Kids in need of remedial support already were vulnerable before the pandemic. Now they’re facing educational ruin.
By Sarah Carr Globe Staff,Updated January 19, 2021, 9:32 a.m.
Over the past six months, I interviewed 15 families with struggling readers between the ages of 7 and 12 to better understand the impact of school closures on children’s ability to learn to read. The families come from a range of racial groups and income levels; some parents are unemployed or incarcerated, while others earn six-figure salaries. The families’ children attend traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools. They live in Boston, Worcester, Athol (in Central Massachusetts, with a median household income of $50,000), and suburban communities including Arlington and Winchester (where the median household incomes are $117,000 and $160,000, respectively). Despite their different circumstances and backgrounds, all of these families desperately needed the education system to work during the pandemic so their children could master reading before starting middle school. Instead, they ran into the harsh truth that literacy is not always treated as the public good it should be.
As the one-year anniversary of mass school closures approaches, the question of how to make up for lost time becomes increasingly urgent. Loeb, of the Annenberg Institute at Brown, says many districts are overwhelmed by the logistics of reopening schools, and desperately require help shoring up their academic offerings. To help increase tutoring access, Annenberg created the National Student Support Accelerator, which will pilot tutoring projects this winter in about nine school districts across the country, including in Providence. The districts were allowed to choose the kind of tutoring that would be most useful, according to Loeb, with nearly all selecting reading support for kindergartners through third-graders, or math tutoring for older students. Annenberg’s aim is to make the tutoring available to any student who needs additional academic help. Yet for the foreseeable future, most struggling readers will only have access to what their families can pay for. Or negotiate from school districts. And wrangling services out of districts is a challenge even for a stay-at-home parent with experience battling bureaucracies, such as Medford’s Maureen Ronayne.
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