A group out of Germany claims that the time off from school many kids are getting because of COVID could lower their earning prospects by 4% over the course of their lives. This is largely due to the fact that when some kids aren’t in school they aren’t studying or working. If you’re not going to school, it’s time off.
We’d like to bring in a few other pieces of data here, as well. The two biggest indicator’s of a child’s educational success may be the child’s mother’s education level and the number of books in the child’s home.
These are all separate, but related pieces of data, but speak to the widening achievement gap that is going to be an ever-increasing problem in the coming years.
If students were struggling already and they did not work on their school related tasks during their time from home, then they will be even farther behind. Students with an educated mother may be more likely to receive help at home on their studies, since women often have the bulk of the parenting duties. And kids in a household of books may have the resources with which to approach their studies outside of just a computer. Any and all of these elements can contribute to the achievement gap.
The achievement gap is important to understand because it puts teachers in a bind and can actually be a detriment to those students who excel. A teacher in the US can have anywhere from 25-45 (or more) students in a class and is tasked to reach each one of those students. While the goal is to differentiate learning for each student, the more students there are in a classroom, the more difficult that is. Most often, teacher’s teach to the middle. That’s what standardized education is. Then there is a lot of time and energy spent getting those students who are behind up to speed. This has been particularly controversial in the age of Common Core as standards have been “raised” in a number of states and suddenly more students are “behind.” So teacher’s have to do a lot of their work just to get kids to “meet expectations.” Which means there isn’t a lot of time left for those kids who are excelling and need to be challenged. Those students are often left to themselves because they’ll be fine and don’t need attention to meet the criteria that other students struggle to meet. So the achievement gap actually hurts students on both ends. It hurts the students who are falling behind and struggling to keep up and creates a stratification that is hard to break out of, and it hurts those who are excelling because they may be left to stultify on their own with no challenge or stimulation, and may eventually tire of the whole experience.
This whole situation presents a real problem for us citizens. An severe achievement gap in the coming years could mean an innovation gap in engineering and science as a whole generation of students go through their schooling slightly behind. It could mean a comprehension gap in reading and a communication gap in writing as an entire cohort of students move through the educational system, and that could have far-reaching effects on our economy and our society.
We are not in the business of arguing that schools should open up before it is safe. The health and safety of our students has to be the top priority. But we need to give our teachers the resources to fight these discrepancies. How do you account for the fact that not every child’s mother is college educated or that not every child has books in the home? This takes intense, personal support from a teacher, and that is hard to do when a teacher has 30+ students in a class of varying levels of ability. If we are going to expect teachers to address the achievement gap we need to give them the resources and support to make these concerted efforts.
And there needs to be some attention paid to those at the top end of the achievement gap, as well. Students who are not struggling, but who are excelling, should be encouraged and challenged so they don’t wither and die on the vine. The gap should not cut both ways.
This is an impossible task to put to educators, and the virus is just exacerbating that.
When it is time to vote in your local elections, think of your teachers and your local school districts. The future of the nation LITERALLY depends on the kids who are coming through this system. Give them the resources they need to be successful. Close the gap.