At this point, it’s common knowledge that Covid-related school closures are having a major impact on students. Absenteeism rates are high. Parents and teachers are rightly concerned about students’ mental health. And, of course, learning loss abounds.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Governor DeWine is calling for all hands on deck. Earlier this week, he announced that Ohio public schools must come up with plans to address unfinished learning and submit them to the state by April 1. “How do we help the kids who have fallen farther behind because of the pandemic?” the governor asked during his announcement. “We simply cannot fail these children.”
The governor is right, and his administration deserves praise for making student learning a priority. Here are four reasons why this approach is the right move:
It puts students first. Learning loss isn’t something we can just wave away as another casualty of the pandemic, like cancelled concerts or family gatherings. The content and skills that students are missing out on are necessary, and schools have a professional responsibility and a moral obligation to make sure students get caught up. If they don’t, students’ struggles will only worsen after the pandemic.
It leverages resources. Ohio schools have $2 billion coming their way thanks to the federal relief package passed in December. The state budget is still in the works, but the governor’s proposal includes a whopping $1.1 billion for student wellness programs and services. Between these and other funding infusions, schools should be on a solid financial footing. Asking them to create plans to put these dollars to good use is not only fair, it’s essential.
It offers flexibility to develop local solutions. The governor could have bypassed local leaders and worked with the legislature to come up with a mandate for how schools must address learning loss. Instead, he chose to respect the knowledge and expertise of district leadership, teachers, and communities and gave them the freedom to craft plans that address the unique needs of their students. He provided examples of research-backed interventions such as summer school, tutoring, and extended learning time that schools would be wise to consider. But at the end of the day, what they choose to do is up to them.
It makes educational recovery an urgent priority. The April 1 deadline is a month and a half away. That isn’t a ton of time, but we can’t afford to stretch out the deadline any further. Learning losses will only increase the longer schools wait to take action. The upcoming summer months are a perfect opportunity to give kids back some of the time they lost, and using that time effectively means starting the planning process now. As State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria noted, most districts are already working to address unfinished learning. All the governor is asking is that they submit those ideas so that his administration and the legislature can work together on making changes to support schools in their efforts.
Without a doubt, the next few months will be just as hard as the last. But thousands of teachers have been—or will soon be—vaccinated, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Now is the time to start planning how we’ll mitigate all the learning losses our students have suffered over the course of the pandemic. Kudos to Governor DeWine for making this a priority.