Do you remember being read to when you were really little? Can you think of any stories that were your favorites? I don’t have the book anymore, but one of my favorites was from a collection of stories, and it was “The Little Lonely House,” about a house whose family had moved away, and it watched people come and go on the street, and there was lots of description of that. But then, eventually, one of the cars turns, and it comes up the drive, and it stops at the house, and a family gets out and goes inside. And the house was filled with noise, and light, and laughter. I still remember the final sentence: “And the little lonely house wasn’t lonely anymore.”
I want you to think about the feelings that are associated with those memories. Hold onto them for a few moments.
At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, the COVID-19 pandemic had been in full force for a year and a half. Vaccine rates were up and both new cases and death rates were down. And everyone was tired of closures and social distancing and, you know, the effects of an international plague. People wanted to “get back to normal.”
My school, and many others, opened up fully in-person. But as cases started increasing again, teachers, parents, administrators, and pretty much everyone started noticing that something else wasn’t “normal.” Students didn’t enter their new courses with the same level of academic knowledge and skill that previous cohorts had. Their behavior was different. And their attitudes were different as well.
The phrase “learning loss” had been trickling through educational discourse all through the previous school year, particularly with regard to the disparity between students from wealthier families, who were more likely to have better access to resources for effective remote instruction and better support, and students from poorer families, who were less likely to have access to those same resources. Educational achievement has always correlated closely with wealth (or the lack of it), and think tanks and pundits were warning that the pandemic was likely to widen that gap.