The Pandemic and Public Education

One of these days, after we have returned to some sense of normalcy in a post-pandemic world, we will learn just how much the virus impacted the education of our children, and the news will not be good.

We know that remote learning is, for now at least, a temporary fix, and one that cannot come close to replicating in-person instruction.

West Virginia public school students are now back in class, but many counties are on hybrid schedules, meaning they are only receiving in-person instruction a couple days a week, after months of remote learning.

State School Superintendent Clayton Burch reported recently that 35-38% of students have a ‘D’ or ‘F’ in a core class this school year, compared to a 5-8% mark last year at this time.

I have been emailing with Holly Kleppner, principal of Musselman High School in Berkeley County, to hear what it has been like on the front lines.  Here is what she told me:

“We started out very well the first time we went out in October, then again in November,” she wrote. “The longer remote learning went, the less students attended meetings and turned in work.”

Kleppner said her teachers accepted the challenge with passion and even excitement, but they increasingly found it difficult to get students to participate in remote learning.

“Because students don’t show up for class or complete assignments, teachers then spend hours after school, emailing, calling, trying to make contact,” she said.  “We are losing kids every day.”  A few even took part-time jobs during school hours.

As a result, the number of students failing a core class has increased significantly.

“We have straight A students that have failed classes for the semester and will have to repeat, which is an added stress on them,” she said.  “This will affect graduation, post-secondary learning, and will eventually affect staffing.”

Kleppner added that many parents must work during the day, so they have not been able to ensure their children keep pace. Then they are angry when they see their report cards.

“Parents have gone from thanking us to calling to yell out of frustration because they see the depression and the poor grades of their student,” she said.

I suspect Kleppner’s experience at Musselman high school is not unique. Children need the structure associated with going to school. Without it, students—even some straight-A students—too easily lose focus and fall behind.

West Virginia has many challenges in public education including, but certainly not limited to, low test scores in core subjects, attracting and maintaining quality teachers, and higher rates of students coming from homes where education is not valued.

Those were high hurdles even before the pandemic hit.

Now West Virginia is slowly returning to in-person instruction, but how much have students missed? Have some fallen too far behind to catch up? What is the long-term impact of failed remote instruction?

A study by the Rand Corporation concluded, “It may take years to unpack how the pandemic affected student learning and social and emotional development and to identify any lasting effects on low-income communities and communities of color.”

That warning does not bode well for West Virginia.




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