Perspective | Experts say schools could recover pandemic losses by 2028. What then?

From The Washington Post

When will the U.S. education system return to the learning levels of 2019? One headline summed up the problem this way: “Two Decades of Growth Wiped Out by Two Years of Pandemic.”

People who have been studying our schools for decades are cautious when answering my question. Some say reading and math averages could rebound by 2028, but they admit many children will never get everything they missed.

The experts have their own question: how willing are we to invest the effort and money needed to improve the learning of children whose families are at the bottom of the income scale? Giving students more time to learn and better-trained teachers appears to work. But many students didn’t have such help before the pandemic. How can we expect them to get it now?

Diane Ravitch is our best education historian and best-known writer about schools. She said: “My hunch is that the downward slide in test scores can be overcome, not quickly, but in less time than the time stolen by the pandemic. … My hope is that students will make up for lost time in a year or two if they have experienced teachers and stability – no school closures or disruptions.”

That’s a big if. Education policy guru Chester E. Finn Jr.’s latest book assesses the national tests we use to measure progress in learning. He, too, offers a mix of hope and fear about the future. “Based on what we know today, history suggests that gains equivalent to the pandemic losses could be seen in as little as four or six years after 2022, but the more common pace of change in both directions is glacial,” he said. “I worry especially about reading, which has seen the fewest gains over the long haul.”

Some experts are optimistic. “This year’s NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] scores should be the bottom in terms of pandemic effects,” said Tom Loveless, author and former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Barring another pandemic or Great Recession, I expect NAEP scores to return to 2019 levels within two NAEP cycles, by 2026.”

Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, noted that focusing on exam results ignores harm to children too young to be tested. “Not only do we have to consider the serious negative consequences of the pandemic and school closures on kids who were school-age during 2020-22, but also how the crisis impacted children ages zero to five,” he said. “There’s some evidence that many of those kids suffered developmental delays, and missed out on high-quality child care and preschool experiences, meaning they will come into school further behind as well.”

Read more here.

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