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Editorial, 12/10: Scores make case for superiority of in-person learning

Editorial, 12/10: Scores make case for superiority of in-person learning

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First day of school

Instructional coach Brandi Weymuth checks in with students and hands out face masks to those who need them on the first day of classes at Everett Elementary School on Monday. Starting Thursday, masks will be required in indoor settings countywide.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has spent nearly two years shaking up the world in every way imaginable and leaving a wave of change in its wake.

In few places will the new order of things be more evident than in classrooms. While the pandemic brought the term “remote learning” into the everyday lexicon – a necessity, as people sought to curb the spread of this unknown virus – it also reiterated the irreplaceable importance of in-person learning.

Test scores released earlier this week have only underscored the significance of face-to-face instruction -- something that must be prioritized and preserved for safety in the face of any future disruption.

For all Lincoln Public Schools students, the gaps are pronounced, with every cohort of students who spent four or more weeks at home during the 2020-21 school year scoring lower on statewide proficiency tests than those who didn’t.

The largest of these differences – eighth grade math – reached an astounding 18 percentage points. In some Lincoln elementary schools, that gulf stretched to as much as 30% among primarily in-person learners vs. longer-term remote learners in the same grade.

Yes, LPS students still scored above state averages in reading and math proficiency, and Nebraska students – most of whom learned in person for most, if not all, of 2020-21 – exceeded the national average on all testing categories, according to the National Assessment of Progress.

Remote learning no doubt has its promise in limited uses. Technology can help prevent students out for long periods following illnesses or tragedies from falling behind, and it can offer the potential for enrichment for advanced students unable to fit certain items into a packed schedule.

But the numbers prove that it’s no silver bullet.

The other side of this coin is guaranteeing that classrooms stay open in the face of any future pandemic or unforeseen catastrophe. This means elected officials must ensure the success and safety of educators and students alike against whatever the interruption may be.

Students are our future, and they deserve the best, more secure environment in which to learn. That requires ensuring teachers are both paid well enough to stay in the field and offered appropriate protections for their safety, too.

Accordingly, both students and teachers alike must be equipped to recover the learning loss caused by the pandemic, stretching all the way back to the last quarter of 2019-2020 school year. This recovery won’t be a one-off, with LPS using coronavirus relief funds to pay for a new intervention program designed to combat learning loss.

Just like the virus that caused this pandemic will be with us long into the future, so, too, will the lessons we’ve learned the past two years. Those related to schools must be heeded.


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