Last fall, the UK deployed a national program that offers one-on-one, subsidized tutoring to elementary, middle and high school students who fell behind when schools closed due to the COVID outbreak.
The United Kingdom National tutoring program, which will run for two years, is specifically designed to bring underprivileged students up to speed. The entire £ 350 million ($ 453 million) program is funded by the national government.
In the United States, where the pandemic appears to have disproportionately impacted Black and brown communities and where the existing opportunity gaps have been exacerbated by school closures, there is no such program. But the need for one is just as acute. (As a company providing one-to-one tuition to American students, Academic Approach should benefit from the implementation of a national tutoring program.)
It is difficult to fully assess how far behind our country’s students since March, when the vast majority of elementary and secondary schools switched to online learning.
Much of the concern about learning loss stems from established research on summer learning loss from previous years. Research by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) in 2015 found that during a typical summer break, third graders lost almost 20% of reading skills and 27% of math skills acquired in the previous school year. For older students, research shows summer learning losses have increased. In the fall of eighth grade, students in the study lost an average of 36% of their progress in reading and 50% of their progress in math the previous year.
School closures have likely compounded this loss of learning, as, among the millions of students who were sent home in March, many failed or were unable to fully participate in online classes. NWEA predicts learning gains for the 2019-2020 school year in reading be only 63% to 68% of what is typical. Math seems even worse, with gains of only 37% to 50% of what is seen in a normal school year. Now, with the fall 2020 semester over, many have lost another one to three months of learning, with nearly half of schools nationwide have followed a hybrid or entirely distance education.
Calculating the total magnitude of COVID learning loss is complex and it will be a long time before we know the full extent of its impact. But the initial figures are alarming. Unsurprisingly, these effects are likely to hurt the most those students who can the least afford to absorb the blow.
This fall, students learned only 67% of math and 87% of reading they would have learned in a typical year, according to an analysis of assessment data from hundreds of thousands of students in 25 states by consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
McKinsey’s report found that this loss of learning was worse in schools that served primarily students of color, where scores were 59% of what they should have been for math and 77% of what ‘they should have for reading.
The digital divide disproportionately hurts black, Hispanic, low-income, and first-generation students. With more barriers to access, they lack more instructions.
In a 2017 survey, ACT (the organization behind the eponymous university entrance exam) found that students meeting any of these criteria were more than three times more likely have access to only one device at home, and more than five times more likely to have access to only one smartphone at home, compared to their peers. More than half of students with a single device also relied exclusively on a monthly cellular data plan for home Internet access. Given these gaps in access, it is not difficult to imagine why these underserved students engage less in remote schools and, therefore, fall further behind.
This is why we need a large scale intervention funded by the federal government to reverse the trend. Otherwise, these learning losses will exacerbate existing education divides and increasing wealth inequalities, as those students whose education is most affected are likely to suffer long-term effects such as lower college graduation rates and reduced employment prospects as a result.
What is needed is an emergency infusion of funds from the federal government to pay an army of skilled tutors for the tens of millions of elementary, middle and high school students who have slipped the furthest into the world. “COVID slip”.
These tutors should meet with the students every one to two days, as robust research has proven to be very effective. And the tutor / student ratios must be low: no more than three students per tutor, as research suggests, is the most effective. Like the UK program, schools should be able to choose whether tutoring takes place in person or online.
Wealthy families have known this for decades, as evidenced by the burgeoning private tutoring industry. A nationally funded program would ensure that all students have access to the education necessary to accelerate their learning. Consider the large body of research showing that personalized tutoring increases school success.
Another benefit of such a program is that it would create jobs at a time when the country is mired in an economic recession. In some cases, American parents are already choosing to paying teachers in India to teach their children. Why not keep that money here in the United States where it can be reinvested domestically? There are currently millions of enthusiastic young graduates who would jump at the chance to make a difference in the world by mentoring disadvantaged students, especially if they can be paid for their work. At the same time, the program would provide the necessary support for working parents to keep their existing jobs rather than focusing on distance learning support.
The AmeriCorps national service network, which is made up largely of recent college graduates, could be an integral part of this effort. AmeriCorps has been supporting students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 for years, so it already has a framework to make such a program work. There are proposals to Congress increase AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 500,000 workers and increase their compensation by 200%. Such proposals are promising but require the full support of Congress and the White House to work.
Certainly, a national tutoring program would not be cheap. We’ll have to spend more than the UK’s $ 453million, which provides private lessons for only 250,000 students, just a fraction of the country’s student population (and an even smaller percentage of the approximately 56.6 million primary and secondary students). Some said an American program could cost as much as the marshall plan, the American program that gave $ 12 billion in aid (around $ 133 billion today) to Western Europe after World War II.
But consider the cost of do not I do it. A recent report published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that the loss of learning caused by the closure of schools could lower our future GDP 1.5% due to declining individual skill levels of students. That’s over $ 14 trillion in losses over the next 80 years.
Even under the strangest of circumstances, an important key element of education remains true: it is not what you teach; that’s what they learn. And if students aren’t learning enough, we need to change the way we teach them. The cost of not doing so is far too high.
Amanda Aisen is Executive Director of Education at Academic Approach.
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