New Mexico students do not have “learning loss.” They live in a pandemic.


In his approval of New Mexico’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, the state’s largest newspaper wrote that “learning loss” was an inevitable outcome because “prolonged remote learning has made a bad situation worse.”

At a news conference in Albuquerque in September, Mark Ronchetti set the tone by accusing Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of “systematically” failing public school students.

“Where was the plan to catch them?” asked Ronchetti.

If elected, Mark Ronchetti said his education plan would send $1,500 each year to each student to receive outside tutoring for three years.

Later that month, the Republican Governors Association blame learning loss on Lujan Grisham’s ‘COVID lockdowns’.

political rhetoric and uncritical cover accelerated in late October, when the 2022 “Nation’s Report Card” was released by the National Education Progress Assessment and ranked New Mexico last in math reading among the states.

Ronchetti cited math scores in his latest campaign ad that aired on Tuesday. Supporters of learning loss argue that closing schools and switching to remote learning in 2020 when there was no vaccine for COVID-19 was a mistake.

But interviews with education and child health experts show that blaming learning loss on school closures ignores all the evidence that schools are important sites of COVID transmission, and accepts the system of standardized tests and rigid grade levels that do not take into account the material realities faced by New Mexican students, nor the advice of teachers.

We know the things that impact a child’s ability to learn are very simple things like feeling safe at home, things like having enough food to eat, stability in our lives, and parents and tutors who can participate in their learning. So the impact of the pandemic at all levels of each of these things.

The goal of those who attribute learning loss to virtual school is never to have a virtual school again, said Dr. Theresa Chapple, a Chicago-area maternal and child health epidemiologist.

In her 20-year career, COVID is the fourth pandemic she has experienced, and the most drastic.

“The economic impacts of having children at home were enormous,” she said. “I think that’s what the country is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again, so that it doesn’t have a total grip on our economy anymore.”

This first camp is mostly made up of right-wingers who say schools need to be open because we need to “get back to normal,” said Chris Buttimer, a scholarship specialist at Boston Public Schools.

But there is a second camp of center and center-left, mostly white people who argue that children are not learning well in remote learning sessions and that the fair response would have been to keep schools open at any cost, Buttimer said.

But both of these camps ignore one of the most important elements missing from almost every discussion of learning loss in the United States: the fact that hundreds of thousands of children have lost a parent or primary caregiver to cause of COVID.

New Mexicans Take Ultimate Loss

A study published in March revealed that New Mexico had the third highest rate of caregiver loss to COVID in the entire country, and Indigenous children here have lost caregivers to COVID at a rate 10 times higher than white children.

When Chapple lost her father at the age of nine, she did “absolutely no school work” that year.

“I sat in a daze,” she says.

Children are often viewed as resilient and overlooked in the grieving process, she said.

Children’s ability to learn is influenced by very simple things like feeling safe at home, having enough food to eat, stability, and parents and caregivers who are involved in their learning, Chapple said. The pandemic affects each of them.

“It’s really interesting that we look at the closest cause – the fact that the kids were attending a virtual school or a hybrid school, or whatever kind of schooling they were in that year, and we blame – and we weren’t really looking at how the pandemic has impacted all these other areas that influence a child’s ability to learn,” she said.

Grief is an incredible predictor of student learning and student test scores, said Dr. Margaret Thornton, a visiting assistant professor at Old Dominion University in Virginia who studies leadership and politics in education. education.

“Losing a loved one is horrible, but losing the person who cares for you is extremely traumatic and we haven’t looked enough at the effect it has on children and their learning, and other important social outcomes” , she said.

The same effects can be seen in children who have not lost a parent to COVID but have a parent hospitalized because of it, Chapple said.

Governor praises healthcare workers as she further lifts COVID protections

Most public schools in the United States have overworked guidance counselors who aren’t specifically trained in bereavement counseling, Thornton said.

“Increasing the number of bereavement counsellors, people who can work with children individually and in small groups to meet their needs, could be really helpful,” she said.

Dissecting “learning loss”

Thornton said learning loss isn’t a particularly helpful or accurate term in the first place.

“The word ‘loss’ implies something you had and no longer have,” she said. “That’s not what we see; That’s not what we’re looking for.

What these test results really show, she said, is that by comparing eighth graders in 2022 to eighth graders in 2019, we can see that students have learned things, but they didn’t learn as much as they would have learned if we hadn’t had a pandemic.

“We need, I think, more of these apples-to-apples comparisons of how to understand how the pandemic has affected children, rather than comparing children today to children before the pandemic,” Thornton said.

She points to analysis suggesting that distance learning itself did not have as much of an impact on student learning as initially thought.

Aggravated inequalities

Also lost in the learning loss debate are all the other material conditions that New Mexican students already faced before the pandemic and have only gotten worse since.

Including unequal access to broadband Internet that has left some districts unprepared for distance learning, with the majority of New Mexican students not receiving a quality or culturally competent education like obligatory by the state constitution, some of the highest rates in the country food insecurityschool unprepared buildings to manage airborne viruses, threat of deportationand over 1,000 Certified Educator positions empty in the whole state.

“Children who experience all of these inequities before the pandemic, which are only exacerbated by our collective refusal to address the fundamental problem: clean air so we can breathe when we are inside,” said Thornton.

We have the tools to take COVID out of the air in New Mexico schools, but are we using them?

When Buttimer was a postdoctoral research associate at MIT, he and his co-authors conducted a qualitative study study of learning loss through interviews with teachers across the country who have consistently dismissed the learning loss narrative as a useful way to understand the experience of students and teachers during the pandemic.

The researchers found that students successfully engaged in many standards-aligned topics, and that some students actually thrived in virtual environments.

Teachers also argued that students had made substantial and significant learning gains in areas not typically assessed by school systems, such as their ability to use technology, their ability to self-manage and learn about racial justice movements in the United States.

“Learning loss is a calculation disguised as a concept – a rather superficial, naive and ridiculous concept,” said mathematician John Ewing. wrote in December 2020.

Buttimer agrees and said people promoting the learning loss narrative assume that if a child is in a physical classroom and a physical school, that’s where the learning happens. .

“This idea that school is a place is an unqualified good, where learning happens and socio-emotional needs are met, I think that’s a huge question mark,” he said. she declared.

He said he thinks that in a few years, after districts have spent their pandemic relief funding without a clear increase in test scores, people on the right will say that “spending more money on schools does not work”.

Associated to anti CRT and anti-LGBTQ policy who have local school boards dominated In recent years, Buttimer said, learning loss will be used to further dismantle public education, Buttimer said.

That’s my prediction,” he said, “As always, I hope I’m wrong.”

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