Will students bounce back from pandemic?

Some researchers and education advocates believe COVID will have devastating and long-lasting impacts on kids. Yet, other experts dispute the “lost year” rhetoric and predictions that U.S. children have suffered irreparable harm.
Some researchers and education advocates believe COVID will have devastating and long-lasting impacts on kids. Yet, other experts dispute the “lost year” rhetoric and predictions that U.S. children have suffered irreparable harm.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Some people predict dire consequences, while others say children are resilient

The divide among education researchers over how COVID-19 is impacting students isn’t just a matter of whether they see the glass as half-filled or half emptied. It’s whether the glass is still in one piece or been slammed against the wall and shattered.

Some researchers and education advocates believe COVID will have devastating and long-lasting impacts on kids. That camp uses the terms “lost year” and “learning loss” and cites worrisome income models, including the World Bank’s projection that without effective policies, children worldwide could collectively see lifecycle earnings plummet $10 trillion.

One study estimates that a loss of one-third of a school year to COVID-19 could lead to a 2.5 to 4% loss in individual lifetime income of U.S. students. Another warns that falling behind due to the pandemic could lead to as many as 1.1 million more U.S. students dropping out of high school.

Yet, other experts dispute the “lost year” rhetoric and predictions that U.S. children will fall behind peers in other countries. Among them is developmental-behavioral pediatrician David J. Schonfeld, who, while speaking to an Atlanta audience earlier this year, said kids everywhere have had setbacks in this pandemic. It is foolish, he said, to assert that American students will lose irredeemable ground.

Of late, more researchers have been sounding similar positive notes. Speaking on CNN earlier this month, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth, who studies grit and self-control in kids, emphasized that children are resilient. “Whether you’ve got a 2-year-old at home, a 6-year-old or a 16-year-old, while we should acknowledge there are difficulties, while we should acknowledge that it’s been particularly hard for teenagers in some ways...I think we should expect that most young people will bounce back,” she said.

I listened to a University of Chicago Big Brains podcast a while back featuring Elaine Allensworth, the director of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. Here is a key comment Allensworth made about the dire estimates that some students, especially in math and in the younger grades, will be behind by a half a year or more:

If that happens, a half year for most students will still put them in a range that's normal for their grade level. Because at most grade levels, students at any one given grade level are very different in terms of the skills they come in with. There's much more difference within the grade than the amount that students learn from year to year. And so losing half a year, students will still, mostly be at a normal range, a range that's typical. And so they might need a little more support, but they won't require a major change in terms of how teachers are going to be teaching for their grade level.

What are your thoughts? Most teachers are now back with their students. Are kids further behind than you expected? Parents, did you see growth in your kids this year, especially if they were in remote learning?

In simpler terms: Is the glass still intact or will we be picking up broken pieces for decades?

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