As a new school year is about to begin, many educators still are trying to recoup some of the learning time lost during the earlier stages of the pandemic. Education officials expect students to make some gains this year, but say it will take more time to get students caught up.
Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab, the university’s education finance research center, published a calculator that estimates the number of weeks a student lost in math and reading skills as a result of pandemic-related closures. The calculator also estimated how much money school districts would have to spend on math and reading tutoring to recover those losses, as well as showing the amount of federal funding each county received, which could help in the effort.
In Maryland, three counties were calculated to have suffered the greatest learning loss: Baltimore, Dorchester and Prince George’s counties each saw students lose an average of 20 weeks of learning in reading, and 21 weeks of math.
Carroll County fared best, with nine weeks of learning loss in math and four for reading; it was the only county in the state where both metrics were 10 weeks or less.
Superintendent of Dorchester County Public Schools Dave Bromwell attributed some of the county’s struggles to a technology shortage they faced at the start of the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, the school system didn’t have connectivity across the county, Bromwell said. Dorchester is one of the largest counties in the state and internet connections are limited in island communities.
The county made plans to send computers to more than 4,700 students, and had to make quick decisions on how to improve their schools’ tech capabilities.
“You were learning to fly the plane as you were flying the plane, which was very difficult,” Bromwell said.
The county had to increase its IT department nearly tenfold in three months, according to the superintendent.
“We’ve tried to get an IT person in every single building now,” Bromwell said. “We used to have one that would do three or four buildings.”
The superintendent said the school board used Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding to address these issues. Maryland received $1.9 billion from the federal program, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) — who guessed the three school systems with the greatest learning loss — said the results weren’t surprising to him, adding that the pandemic exacerbated gaps that were already present.
“[The pandemic] crushed students and crushed parents,” Pinsky said. “It was extremely difficult on school employees.”
Pinsky — chair of the state senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee — said the legislature is trying to give school districts time to implement policies from the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a 10-year multi-billion-dollar education reform plan. They want to avoid introducing new initiatives during a challenging time, Pinsky said.
Bromwell said that for two years, he and other superintendents in the state let the “political process” of the Blueprint play out.
“In theory, the Blueprint is wonderful,” Bromwell said. “But, like in anything else, when you have so many different politicians and legislature involved, you really have to start digging into the weeds to find out how it’s going to affect everyone.”
He said that the state legislature and new governor will need to have “serious discussions” on how to aid school districts, especially those that suffer the most economically.
The legislature is currently focusing on addressing the teacher shortage in the state, Pinsky said. With so much changing in the world of education, Pinsky said it’s hard to determine what stage of the Blueprint the state is in, but he is hopeful that it can help school systems.
“The legislature doesn’t create magic, but we’ve come up with some good plans,” the senator said. “We want to give them time to work.”
Bromwell said that he anticipates that students can continue on the progress they’ve made from last year and those successes won’t just be limited to Dorchester County.
“I’m very optimistic that we’re going to make some strides, not just in our county but all counties.”