2 strategies emerge to reverse COVID learning loss

Extensive tutoring and accelerated academies are highly touted approaches
By: | December 9, 2020
Research has shown this type of tutoring can help students gain a year of progress. (GettyImages/LPETTET)Research has shown this type of tutoring can help students gain a year of progress. (GettyImages/LPETTET)

Achievements gaps existed long before COVID, so a return to the K-12 status quo after the pandemic could leave already struggling students farther behind.

Extensive national and statewide tutoring programs, and accelerated academics are two strategies that could help students recover from COVID-era learning loss, equity experts on a National Press Foundation web panel on said Wednesday.

“For a lot of kids, COVID is a disaster. For a whole lot of kids, it was a disaster long before COVID,” said Katharine B. Stevens, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of  “Still Left Behind: How America’s schools keep failing our children.”

“The only way to head off an enormous catastrophe is to find a new approach,” Stevens said.


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In 2019, for example, more than one-third of low-income eighth-graders could not demonstrate basic proficiency in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests.

“What would be concerning would be to become so caught in up in repairing COVID damage that we lose sight of how poorly schools were performing for so many children beforehand,” Stevens said.

A tutoring model exists in the Minnesota Reading Corps, an initiative now expanding to 12 other states.

What would it cost?

Tutoring half the nation’s schoolchildren could cost $66 million, according to a study by organizational consultants McKinsey & Co.

The program trains AmeriCorps volunteers in reading science so they can tutor students from age 3 through grade 3 in one-on-one or small group settings.

Research has shown this type of tutoring can help students gain a year of progress, Stevens said.

For this approach to be most effective, tutors must be well-versed in a district’s curriculum and the students who need help most must be encouraged to participate, said Julia Kaufman, senior policy researcher and co-director of the American Educator Panels at the RAND Corporation

Accelerated academies

Accelerated academies—conducted during school breaks—are another strategy some districts have used to help students catch up quickly, said Bryan Hancock, a partner at McKinsey & Co.

Students in small-group instruction have made as much as six months of progress during two weeks of accelerated academies, Hancock says.

It would cost about $42 million to provide these academies for about half of U.S. students, he says.


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One batch of testing has shown students made 87% of the progress they should have made in reading this fall and 67% of the typical gains in math.

Students of color are farther behind, Hancock says.

“If left uncorrected, if we don’t take measures like accelerated academies to catch people up, you will see this having an effect into higher education and beyond,” he says.