Academic Stagnation

Academic Stagnation

One of my favorite quotes about history is by Janet Lepore, who wrote:

“The past is an inheritance, a gift, and a burden. It can’t be shirked. You carry it everywhere. There is nothing for it, but to get to know it.”

So, let’s consider some very recent history. This last year there has been so much talk – and marketing – in and to the K-12 educational system about learning loss. That term has bothered me from the very first time I heard it mentioned. Learning loss. Nice marketing tool. It’s got a nice ring to it, but really? Are we saying that because our students weren’t in face-to-face, building-based instruction that the previous tools, strategies, and information they were taught have been lost? Are we really willing to put the onus of the academic outcomes of our learners on them? The children?

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The past is an inheritance, a gift, and a burden. It can’t be shirked. You carry it everywhere. There is nothing for it, but to get to know it.
— Janet Lepore

That is utterly ridiculous. It’s absurd. And I’m sure I will anger some people by that statement and much that I say throughout this post.

Here’s the thing: if students are taught to mastery, they won’t ever lose what they’ve learned. If our children completely lost what was taught the prior year, it wasn’t taught – at least not taught to mastery. And mastery should be the goal of all that we teach.

What our learners are actually experiencing is academic stagnation. The term stagnation indicates a lack of activity, growth, or progress. And that is more descriptive of what we see. They aren’t progressing forward at a rate that indicates academic growth. They are standing still. They still have all skills taught to mastery. If they seem to have regressed, they never had the skill to begin with. 


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The results of our past instruction are an inheritance. They are a gift where we have taught to mastery. They are a burden where we have failed the children we were charged with teaching when we had them in our classrooms day after day, year after year. 

The academic stagnation we are observing because of covid is a result of ineffective methods and curriculum that does not connect to the lived experiences of our learners. Like it or not, the results of our failed instruction can’t be shirked. We carry the results, the burden or gift of past instruction as we receive new learners every year. There is nothing for it but to get to know the data. Take a good hard look at our instructional methods, tools, and curriculum. Then make decisions that will serve our children better, whether we like the tools or not.

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