Parents are holding kids back in school amid COVID-19: How to help them catch up

With some children lagging behind in online schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and carers faced a decision whether to withhold children from a class or look for alternative learning methods.
Jane Minovskaya from Charlotte, North Carolina, looks after her two nephews Nathan (7) and Dayan (6) who attended the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. The district, the 18th largest in the country, has been closed for face-to-face tuition since last March and has adopted a virtual model.
"You are extremely bored," Minovskaya told Good Morning America in early February. "Eventually, they will fall asleep ... reach for paper, crayons, look for the iPad, YouTube. They'll be looking for something to do instead of listening to what they need to hear."
"They say," I want to see a real teacher, not an iPad. "I am quoting them," she added. "It's heartbreaking."
Minovskaya, a full-time hairdresser, said she had turned her bedroom into a workplace for the two boys. The bedroom they share is also a work area so they can study separately.
"Sometimes one is in P.E. [the gym] and then the other takes a test," said Minovskaya.
PHOTO: Jane Minovskaya of Charlotte, North Carolina shows a photo of her nephew's remote learning station amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jane Minovskaya)
Nathan and Dayan have since been withdrawn from public school and are now enrolled in a personal local charter school.
When studying remotely, the boys went to school at 8 a.m. every morning. Minovskaya said she would help them sign up before going to work. Then Minovskaya's mother monitored her progress throughout the day.
When Minovskaya got home from work, she and the boys were doing homework together.
"We literally spend morning to night at school," she said at the time.
PHOTO: Jane Minovskaya of Charlotte, North Carolina shows a photo of her nephew's homework amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Minovskaya, a full-time hairdresser, said she had turned her bedroom into a workplace for the two boys. (Jane Minovskaya)
Minovskaya said virtual learning has been a struggle for both children. She said extra virtual support and tutoring wasn't enough for her nephews, and they feel they do better academically face-to-face.
"[Virtual learning] doesn't work for everyone. It's the hardest and most frustrating thing I've ever had to do," said Minovskaya.
PHOTO: Jane Minovskaya of Charlotte, North Carolina shows a photo of her nephew's remote learning station amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jane Minovskaya)
Dayan started the 2020-2021 school year as a first grader but returned to kindergarten on January 25 due to poor reading skills, Minovskaya said.
Faced with a "lost generation of students"
Minovskaya isn't the only caregiver trying to resolve a situation with children struggling with online schooling.
Across the country, teachers, parents and school officials are raising red flags over a potential "lost generation of students" backed by data showing children are falling behind, especially disadvantaged students who are already facing learning gaps.
Sixty-six percent of teachers in a national survey conducted by RAND Corporation in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said their students are less prepared for class-level work compared to this point last year.
In schools with high levels of poverty, one in three teachers said that their students were "well" behind, according to the survey.
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A study published in December by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimated that distance learning last spring put white students back in math by one to three months, while color students moved back three to five months.
Another study, conducted by researchers at Stanford University, estimates that the average American student has already learned six months of reading and more than a full year of math since the pandemic began.
For Minovskaya, she said that a combination of technological problems, the challenge of having a child learn to read through a video platform, and her inability to spend all of her time on schoolwork led her nephew to repeat kindergarten.
PHOTO: Jane Minovskaya of Charlotte, North Carolina shows a photo of her 7-year-old nephew Nathan’s tutoring schedule amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jane Minovskaya)
Now, she said, her other nephew, Nathan, will repeat second grade in the 2021-2022 school year. Nathan has struggled in math this year and needed extra tutoring, Minovskaya said.
"If I can't rest mentally, how can I be there for you?" Minovskaya said. "I cannot be there for them 100%. Every day they ask when they will be back to school."
Former Education Secretary John B. King Jr., now president of Education Trust, a research and advocacy group that works on equity issues, said the learning gaps that emerged during the pandemic were due to things like lack of internet access and devices for students to use schools and support that parents could provide because of their work or economic difficulties were stretched.
"The net effect of all of these barriers is that we will notice differences in learning outcomes," King told GMA. "There is a real risk to a lost generation of students if we don't do the things necessary to support the students."
According to Bryan Hancock, one of the authors of the McKinsey & Co. study, if they are not corrected, if they are not corrected, there is a risk that students will fall behind in school.
"If we look at other disruptive events in the US or internationally where student learning was severely disrupted, such as a hurricane, we know that if we followed these cohorts of students over time, their career earnings were lower ", he said. "We also know that in the economy we have, if we don't have an education that allows everyone to achieve and everyone to learn, we not only hurt those people, but also affect the overall growth of our economy. ""
"Addressing these loopholes will help individuals grow their earnings potential and we as a country will help us be competitive," added Hancock.
Liesl Hickey, a mother of three from Washington DC, told GMA that she did not hold back her third grader for a year despite pulling her out of public elementary school after a challenging start into virtual learning. The child is now attending an independent religious school.
"If I had kept her in [virtual learning] and had no other options, there was no way she would be able to get into fourth grade," Hickey said. "Those are those years of development, academically. You really learn the core skills - not just reading, but maths too. You wouldn't have been ready."
Hickey said her daughter, whose name she withheld for privacy reasons, was having problems navigating technical platforms that she used during the online training.
"And then, to be honest, she really had a hard time studying," Hickey said. "Six hours of zoom is a lot for kids. It's a lot for adults."
Hickey said that after a difficult start in third grade, her daughter is now successful and excited about her new school.
"There was little focus on what is really important and that is the kids," said Hickey. "Children fight and we've seen the numbers. At the end of the day we see that a lot of damage is being done and it's really heartbreaking."
A call to targeted learning for students
King and other education experts believe that the response to potential pandemic student learning gaps should not be to hold them back in class, and cite research aimed at maintaining grade. There is also the burden that large class retentions could put on schools and school systems.
According to a projection by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than 56 million students attended elementary, middle and high schools in the United States last fall.
"Research on what is called grade retention, or student retention, suggests that it can be quite detrimental to overall student academic progress," King said. "Students who are retained are more likely to drop out, they often see a psychological toll if they are retained."
"Of course this is under very different circumstances than a pandemic, but I would fear that we would see some of these negative consequences," he added.
King and others urge schools and policymakers to focus resources on things they may not have had in the past, such as summer school and high-intensity tutoring, enrichment activities, and mental health services, and make them available to all students, especially those who have have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
"I hope this is a New Deal moment where people look at our situation and say, 'It's not good enough just going back to February 2020' because we had these significant inequalities before COVID," King said . "The goal should be to build a fairer future and ensure that low-income students and students of color have fair access to opportunity."
The McKinsey & Co. study found that the most effective answer to addressing learning gaps is a combination of acceleration academies - a summer school of about a week with targeted tuition in groups of eight to 12 students - and high-intensity tutoring, according to Hancock, 50 minutes of tutoring a day with two students per tutor.
PHOTO: Jane Minovskaya of Charlotte, North Carolina shows a photo of her nephew's distance learning plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jane Minovskaya)
Chris Minnich, CEO of NWEA, a national, nonprofit educational testing organization, said their data, which shows that most students experience slower learning growth compared to learning losses, confirms that teachers and parents need to focus on key concepts, rather than to hold back the students for a whole year.
"The major response from the school system is that for the next year or summer we really need to watch out for children who may have missed key concepts like fractions in math and phonics while reading," Minnich said. "If we just pretend everything is normal and we take kids to the next grade and don't focus on what they may have missed, we're going to have problems."
Like King, Minnich supports extending students' time in front of teachers through summer school and tutoring, as well as non-academic summer camps in schools, as long as it is allowed under COVID-19 restrictions, to get students back to school.
He said school administrators and teachers also need to think about possibly remapping the first few weeks of the next school year to ensure students are familiar with key concepts.
"It's not that the students didn't learn anything during that time," said Minnich. "The thing is, they may not have learned key concepts that we need to make sure they learn in the next grade."
The $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 auxiliary bill tabled Monday by the House Budgets Committee provides a portion of school funding for "learning loss" programs such as summer schools, post-school programs and extended school days.
President Joe Biden has also made reopening schools a priority in his first 100 days in office. When asked last week if the president sponsors a summer school semester, White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki said the Department of Education is conducting a study to determine the effects of COVID and distance learning on children, but ultimately the decision rests with the school districts .
What parents can do
Minnich, himself a parent, said his first tip for parents is to follow their own instincts and say, "You know what your student can do."
And while students who have been virtually learning last year may need a little break from their computers this summer, once they're ready, they should take as much academic class with them as possible this summer, Citing the many, recommends Minnich educational resources now available online for parents.
Minnich also recommends parents stay in close contact with their child's teacher and ensure they are aware of the key concepts their child can carry out in their class.
PHOTO: Photo of a boy taking classes online. (STOCK PHOTO / Getty Images)
"My oldest is in fourth grade next year and we're going to make sure we are paying attention to the things he should have learned in third grade at the first parent-teacher conference," said Minnich. "It's a strategy that I think all parents should use."
King said he also "strongly encourages" parents to contact their child's school to find out their child's strengths and weaknesses and come up with a plan to ensure they are caught up. The plan should focus on tutoring and longer study time, and make sure it's clear what classroom experience the student will have for the next year so that they get good quickly, according to King.
MORE: The pandemic's "learning loss" grows as schools race to reopen
"This is one of the reasons it is so important for parents to have information about how their children are doing," he said. "One of the things I worry about, especially for the most vulnerable families, is that they may not get enough information from their schools about how their children are doing relative to the standards for their grade level."
"This information is critical to knowing if you need an intervention plan for the remainder of the school year," added King. "We still have four months to make a difference."
ABC News' Jordyn Phelps and Sarah Kolinovsky also contributed to this report.
Parents Hold Children Back at School Amid COVID-19: How to Help Them Catch Up originally appeared on

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