What Our Schools Can Do to Reverse Learning Loss

To the Editor:

Re “The Startling Evidence on Learning Loss Is In” (editorial, Nov. 19):

Bah humbug! American children suffered from “learning loss” before Covid. In 2019, 35 percent of fourth graders read at or above grade level, 41 percent in math. Hardly impressive. Moreover, we don’t test for skills employers care about — collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creative innovation.

The science of how brains learn might help us refashion school for the 21st century. Students don’t learn well sitting passively in large classes memorizing facts to be regurgitated. Students learn in active, engaged, meaningful and socially interactive classrooms.

Teachers know this. We can teach required curriculums in richer ways that spark deeper learning. Want increased student attendance and more engaged learning? Let teachers create active, joyful classrooms. School does not have to be boring.

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
Nancy Streim
Ms. Hirsh-Pasek, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor of psychology at Temple University, is the author of “Making Schools Work.” Ms. Streim is former associate vice president of Teachers College, Columbia University.

To the Editor:

When something isn’t working, people usually try a new approach. But when it comes to public education in the United States, we tend to double down on the thing that clearly isn’t working.

Your editorial notes that Congress already sent $190 billion to public schools over the past few years — and that 20 percent of that funding was supposed to be used for “reversing learning setbacks.” While that clearly didn’t work, the solution proposed is to send more money to the same people.

One size does not fit all when it comes to education. Parents want more options. And politicians — in “red” states at least — are listening. School choice programs that allow state funding to be used for private schools or home education expenses are spreading. While no state had universal school choice in 2020, 10 states now have universal or nearly universal programs.

More of the same is not the solution for what ails our education system. All states should move to universal choice so all kids can attend the learning environments that work for them.

Colleen Hroncich
Grove City, Pa.
The writer is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.

To the Editor:

There are no easy answers to addressing learning loss, but proven solutions exist. In Minnesota, we developed the Reading Corps, Math Corps and Early Learning Corps programs to help kids succeed in reading and math. Many other states have joined Minnesota in expanding these programs because they are proven to work and cost-effective.

The programs rely on the talent of thousands of community members serving in AmeriCorps, a national service program celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. They are effective because of the high-quality training and supervision they receive, easing the talent crunch we are seeing in education.

Over 50,000 students received tutoring from these programs in the last school year. Research conducted during the pandemic found that in addition to building students’ academic skills, these programs improve students’ confidence and sense of belonging.

Julia Quanrud
The writer is C.E.O. of ServeMinnesota, which oversees AmeriCorps programs in the state.

To the Editor:

You think increasing class size for excellent teachers is the solution? I’ve been teaching for 25 years, and was even voted by our P.T.S.A. as Teacher of the Year in June. This school year, I have 36 students in my A.P. Language class. It is most definitely not beneficial to my students. The fact that the editorial board even suggests this is so absurd that I think even Albert Camus would chuckle.

Maybe spend a few weeks in my classroom before you peddle these platitudes to the masses.

Kristina Katrel

To the Editor:

As a high school teacher I can say this editorial is barely scratching the surface and is focused on the wrong metrics. Rather than focusing on test scores, we should ask the bigger questions. Why are teachers fleeing in droves? Why are students disengaged from school?

The answer, in part, is that teachers’ wages have stagnated and people with similar levels of education and competence are now highly incentivized to leave this demanding and stressful profession behind. As with every other profession, high wages will attract high-quality teachers. Martyrdom is a bad recruitment strategy.

As for the students, their coursework is disengaging. It is largely disconnected from the future they will experience and is profoundly outdated. The problems facing our education system will need more than surface-level changes to be solved. As someone working in a school every day, I can say that everyone should indeed be worried.

Jeremy Brownstein

To the Editor:

Nowhere is our education crisis more evident than with special education populations. Even before Covid schools were falling behind in serving these students, struggling to meet evaluation deadlines and to deliver required therapy.

The number of students deemed to need special education services increased by nearly a million over the last decade, making up 15 percent of all public school enrollments. Speech therapy is the most commonly required support for children with special needs. Yet the portion of speech therapists choosing to work in schools is declining.

We need investment in special education staff to make these professions attractive and to make the graduate-level education they require attainable, so that more people choose to pursue these careers.

Kate Eberle Walker
The writer is the C.E.O. of Presence, which provides special education services to K-12 schools.

To the Editor:

In California we have seen firsthand the devastating impact the pandemic has had on children and youth. The challenges seem insurmountable; however, one solution that can help mitigate the negative impact and help kids access education is involvement in sport and play.

Research shows that sport and play can help build a supportive learning environment that extends far beyond physical fitness, profoundly affecting student social and emotional health and school connectedness. A recent study showed that kids attended school far more when they played after-school sports.

By instilling valuable life skills, fostering social bonds and promoting emotional well-being, sport and play contribute to a holistic educational experience that nurtures well-rounded individuals capable of transcending life’s challenges and thriving in diverse circumstances. Sport and play are what kids need to succeed in school and in life. It’s a low-cost solution with immense benefits, so let’s call on all public schools to prioritize play.

Renata Simril
Los Angeles
The writer is the president and C.E.O. of the LA84 foundation, which promotes youth sports.

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