First COVID, now summer: How NJ needs to fight learning loss
The concept of student regression during the summer months is not new, but since New Jersey 101.5 last specifically looked at the problem in 2019, a devastating pandemic has turned the concept of learning loss on its ear.
That does not even take into account the mental health challenges of children during this time, or the behavioral issues or disorientation they may have experienced going full-time back into the classroom last fall.
And though New Jersey worked quickly to close the digital divide in the era of remote learning, Aaron Dworkin, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, said inequities remain and COVID-19 only exacerbated them.
"It should have been, 'Does every kid in your family have access to a computer at home?' Because there might have been a computer in the house but the mom needed it for her job, or the dad," Dworkin said.
Who remains at risk?
Low-income communities and communities of color are still at a collective disadvantage, Dworkin said, as all of the educational concerns expressed at the beginning of the pandemic sadly came to fruition.
Additionally, what was true earlier in the pandemic holds now: If parents are working from home, it can be difficult for them to give children the attention they need to stay occupied and productive.
It is why Dworkin's group espouses the philosophy of "connection before content," recognizing that kids have routines academically as well as socially, and all of those have been thrown off at one point or another in the last two years.
Educators and parents alike need to be cognizant of these factors, Dworkin said.
"We ideally recommend schools and families connect before the school year ends -- now it's over — to find out, what do the kids do that they're passionate about, that we could keep promoting, or what was something they struggled with that we could work on?," he said.
Math skills erode faster than reading
But content matters too, and Dworkin said both during remote learning and over summer vacations, one core area suffers more than another.
"Math, actually, people did even worse, because reading is something families typically are comfortable practicing at home," he said. "No one's doing math problems before bed, but a lot of people are reading to their kids before bed."
There are programs out there that will help kids who may be falling behind in math, according to Dworkin, and he recommended going to discoversummer.org to open up a pathway to some 30,000 educational programs around the country this season.
"We care about the summer because we think of it as both the most unequal time in education but also the most entrepreneurial time in education," he said. "That's the real reason I work in it, because you have all these creative ideas and leaders who are trying out these things."
The National Summer Learning Association is working with the New Jersey Department of Education on a state-specific strategy, and New Jersey 101.5 has contacted the DOE for more information.