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OPINION | The double whammy of summer and Covid-19 learning losses

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HAGÅTÑA  —  The devastating phenomena of summer learning loss for children from book-poor homes without resources and social capital is well documented in the literature.

The cumulative effect shows its ugly head in the huge academic gap between these students and those who come from families with resources and continuous learning opportunities, even when school is not in session.

The slide manifests in the high numbers of students who graduate but are not at grade level and are unprepared for college or career. Guam’s public school students are no exception to this trend. Approximately 14% of students who graduate are at the 12th grade level when they get their diploma. To make matters worse, the pandemic has set all our students back. This Covid-19-induced academic slide is most acute for dual language learners and students with minimal access to building academic skills through learning opportunities outside of school.

The well-to-do have resources to assist their goal of mitigating losses due to the pandemic closing schools. Reporter Clara Totenberg Green wrote, “As school districts across the nation announce that their buildings will remain closed in the fall, parents are quickly organizing "learning pods" or "pandemic pods" — small groupings of children who gather every day and learn in a shared space, often participating in the online instruction provided by their schools. Pods are supervised either by a hired private teacher or other adult, or with parents taking turns.” She warned, “If they become the norm, less privileged kids will suffer.”

The challenge for public school systems is how to provide methods of personalized instruction for the students of parents who cannot afford to buy such services. The students who need it the most are those most negatively impacted by summer and Covid-19 learning losses.

Is tutoring the answer? It depends. The 2001 No Child Left Behind federal program, pumped billions into tutoring programs for students from poverty; yet, failed miserably. The money was abundant. The lack of safeguards and clarity of vision doomed the efforts. Educators were against federally funded programs that they could not control. Tutoring companies staffed by noneducators had unfettered access to school campuses. A provision in the No Child Left Behind law required that schools serving low-performing students, set aside 20% of the federal funds they received to pay for "supplemental education services," better known as tutoring, for middle- and high-school students.

Texas Rep. Mike Villarreal noted: “While this law was well intended, the provision that required school districts to purchase these services ultimately created a quasi-monopoly for tutoring companies to have a guaranteed customer base to sell to at nonmarket prices.” In one year, Texas school districts spent $180 million on tutoring services. Maggie Smith reported in the Texas Tribune that “fewer than 20% of students eligible for tutoring under the law received services.” No Child Left Behind funding for supplemental education services across the country and in all the territories failed to fulfill its promise because of the way it was implemented.

There are numerous stories of tutoring programs missing the mark to be sure. As a volunteer tutor myself, I can attest to how the best intentions and successful interventions can fall short. Very often, a truthful examination will reveal that tutoring programs are based more on the convenience of the tutors and less on the continuous need of students for intensive support to catch up and mitigate the losses they experienced as early as the primary grades.

Sporadic interventions have their limits. Clearly, students will not recover learning losses or sprint forward in their studies by depending on well-intentioned tutors who are likely to pull out when needed most.

Nonetheless, tutoring can be a key to lifting kids out of the Covid-19 and summer learning slide, if done right. In her article, "Time for Innovation," Alia Wong wrote that its promise has limits for students from book poor homes. “It has historically been reserved for the moneyed elite and is often cost-prohibitive for children, who attend an elementary school where 3 in 4 students receive discounted meals.”

 

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