How Do We Catch Kids Up in a Post-COVID World?

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As we catch a glimmer of the world that will be after COVID-19 goes away or becomes endemic or just stops stopping the world from happening, I’m curious about what might happen in that world. Here is the first in a couple pieces on what I imagine comes next. (Disclaimer: I am not an expert on health, vaccines, education, real estate or consumer trends. Just curious.)

We need to make up a year, but how?

Listen, everybody has had a shitty past year, but people with children, young and older, have had an especially shitty time. Families have spent a year in very close quarters, with work and schooling occurring in the most difficult way possible.

Even worse, the disruption to learning means that many, many young people are now basically at an educational deficit. I have heard innumerable stories of talented young learners who were disabled or disengaged by the pandemic. A colleague said that a business contact was saying that at some point employers are going to identify a cohort of young people as unhireable because they simply missed too much learning at a particularly vulnerable time. I think that’s unlikely, but I do know that kids are behind and something needs to be decided about how to act (or not) to address it.

So how to catch them up? One obvious way would be to put kids in class through the summer, to essentially make up the lost days and lost lessons. One summer likely won’t do it; this could be a three-summer project. It would require a rewrite of curricula to acknowledge an 11-month learning year, but it’s possible. Much of the world already does it. And it would probably require an influx of teachers to create a sustainable model. Heck, it could also serve as a part of an argument for raising teacher pay.

Once you’ve lived in this post-COVID response for 3 years, I can imagine that a diminished summer vacation—say, between July 4 and the second week in August—could become a new normal. We’ve been saying since the end of World War II that the summer break is an anachronism, maybe COVID is the thing that ends it.

Along the same lines we might see a re-working of summer camps. Maybe the experientially wide-ranging camps that exist for people with financial means trade away some canoe and craft time for science, foreign languages, algebra 2 and trig. For those who don’t go to sleep-away outside their community, some version of day camp/summer school that is more mandate than option would be possible. Would parents welcome the extra structure after more than a year of going it largely alone? A definite maybe.

All of this would cost money, but these are unique circumstances and money is apparently not a constraint on anything right now (which is not a critique, but an observation). Maybe the Feds simply pick up the tab as a strategic intervention to protect a generation from underachievement and diminished prospects.

Whatever the response, it seems that summer is at least part of the solution and I imagine this is a multiyear, moonshot-type effort to get an entire generation of kids back on level. That would be better than a universal hold-back, right?

(Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash)

I’m curious what you think. Please comment below.

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