More evidence that remote learning is failing

The Washington Post has reported on the serious adverse academic impact that online learning is having on students in Fairfax County, Virginia. I discussed that reporting here.

Now, the Post has a similar article about what’s happening in Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live. Even more than the report on Fairfax County did, this article focuses on the calamitous effects online education is having on “low-income students” and “English learners.”

I welcome this slant. If there’s anything that can trump the liberal impulse to shut things down willy-nilly during the pandemic, it’s evidence that minority group members are suffering disproportionately.

In Montgomery County schools, this seems to be the case. Indeed, the figures the Post cites are striking:

Failure rates in math and English jumped as much as sixfold for some of the most vulnerable students in Maryland’s largest school system, according to data released as the pandemic’s toll becomes increasingly visible in schools across the country.

In but one stark example, more than 36 percent of ninth-graders from low-income families failed the first marking period in English. That compares with fewer than 6 percent last year, when the same students took English in eighth grade. . . .

Nearly 45 percent of those with limited English proficiency failed the first marking period in ninth-grade math, for instance — a stunning figure given that only 8 percent of the same students failed math in the first marking period [i.e., pre-pandemic] last fall.

White and Asians are making out okay, according to the Post:

Last year, less than 1 percent of that group failed the first marking period [pre-pandemic], and this year it was slightly more than 1 percent.

What will the school system do in response to the high failure rates among certain groups? According to the Post, it will “mak[e] changes to grading practices, student supports and instructional guidance — adding flexibility with due dates, for example, and reducing the number of recommended assignments that are graded.”

In other words, it will lower standards. Reading and math skills will continue to suffer, but the evidence will be obscured by grade inflation.

Is the County considering letting students return to school? There’s no indication of this in the Post’s article, even though the evidence from Europe fails to support fears that in-class learning carries appreciable health risks.

One interesting question is why the performance of low-income students and English learners has declined so sharply, while that of White and Asian students seems to be holding nearly steady. The Post attributes this to kids in the former groups lacking “oversight and support” from parents who “work jobs outside the home.”

Could be. But in the affluent mostly White and Asian area of Montgomery County where I live, both parents in the families I know work very hard at their jobs, and not necessarily at home.

The key may be that there are two parents. The Post’s article doesn’t consider the possibility that a lower incidence of two-parent families among the groups in which students are suffering most from online learning might be the explanation.

Apparently, this question is considered out of bounds.

But, while the question is an interesting one, the key point is that online learning isn’t working. It’s a failed and unnecessary experiment that has harmed students, especially the ones who can least afford the setback.

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