Friday, June 5, 2020

Students are Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions

What did you expect? Were you thinking a pandemic was going to increase student scores on standardized tests? That might happen in the next pandemic, but are you really surprised about this one?
A New York writer put out a story today that mentioned a few 'studies.' Here's my thoughts on those studies, 

This is data from a survey collected between May 7, 2020 to May 12, 2020. It shows that remote teaching during a pandemic has not worked well for large groups of students. I don’t see the question, “Did you think this was going to work out well, and why did you think that?

An analysis from McKinsey & Company, the consulting group.

“Achieving this goal will make it necessary to provide teachers with resources that show them how they can make virtual engagement and instruction effective and to train them in remote-learning best practices.”

I couldn’t agree more with the general thrust of McKinsey’s call to action. I do wonder, though, about which of their clients this report is designed to support. They will say they’re doing this just because they want to contribute to the good of the community. That may actually be true, but most of their paid work is done to improve the return on investment for their corporate clients. Their pro bono work with the Minneapolis Public Schools has resulted in a very real possibility that the Minneapolis Public Schools will be mostly dissolved in the not too distant future. It wouldn’t be too hard to believe that was the original purpose of their pro bono work. McKinsey has a long history of busting unions, and there are plenty of people, usually people who want public money to go to private schools or semi-private charter schools, who see teacher unions as the bad guys in public education.

It would not be a huge logical step for McKinsey to support the for-profit corporatization of our public schools to save them from the ravages of the pandemic. The study referenced lays out the first step in that process - detailing the ravages of the pandemic on public education.

Researchers at Brown and Harvard looked at Zearn

The online program Zearn was formerly used primarily in schools where students accessed it via school computers. We shouldn’t be too surprised that their usage dropped off significantly when students were accessing or attempting to access via home capabilities. I’ve not yet been able to find out who is behind the non-profit, Zearn. Their CEO and founder worked at Bain and Co. before she founded Zearn. Bain and Co play in the same league as McKinsey and Co.

working paper from NWEA, a nonprofit organization,

“In this study, we produce a series of projections of COVID-19-related learning loss and its potential effect on test scores in the 2020-21 school year based on (a) estimates from prior literature and (b) analyses of typical summer learning patterns “

Projections and estimates are a lot like best guesses. If that’s all we got, well, then, that’s all we got. But let’s not pretend that it’s solid research.

NWEA is a nonprofit that acts a lot like a for-profit. I used their products extensively when I was teaching and I found them to be very good at generating reports on how students performed on reading and math assessments that were based on a set of criteria that represented how other students performed on those assessments. The remote learning during a pandemic is going to really mess up their comparisons of students. They’ve previously been able to present their data as if all students were receiving similar instruction from teachers who had similar skill levels using similar curricula in similar types of socio-economic environments. The pandemic has blown big holes in all of the previous assumptions. 

Education journalists have a whole lot more work to do to explain how all of those previous assumptions no longer apply. It could be argued, and I would, that the assumptions were never valid. But, making the assumptions created a great industry of measuring student performance and enabled politicians and policy makers to ‘re-imagine’ educational governance and finance every five years or so.

We'll all do better in the next pandemic, I hope.

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