COVID’s central harm to our country has been the deaths and debilitation it’s wrought for Americans. But the virus has damaged our society in a second, dire way — the learning loss for millions of students, including here in the Omaha area.
Data from 43 Nebraska school districts analyzed by The World-Herald showed, as of last fall, that students made less academic progress than normal in math and failed courses at higher-than-normal rates, especially among remote learners.
A quarter to a third of high school students in our area’s largest districts learning remotely failed two or more courses during the first semester of the last school year — a huge increase over the pre-COVID figures.
None of this is a surprise to Omaha-area educators and school boards. The Omaha Public Schools board this month approved plans to address academic recovery and learning-loss concerns using a considerable share of the district’s COVID relief aid. The efforts will include frequent tutoring for students in small groups, visiting prekindergarten through first grade students at home to extend literacy support, and upgrading and replacing older curriculum at all grade levels.
Under the strategy, OPS will partner with local organizations to address students’ mental health needs. The district also will use federal dollars to extend academic supports into homes.
The strategy, developed after significant public input, is flexible and can enable shifts of additional monies toward such efforts, OPS officials say. That leeway is important: As beneficial as infrastructure repair is, OPS, like all districts, must look to academic recovery as the top priority.
Omaha-area school districts have an additional obligation. They must ensure close, ongoing monitoring and transparency involving the many millions in federal relief aid they’re receiving. OPS, for example, is receiving a huge, phased total of $303.7 million. It’s imperative that OPS and other districts provide rigorous safeguards so monies are soundly allocated, effectively spent and properly monitored.
These relief monies provide an all-important opportunity to push back against the academic damage from COVID. Let’s go all out to maximize the academic recovery, for the sake of our students’ future.
OPS, like all districts, must look to academic recovery as the top priority.