09 Aug Severe learning loss from pandemic threatens thousands of Indiana’s kids. Here’s how we can work together to reverse it.
Most of our neighbors have put away their masks. Stadiums and restaurants have reopened. The number of new COVID-19 cases thankfully has declined. It’s tempting to think that not only the pandemic but also its most severe consequences are behind us.
But for our children, a devastating set of long-term consequences – the loss in learning – will linger throughout their lifetimes if we don’t aggressively intervene now.
Indy, our children need our help.
Indiana students and educators in the past 16 months have faced unprecedented challenges. Schools were forced to close quickly because of COVID-19. The shift to online learning was, by necessity, abrupt. And for many, the return to classrooms was marked with inconsistency and uncertainty.
Research on the educational attainment lost in the past year paints a devastating picture:
The global consulting firm McKinsey found that students on average finished the 2020-21 school year five months behind in math compared to the level they likely would have achieved if not for the pandemic. Students of color were on average six months behind in learning.
In reading, according to McKinsey’s research, students were on average four months behind the expected level of attainment.
A study published in October 2020 by Bellwether Education Partners estimated that 3 million students (including more than 59,000 in Indiana) may have completely disengaged from school after classrooms closed last year. The shift to virtual learning simply didn’t happen for those students.
The Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes found in an analysis of data from 19 states that the average student lost 57 to 183 days of learning in reading and between 136 to 232 days in math.
The Stanford researchers estimated that the average student in Indiana lost 209 days of learning in math and 130 days in reading.
As of late May, according to Form Your Future’s FAFSA tracker, only about half of high school seniors had applied for financial aid to attend college, a 5.5% decline from the previous year. The decline was more pronounced in Title I eligible schools (7.5% decrease) and schools with a high percentage of students of color (9.2% drop).
The evidence of severe learning loss caused by the pandemic raises critical questions: How do we help students catch up on their education? How do we head off the long-term economic and social consequences for our children, and our city and state?
At Shepherd Community Center, on the near east side, we see every day how much is at stake. Many of the children we serve are the first in their family to graduate from high school. College attendance seems like an unattainable dream for most of our neighbors. More than 65% of our students who do enroll at a university are first-generation college students.
Our mission is to help families break the cycle of poverty. And a good education is one of the best tools we can leverage to shatter the bonds that trap our neighbors in poverty for generation after generation.
That’s why we recently forged partnerships with the Indiana Department of Education, Indianapolis Public Schools, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, the University of Indianapolis and Purdue University Northwest to help students regain the learning lost in the past year.
In May, the state Department of Education awarded Shepherd a multi-year grant to develop remediation strategies on the near east side. Shepherd is partnering with families to help students who attend Arsenal Technical High School, Ralph Waldo Emerson School 58 and Harshman Middle School with academic recovery efforts.
At the end of year one of the Department of Education’s grant cycle, our goal is to have 45% of students at grade level in math and reading. In year two, 75% of students will perform at grade level. In year 3, we will have 90% of students preforming at grade level.
It’s critical for our students and our community that we meet these goals. It’s also critical to understand that this effort is about far more than programs. It’s about building nurturing relationships that help inspire students to believe they can succeed.
And that’s where we need your help.
At Shepherd, we couldn’t begin to meet our neighbors’ needs without a dedicated team of volunteers, and that’s almost certainly true for every other organization in our city.
The pandemic is finally ending. Life is returning to normal. But the consequences of learning loss will linger for years if we don’t work hard now to repair the damage.
So, please, reach out to one of the many great organizations assisting families in our community and ask them how you can support their efforts to help children recover from the losses inflicted by the pandemic.
They’re our children. It’s our city. Now more than ever, they need our help.
Jay Height is executive director of Shepherd Community Center in Indianapolis.