To battle learning loss, open schools, extend year - Albuquerque Journal

To battle learning loss, open schools, extend year

On behalf of our community’s children, their academic future and life opportunities, and our state’s economic well-being, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce urges local and state leaders to take the following actions concerning public education and our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To the APS Board and administration:

We urge you to open our schools right away to in-person instruction.

We tip our hats to the teachers, administrators, parents/grandparents and kids who have made the best of a difficult situation over the past year. The adaptation across society – including by employers – to virtual classrooms has been admirable. Our collective experience, however, tells us that remote learning simply isn’t working. It’s not an adequate substitute for in-person instruction, and studies here and elsewhere point to substantial learning loss – especially in elementary school, and among students from low-income families. We cannot let this pandemic take the future from our kids.

Academically, it’s in our kids’ best interest to be in the classroom, with their teacher. From the standpoint of their social and emotional development, again, being in the classroom is best. It may be some time before we fully appreciate the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on the academic, social and emotional development of our children, but many of us have seen firsthand how they’re suffering. Many children also face hunger or under-nourishment and live in unsafe environments. Schools are a safe place and provide meals that some children cannot get any other way.

What about their health? That, too, is pretty well settled. Cities and states across the nation are sending kids back to school. Dr. Anthony Fauci – well respected by reasonable people – says data simply doesn’t show widespread transmission of the coronavirus in schools. A just-released CDC study of schools in Wood County, Wisconsin, reinforces this position; with proper mitigation practices, transmission within schools is very limited. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recently said, “There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated (beforehand).” And, state health officials and the governor have given the go-ahead in New Mexico.

So, if the risk of transmission among children – and between children and adults – is low, and if the impact of the virus on children is relatively minimal, then what are we waiting for in Albuquerque? We don’t pretend this is a simple decision, but a single special interest group shouldn’t be able to block what’s in the best interest of kids and leaders of our schools and district have had many months to prepare. Furthermore, delaying reopening is likely to lead to more families walking away from public schools; the more parents who opt for homeschooling or to send their children to private schools, the less funding there will be for all public schools. It’s time for kids to be back in the classroom.

To the New Mexico Legislature:

We urge you to mandate extended learning time for New Mexico students, in order to combat learning loss and the achievement gaps produced by the pandemic.

“Catching kids up” in our public schools is a difficult task under normal circumstances; it will be even more challenging and imperative now. Adding instructional time to the current, and future, school years is necessary to ensure the academic loss of the past year doesn’t stick with students forever. We must also maintain regular assessments of student progress because knowing exactly where each student, and each sub-group of students, stands is key to an informed, data-driven academic recovery.

Lengthening the school year can reduce the negative effects of the “summer slide,” when students lose knowledge from the previous school year, and it should be done with fidelity to best practices. Some districts want to do things like add 15 minutes to the school day, and over the course of the school year, call that “extended learning time.” That won’t cut it. While a measure of flexibility should be extended, requiring meaningful additional in-person instruction is a must.

Our children can overcome the past year’s academic setback, but, it’s up to us to ensure they do, and it’s in the classroom where the gains will happen.

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