satisfying the demands of parents who will ultimately make the decisions on which schools their children attend.
Increase staff retention. It is critical to reduce the turnover rate for Certified (Teaching) Staff and Classified (non-Teaching) Staff. But CUSD must remember that issues with staffing aren’t always about money. While that is certainly something that needs to be examined, staff working conditions should be carefully considered as well. And the district should ultimately work to determine the primary reasons that staff leave their positions and take appropriate corrective actions.
Improve career and technical education. CUSD should refocus attention back to developing practical knowledge instead of social conditioning. The primary mission should be to develop functional adults capable of supporting themselves and contributing economically to the community.
If CUSD is serious about the future of its students, it must refocus its priorities. And it should take a much more pragmatic approach to its communication. This will not only make the district more relevant, but it will improve engagement with the community, especially the parents who have the ultimate say in how their children are educated.
Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board.You can find out more about his campaign here.