Learning Loss

Learning Loss: It is loss of a previously imagined trajectory leading to a previously imagined future. Learning is never lost.

Professor Rachel Gabriel, from the University of Connecticut, What ‘learning loss’ really means – The Washington Post

Learning loss: Due to some interruption in classroom instruction (through the summer, and especially relevant during pandemic schooling), the amount of decline in measured outcomes of student learning.

“Learning Loss” Handbook | Human Restoration Project | Free Resources

What are we talking about when we say “learning loss”?

The premise, that students are missing out on essential learning, is neither self-evident nor value-neutral, but rather comes from the values of economic efficiency and competition. Once McKinsey & Company began spreading Taylorism into the sphere of public policy, the goals of school began to revolve more and more on achieving measurable outputs, such as grades, with the most efficient use of inputs. Learning loss is about whether or not schools met their required outputs.

In other words, we are using an input/output corporate framing toward the academic growth of learners, which has led to education as a means for economic competition with other nations.

Analyzing education through this lens, policymakers determined that we had to work harder to keep up with the outputs of Russia and other nations. In the words of the original 1983 “A Nation at Risk” report, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” We needed higher outputs.

The next several decades saw more and more measurements, programs, and regulations appearing to meet this need, most recently the No Child Left Behind Act signed by President Bush in 2001 and Race to the Top, created by President Obama in 2009. These efforts placed extreme pressure on schools to meet the required outputs. In 2020, McKinsey & Company once more analyzed educational outputs with their report on COVID-19 learning loss. The US government has already begun to embrace this narrative through Operation Reverse the Loss and school funding.

But first let’s consider: how are these outputs measured? Who determines how much learning is lost, and how do they make these judgments? And perhaps more importantly, why?

“Learning Loss” Handbook | Human Restoration Project | Free Resources

What are we measuring? We are measuring the surface, badly. That is the continuing legacy of Taylorism and behaviorism. Why do we persist in measuring the surface, badly? Because it services deficit model capitalism. The deficit model is a business model, and ed-tech is a monster.

There are monsters because there is a lack of care and an absence of justice in the work we do in education and education technology.

The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology

The advent of learning loss is connected to the “need” for more assessment. In the wake of pandemic schooling, the testing industry has seen an opportunity to establish additional professional development, coursework, and assessment measures to line their pocket-books. This language has taken hold, with numerous organizations rallying to demand solutions to the “unresolved learning” of the 2020-2021 school year. Yet, this data is ineffectual. Upon close examination, we begin to understand that perhaps “learning loss” is built on a lie.

Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave: How the Testing Industry Manufactured the “Learning Loss” Narrative | Human Restoration Project | Chris McNutt

A dangerous trap exists for educators and education policy makers: the learning loss. This trap comes with a large amount of data and with sophisticated projection methods. It presents a stunningly grim picture for education and it invites educators and policy makers to make wrong decisions and invest in wrong things. The article identifies a number of undesirable outcomes that their concerns could lead to. It also suggests several productive actions when the pandemic is controlled and schools reopen.

Build back better: Avoid the learning loss trap | SpringerLink

We can undertake a number of productive actions…

  • Meet the students where they are
  • Pay attention to all educational outcomes
  • Engage learning as partners of change and owners of their learning
  • Keep families engaged
  • Keep online/remote learning
  • Build back better
Build back better: Avoid the learning loss trap | SpringerLink
Are Students Getting Worse?

COVID learning loss, like every other moral panic, misses the forest for the trees. The problem is not students, teachers or parents; the problem is the education system.

Are Students Getting Worse? – YouTube

This is simply untrue. Students absolutely feel a sense of loss, but it has nothing to do with their academic standing. The entire concept of “learning loss” is a false narrative supported by racist, neo-liberal ideologies.

“Learning Loss” Is A Dangerous Myth: How a racist, classist lie is threatening an entire generation. | by Mario Mabrucco | Age of Awareness | Medium

“Learning Loss” Is Based on Bad Data

Professional educators know that real learning doesn’t “start and stop”. Kids don’t become dumber over the weekend, or during the summer. In fact, we know that the whole idea of “learning loss” changes depending on which data collection method you use to track it. Research from the University of Iowa shows that by changing your research methodology, the same group of students can show learning loss, no learning loss, or active gains over the summer. We know that test scores are a faulty data collection method. Yet we still base policy on the bad data they give us.

Not only are we basing the lie of “learning loss” on bad information, the whole idea of “falling behind” is illogical. If the whole world is behind, then who can be ahead? We are framing education as a “pass-fail” dialectic; if you’re not excelling, you’re failing. This is assembly-line thinking that values identical products being churned out at a predictable rate, not children’s mental and social development. It’s just not the way kids learn.

“Learning Loss” Is A Dangerous Myth: How a racist, classist lie is threatening an entire generation. | by Mario Mabrucco | Age of Awareness | Medium

It should come as no surprise that as soon as stories of “learning loss” spread, ed-tech bloggers and consultants come out of the woodwork to hawk their wares. A report from the Washington Post highlighted the growing influence of private education providers that have grown into “multibillion dollar industries. Peddling fear about the loss of school hours creating a gap between expected and actual learning is a great way to prop up these industries while simultaneously setting public schools up for failure.”

This technocratic fascination with measurement means anything that isn’t quantifiable is irrelevant. At the risk of sounding like a 19-year old in his first Sociology course, this really is because of… capitalism. 20th-century schooling was designed like an assembly line, for the assembly line. This “lost year” is only a problem, says this thinking, in that it will supposedly have a negative impact on the workforce and economy.

The bigger problem with this neo-liberal approach is that it covers up the real reasons for actual learning loss — the chronic, and purposeful, underfunding of the public education system; an unjust pattern of evictions that targets BIPOC families; and worst of all, the death of family members due to Covid-19. Schools are not dealing with the trauma of these issues in any meaningful way. Instead we give kids yet another round of high-stakes testing as a panacea for the real social disease.

“Learning Loss” Is A Dangerous Myth: How a racist, classist lie is threatening an entire generation. | by Mario Mabrucco | Age of Awareness | Medium

Further reading,