To learn more about findings covered in this post read the report issued by Education Minnesota’s Educator Policy Innovation Center (EPIC). Their advocacy work centers on equitable school funding, full-service community schools, universal pre-k, teacher recruitment and retention, student discipline, teacher training, and early childhood education. The epic report Disrupted Learning, COVID-19, and Public Education in Minnesota is available at web address: EPIC-Disrupted-Learning-Report.pdf (educationminnesota.org)
COVID-19 is not the only traumatic event causing learning loss in the 2020-2021 school year. There are additional stressors hindering many student’s education. The stressors include repeated exposure to the murder of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) at the hands of police, the current political turmoil, job loss, and the impact of natural disasters on our nation.
Observed effects of COVID–19 and these collective traumas
COVID–19 and these traumas have exacerbated the mental health crisis of students and educators. In fact, many students have completely disengaged from school. Various students are unable to thrive in a remote learning environment. While at the same time the BIPOC community and others are disadvantaged by the digital divide (the lack of opportunities to access computers and the Internet for education related activities).
Another observed issue is the increased wealth gap experienced by BIPOC, as compared to other Minnesotans. The wealth gap goes beyond income, it considers all assets and the net financial worth of an individual.
Adding to these traumas, Minnesotans of Asian descent and Black Minnesotans in particular are experiencing heightened levels of racism. They are seeing on media elderly Asians being attacked and Black individuals targeted by police. These experiences are unsettling to all concerned.
What is research revealing about these learning interruptions?
Various studies focusing on learning loss produced the following findings:
- There has been less loss in areas requiring conceptual thinking. Conceptual thinking is the practice of connecting abstract, disparate ideas to deepen understanding, create new ideas, and reflect on past decisions.
- There is more acute loss in areas requiring memorization. Being able to memorize data/information is crucial to learning new concepts, if a student cannot remember a concept, they have not really learned it.
- Children from affluent families are showing less learning loss.
- Students requiring special education services are more likely to have academic regression.
A recent study conducted after natural disasters determined that students suffered long term psychological distress and struggled with concentration and focus. Natural disasters can disrupt the students and their family’s lives, for example, losing their living environment, changes to their educational system, and loss of income.
How do we repair and better prepare children for their future?
Educators must have the time and resources to assess the impact these collective traumas have had on their students. They need time to both evaluate their students and determine appropriate ways to support struggling students. Also, a “do no harm approach” to student assessment should be implemented.
Funds must be re-allocated to establish quality, equitable “extra-time” educational programming. Communities must look forward and plan for future disruptions. And of course, the digital divide must be closed so all students can learn at home, if need be.
Next steps – reimagine public education
As in many environments COVID–19 and other traumas are causing an inflection point within public education. Effort must be applied to determine if and how reduced class sizes in hybrid learning environments impacts student learning and classroom management.
The traditional school calendar and school day need to be re-examined to determine the optimal learning opportunities for students in different age groups. A study(s) should be performed to determine if there are correlations between distance learning and decreases in bullying toward LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) students.
Data on students receiving special education that thrived online must be collected, analyzed, and understood. A key question is “Is the online environment more conducive to learning for these students?” and if so why?
Connecting drives results
Our work focuses on engaging students by connecting them to caring adults that encourage their educational development. In the face of these compound barriers many students are disengaged, making our work even more central to their success.