DETROIT, Mich. — The unfinished learning students experienced due to COVID-19 is measurable and real. Parents have seen the impact. The question is will it impact our nation for years to come or will we address it?
“They have been out of school for a year and a half,” said Melissa Redmon, a mom who has been a tireless voice for students in Detroit.
Redmon spoke out when her child went without a math teacher for months due to a teacher shortage five years ago. She spoke out when students didn’t have enough support during the pandemic. But now, she is optimistic.
“It’s exciting,” she said of the new school year.
When school started last year only about 40% of students nationwide has access to in-person learning. In Detroit, even fewer students were physically in school. Many fell behind.
As we start a new school year most learning is in person and schools are working to help children make up for unfinished learning.
The federal government is investing money in addressing the problem. Detroit is receiving more than $25,000 per student. The median federal boost is about $3000 per student in Michigan.
“I have been doing this for 20 years, always in traditional large urban school districts, and it is the first time I feel we have equitable funding. Now the challenge is it is only for 2 years, but I will take it,” said Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent.
Dr. Vitti says the district will use more than half of the federal pandemic relief funding to upgrade buildings. It is using about $500 million dollars to address learning loss by hiring an additional 100 teachers, offering tutoring, arts and enrichment programs and Saturday school planned to help students catch up. Class sizes on average are going to be smaller. The district will also have social-emotional support for students, with additional counselors, psychologists, and social workers.
Dr. Vitti says tests have shown that students are behind.
McKinsey and Company looked at assessments nationally and found that on average based on historical testing data the pandemic set children behind five months in math and four months in reading. That is on average. Poverty set students back an additional two months.
“The challenge is real and I think every district in and outside of Detroit is going to face this,” said Dr. Vitti.
The challenge is about our nation’s future. McKinsey & Company’s report says lower levels of educational attainment lead to less innovation and a potential annual GDP loss of up to $188 billion in 2040 when students impacted by the pandemic are in the workforce. It would impact the GDP year after year.
Researchers predict it would increase the racial economic opportunity gap by billions of dollars.
Dr. Vitti says his goal is to show investment can close opportunity gaps for the next generation.
“In the next two years our goal is to show that we can have results with these dollars, so that we can make the argument that if we are funded equitably we have a bigger and better impact on our students,” said Dr. Vitti.
“If everybody works together, parents, teachers, staff community If everybody works together we can get it done,” said Redmon.