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Nancy Bailey's Education Website: Pandemic Learning Loss Reports That Sell Online Programs Are Harmful for Students with Disabilities

Reports telling of pandemic learning loss to sell programs, especially online programs, are harmful to students with disabilities who often had a difficult time being schooled at home with virtual learning.

One can only assume that students might be behind. But it’s detrimental, especially for children who often have motivation problems, to repeatedly hear they’ll have trouble catching up. They might give up!

Parents and teachers know best how individual children struggled and the progress they made. Missing out on socialization with peers was unfortunate.

However, there’s little research to show that students with disabilities have serious learning losses after the last two years, or that a specific online program will help. It’s especially deceptive when that negativity is used to sell programs.

While sketchy, the reports about pandemic learning loss have been drummed up in the media, and many companies are promoting their products as necessary to help close achievement gaps.

How does the public trust learning loss reports that come from those selling products?

Here’s an example of what I mean.

Former CNN reporter Campbell Brown and other known critics of public schools and teachers are behind The74. Their funders include billionaires, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan-Zuckerberg Foundation, the Walton Foundation, etc.

In Strong Gains, Quick Losses: New Research on Students with Disabilities Finds Conventional Data Hides Both Opportunity and Risk, they partnered with the National Center for Learning Disabilities to highlight a report by the NWEA, which is a not-for-profit organization.

They say:

States, districts, and schools should invest in high-quality curriculum backed by evidence of effectiveness — particularly for students with disabilities. They should consider offering more learning time and research-backed tutoring. Using good data to personalize instruction is key to serving children with disabilities, as is embracing universal design, a strategy of modifying lessons to make them accessible to any student.

Note. Personalized instruction implies virtual learning, and parents are concerned about online data collection.

The NWEA report Center for School and Learning Progress is about summer learning loss and Covid-19. The special education categories they include are autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairments, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic, other health impairments, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment including blindness.

They say:

If loss of opportunities to learn during the pandemic is similar to loss of learning opportunities during summer break, then the findings of this study provide further reason to believe that students with disabilities may be more severely impacted than their peers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools return to in-person instruction, there is an urgent need to gauge and respond to the impact COVID-19 has had on student learning, especially for students with disabilities, who might be more affected by loss of learning opportunities during the out-of-school time (p.6).

The NCLD has also pushed the idea of learning loss on their site.

COVID-19 shuttered school buildings and the impact on students will potentially be significant for years to come. Experts predict that school closures last spring could leave students a full year behind in math — with even greater impact as disruptions in instruction continue through the 2020–2021 school year.

The media have repeatedly mentioned the NWEA in the past. Their earlier study said students were behind in math, as described in U. S. News and World Report.

The NWEA deserves scrutiny. Here Peter Greene writes about their involvement with MAP testing.

Here’s a list of NWEA’s partners, all of whom will likely profit from their learning loss reports and all of which are online platforms.

The products are:

Companies will always need to advertise their products.

Still, it doesn’t seem appropriate that an organization claiming to be not-for-profit writes reports that look like research, highlighting questionable learning loss for students with disabilities when their partners, with online programs, will benefit from such reports.

Where’s the independent, unbiased research to determine the benefit of these programs?

Parents and educators might want to search for peer-reviewed research, if any, by university scholars instead of those who partner with companies promoting their own products. Peer-reviewed reports aren’t always perfect, but they are usually better and more objective.

In the meantime, students with disabilities and all students deserve positivity during the pandemic, which unfortunately is by no means over. Help them see that they can make up for lost time and still enjoy learning.

And educators and parents need more authentic peer-reviewed reports telling how and whether programs truly help children learn.

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Nancy Bailey

Nancy Bailey was a teacher in the area of special education for many years, and has a PhD in educational leadership from Florida State University. She has authore...