The Spring 2022 school semester is beginning just as the Fall semester did: with hopeful anticipation that the pandemic is waning and students might get back to the business of learning. Yet the brutal reality has record-setting Covid illnesses and pediatric hospitalizations, resulting in more school chaos. In the week beginning January 3rd, the number of recorded Covid infections is at an all-time high, reaching more than 1 million cases per day.
Families spent last semester expressing their intense frustrations with brick and mortar schools. For families who couldn’t homeschool or hire private tutors, the average student’s learning loss just from the 2020-2021 school year was 9-12 months. Learning loss also stemmed from a severe teacher shortage, and is forecast to continue long into the future. “We haven’t seen this kind of academic achievement crisis in living memory,” according to Michael Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “This is a disaster. The bottom has fallen out, and the [achievement] results are as bad as you can imagine,” he deplored.
As students return from the holidays, we now know that this disruptive cycle will continue to repeat. School districts that had removed mask mandates are again requiring them as daily case counts soar to 1,000,000. Some schools are requiring students to show negative Covid tests before returning to school. Increasingly, school districts and several universities are announcing that they will delay school re-openings, creating yet more learning loss, or go back to remote learning.
It is becoming clear that brick and mortar schools will continue to face Covid obstacles to learning for months or even years to come. Newark Schools Superintendent Roger León warned parents that, ““Change has been the only constant in this fight,” and that Covid continues “to be a brutal, relentless and ruthless virus that rears its ugly head at inopportune times.”
What Options Do Families Have for Providing Stability and Eradicating Learning Loss?
With the increasing shutdowns and repetitive cycle of learning loss, then, what options do parents have to provide stability and eradicate learning loss for their learners? Fortunately, with the rapid momentum of family choice, there are many.
The number of students learning outside the classroom has steadily risen during the pandemic. By the end of this past school year, an estimated 3.7 million American children were engaged in personalized learning as their primary educational model. As this movement continues, so do the quantity and quality of learning resources available to families. Educational choice is on a rapid rise in resources as millions of families transition out of the brick and mortar classroom.
How Can Families Assess and Address Learning Loss?
Families can target learning loss by implementing an assessment driven education plan. Assessments, both formal and informal, are extremely useful as starting points in the next phase of a learner’s journey. With our Uschool families, learners can utilize several different options.
- Achievement testing: Uschool offers families the STAR 360 standards-aligned math and reading assessments, commonly used by school districts nationwide. These adaptive tests can be completed at home. The assessments provide detailed reporting that Uschool’s credentialed learning advisors can help families review to create attainable goals
- Multiple intelligences learner evaluations: For families seeking more about their individual student’s unique learning strengths, multiple intelligence profiles, and learning interests, Uschool also offers an hour-long assessment package that provides these insights.
- One-on-one discovery assessments: Uschool’s expert learning advisors are credentialed and highly experienced teachers who invest in the whole-learner and their unique abilities, interests, and needs. For those exploring individualized learning, the learning advisors spend discovery time with both the learner and the family, then partner in creating customized learning plans with curated course and curriculum recommendations as well as tutoring and mentoring opportunities.
How Can Learners Access Quality Academic Programs?
Trying to morph classroom models into distance learning via all-day zoom sessions created headaches for teachers and parents alike. Nonetheless, online education can be an excellent resource for working parents. As edtech has escalated into this void, there are now countless virtual platforms serving all ages and price points. The behemoth Outschool platform, for example, offers thousands of live virtual online classes on every conceivable subject from Disney Princesses to pre-med. Edgenuity, UCScout, and many other platforms offer more traditional asynchronous classes, providing flexible learning options. For high school students interested in dual-enrollment with college level courses, Outlier.com, BYU, and other universities offer relatively inexpensive online options. Even free providers like Khan Academy, Udemy, and Edx offer excellent content for individualized learning.
While signing up for an entire course load with one virtual program all day long sounds easy for parents, there are some disadvantages to these all-in-one programs. These “one size fits all” programs tend to be inflexible to grade variations, specific learning needs, and interest retention. Learners often engage well in an hour of online learning, yet watching multiple hours of near-identical content can easily lose focus and retention. Combining different online programs, matching subject areas and learning styles to the learners’ various needs, is more ideal in using these types of programs.
What Options Are There to Continue In-Person Learning?
What types of alternative learning are available for parents who do not want their children hooked to screens all day? Again, the options are vast. Learning pods, where a small group of families hire a tutor specifically focused on those learners’ common interests, needs, and learning styles, can provide far more tailored learning than a large classroom. In addition, pods provide valuable collaborative learning, peer interaction, and drop-off opportunities for caregivers.
Families that have a caregiver interested in shared teaching may also create co-ops. Co-ops are groups of families who take turns teaching, often in exchange rather than each charging tuition. Sharing in this way is an excellent and inexpensive way for parents to share their unique subject matter expertise with learners. After all, students often benefit far more in learning science from a biologist or civics from an attorney with advanced studies and practical experience than from a regular classroom teacher and standard textbook. Co-ops tend to also incorporate field trips and plenty of social activities together. They also provide a community for homeschool parents to find support and friendship.
Do We Still Need to Use the Same Standards-Based Curriculum That Students Used At School?
There are many paths to success, and classroom based curriculum is only one avenue. While many new to individualized learning begin with a traditional curriculum similar to that used in most classrooms, there are numerous other homeschool curriculum options available to find the best learning resources for your learner. For those seeking a first peek into the vast array of choices, Rainbow Resources is a popular online marketplace for more traditional curriculum shoppers. Teachers Pay Teachers’ website is a bonanza of smaller and more unique lesson plans, wonderful for compiling unit studies. There are also many project-led curriculum resources like Lego Education, and subscription boxes like Kiwi Crate are also becoming exceedingly popular.
Many families hire tutors and mentors for their family’s educational needs. Uschool provides a team of subject matter experts in everything from math and writing to art and computer science. Surprisingly, one-on-one connection with an expert is not only much more efficient and meaningful than classroom education, but can also be less expensive than private school tuition.
Will Our Learners Still Be Able to Play Sports and Engage in Other Social Activities?
Engaging in learning outside the classroom does not close off opportunities for sports and other social activities that traditional schooling frequently provides. In fact, many districts across the country allow students engaged in learning outside the classroom to continue to participate in school sports and clubs. Between recreational (“rec”) and competitive (“comp”) sports, few athletes are dependent on their schools anymore. Self-directed learners quickly find other like-minded peers with similar interests and passions, and even pick up internships, jobs, or create clubs and gatherings amongst themselves. Plus, the entire after-school and weekend peer community is still at their fingertips. Virtual clubs have taken off as well. A great example of this is what Alioune and Ellen have created at The New York Society of Play. When the world shut down, they built up their virtual Minecraft, Pokeman, and Dungeons and Dragons classes for kids to connect and play games they love.
The Movement Towards Individualized Learning
Individualized learning has far more opportunities than classroom education, and parents are increasingly discovering that they do not have to choose just one way to educate their learners. The freedom of school choice enables a student-centered approach, combining the best of all options to provide engaging learning tailored to the individual.
Customized learning provides a plethora of engaging and rewarding opportunities outside the classroom. From greater personal engagement to family adaptive learning, student-directed education offers many rewards beyond classroom one-size-fits-all models. With chaos and confusion continuing among classrooms, families seeking more will discover that the future of education is moving towards more personalized and liberating pathways to success.
Where Can Our Family Learn More About Personalized Learning and Support For Our Learner(s)?
Our Uschool Learning Advisors are highly experienced and credentialed educational consultants, passionate about supporting families at all places in their educational journeys. As both homeschool and traditional educators as well as parents, we offer a vast array of expertise, including specialized support for gifted learners, struggling learners, those with IEPs and 504s, pathways to college and careers, and all other needs.
Uschool's educational team:
- Helps families determine whether individualized learning is the best fit for their family,
- Spends quality time with the learner and their family to design a specialized learning plan tailored to that learner’s needs, interests, and goals;
- Provides assessments and coordinates with the learner’s prior school as needed;
- Maintains continuing check-ins, mentorship, grading, transcripts, recordkeeping, and custom curriculum as needed;
- Provides tutors and mentors who are subject matter experts; and
- Welcomes families into our growing community of family connections, resources, and learning opportunities.
Please reach out to discover how Uschool can support your family’s educational journey.