Worcester schools’ experience highlights need to gather statewide data on learning loss
Bianca Vázquez Toness’s recent installment of the Globe’s ongoing series The Great Divide (“For schools in Worcester, hard lessons,” Page A1, June 29) demonstrates not only how disruptive COVID-19 is to K-12 education, but also how disparate that disruption has been. It drives home the Globe’s May 17 editorial calling for more data on learning loss.
That data will be crucial to minimizing COVID-19′s impact on students’ education. As Worcester’s experience illustrates, each district has approached the past months differently, and with varying levels of success. Perhaps more than at any point in recent history, districts are acting differently from each other, with wide variation in student experience. This means that already-wide opportunity gaps could become even wider. But we won’t know unless we measure them.
To do that, we need a standardized, statewide assessment in fall 2020 to measure each student’s learning loss. Such an assessment would give us the information we need to understand the level of disruption in each district and student population, preparing the state to address widened opportunity gaps. As the May editorial stresses, “this isn’t about assigning blame or singling out teachers.” Rather, the focus should be on assessing the problem to craft the best response possible. For that, we need data.
The writer is policy director of the Massachusetts chapter of Democrats for Education Reform.
Digital inequities block the path for many
For many students across the Commonwealth, digital exclusion was a barrier to success long before COVID-19 hit. The combination of access to digital devices, connectivity to broadband Internet, and the training to use these tools is critical to empowering students to succeed. The challenge that Worcester and other districts faced in facilitating remote learning doesn’t indicate a new problem so much as it exposes the existing digital inequities that place a significant burden on low-income families across the Commonwealth and around the country.
Despite curriculums and school systems that increasingly rely on virtual solutions for communication, direct instruction, and class assignments, thousands of students in Massachusetts and millions across the United States don’t have the resources that would enable them to engage in virtual learning. Providing the digital devices to families is the first step; the second and equally critical step is training them to use these devices effectively and efficiently. The resources and training that many households take for granted are out of reach for many low-income families, and missing out on the opportunities provided by the digital world has a long-term impact on their prospects for success.
Even after we recover from this pandemic, digital access and training will remain critical to realizing educational opportunity, not to mention health care, jobs, and other critical information. As we consider an increasingly virtual future, we need to address the existing gaps that are leaving so many behind.
Cochief executive officers
Tech Goes Home
City’s woes were in place long before the pandemic hit
The report about the Worcester Public Schools’ shortcomings and delays in providing remote learning says the system took weeks and months to respond to students’ needs. No argument with the reporting there.
Here’s another side: The remote-learning model presumes that parents will home-school their kids. In Worcester, a reported 60 percent of students are from low-income families, and the earners in those households probably work long hours in more than one job in order to pay for food and rent.
Or, they did. Many may have been furloughed or laid off. Theoretically, the now-jobless should have plenty of time to home-school their kids; meanwhile, in practice, they are trying to figure out how to meet basic needs.
Another thing: In Worcester, many low-income families move at least once during the school year because they can’t make rent at the current domicile. This deprives the kids of continuity. How can any school system keep up with this?
A pandemic was not on everyone’s playlist, but these endemic factors, in place long before COVID-19, deserve to be taken into consideration. Cut the school system at least that break.
Christina P. O'Neill