Last week the National Center for Education Statistics confirmed what most of us knew intuitively: the COVID pandemic caused a dramatic drop in student test scores. That is why our teachers are more important than ever.
While scores have risen steadily since the 1980s — they can thank my cohort of grade-schoolers for setting the bar so low — the precipitous drop between 2020 and 2022 seems entirely attributable to the chaos created by the COVID pandemic.
While safety precautions needed to be taken and were the right call in the moment, they came at a cost. Children suddenly out of classrooms and attempting to learn via videoconference from home experienced profound effects.
As parents tried to create at-home learning environments, it became obvious that the special skill and experience of our teachers is critical to the learning achievement of our children. Most have spent years refining their classroom management expertise and tweaking curriculum. That turned out to be irreplaceable.
I am obviously biased. My wife is a middle school literacy specialist. Her job is and has been bringing students struggling to read up to grade level before they enter high school.
These are not special education children who need to work through tailored programs. They are kids who have fallen behind for one reason or another and find themselves a few grade levels lower than they should be as readers. If they cannot read at grade level by high school, it poses a significant risk to their educational success and career prospects.
That is a serious weight for anyone to take on. She does it every year for classrooms full of kids.
Every August before she is required to be at school, she spends days preparing her classroom, reviewing the most recent teaching techniques, preparing long-term lesson plans and organizing spreadsheets to track the progress her kids make.
Throughout the year she will update and rework her plans, adjust assignments for kids who need more help and dedicate herself to helping them catch up to their peers.
She loves teaching, and she is exceptional at it. The data demonstrates that the growth in her kids is the best in her district. It is no accident that the kids in her classes benefit from three decades of experience she brings to school every day beginning at 7 a.m.
That is exactly what is necessary in the current moment. We need more professional educators with more support providing more resources to our children. That is the only way to overcome the setbacks they have faced.
We must redouble our support for educators.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the opposite direction we are headed. Educators leaving the profession due to stress, low pay and lack of support have created a significant shortage across the state. At the same time districts whose demographics create waning numbers of school-aged children have begun closing schools and making teachers reapply.
That is a terrible outcome.
There must be better solutions. Maybe allow the reduction in children to lower class sizes and let teachers give more attention to children lagging behind grade levels. Maybe incentivize teachers to move to districts that need their help without incurring a penalty in their seniority.
There are also programs like Teach Colorado that have poured resources into helping more people become educators, whether as a fresh college grad or a career-switcher. But they need more resources to accelerate the work they have begun.
Professional educators are the only real hope for our children to make the strides necessary to climb out of the hole created by the pandemic. It is steep, but not insurmountable. With the right guides, they can make the ascent.
The question is whether we are willing to support those educators as they sherpa kids back up the slope.
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