What Will the Return to School Look Like in 2021?

Back to School 2021 Tutoring

When it comes to childhood education, one of the COVID pandemic’s most dire consequences has been the inability of students to attend classes in person. In the rush to mitigate the risk of exposure, school districts around the nation had launched distance learning options they were ill-prepared to manage. Countless teachers who’d spent their careers in classrooms were suddenly floundering, unfamiliar with both online instructional pedagogy and the associated technology being used. 

Students, too, weren’t used to learning from a distance via home computers and Zoom calls. Though most students today grew up with the Internet, WiFi, laptops, and mobile devices, they were accustomed to using these things on their own (personal) time. Learning in a fully-virtual environment was a somewhat alien concept to them, and most found themselves thrust into it without due preparation or tools. 

Now schools are facing an equally tough challenge — kids, at least some of them, are coming back! So what will this return to school look like in 2021? A lot depends on the damage done so far…

The Impact of COVID-19 on Students

The damage, to date, of COVID-19 has been extensive and ugly. The Department of Education’s study Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Students notes several problem areas. “COVID-19 appears to have deepened the impact of disparities in access and opportunity facing many students of color in public schools, including technological and other barriers that make it harder to stay engaged in virtual classrooms,” the study found. 

Meanwhile, for English learners, “the abrupt shift to learning from home amid the challenges of the pandemic has made that struggle even harder.” Parents with children who have disabilities realized that the “disruptions may be exacerbating longstanding disability-based disparities in academic achievement.” 

The problems aren’t merely short-term; many will have deep, lasting impacts. For instance, certain student groups faced “particularly heightened risks for anxiety and stress and have lost regular access to affirming student organizations and supportive peers, teachers, and school staff. These students also are at an increased risk of isolation and abuse from unsupportive or actively hostile family members.” 

Stuck at home, stressed out, besieged by distractions, and taught by teachers with no experience in distance learning, students have endured a perfect storm of problems. Districts, for their part, have utterly failed to hold students (or parents) accountable for missed attendance, giving a “pass” due to extenuating circumstances. 

And so, the inevitable occurred. Grades sunk like a stone, leading to significant learning loss. 

Like It or Not, Hybrid Learning Is Here to Stay

As the pandemic rages on, school districts around the country are handling 2021 school returns differently. Many plan to offer hybrid learning as a safety precaution to limit the number of students in class, keeping them further apart for social distancing. Hybrid learning models will allow some students to attend in-person while others stay home, attending virtually and synchronously. 

Unlike blended learning, hybrid learning requires all students to attend lectures at the same time. These at-home students will invariably face the same struggles as before. Even though teachers and students have had time to grow accustomed to the distance learning model, the challenges didn’t just vanish. Indeed, the longer the pandemic drags on, the more impacted students will fall behind — because they haven’t had a chance to catch up in the first place. 

Education Week described the issue as early as 2012, quoting ACT researcher Chrys Dougherty who pointed out that once students fall behind, “Relatively few high schools even got over 25 percent of their far-off kids caught up.” Dougherty added, “the needle of academic achievement moves slowly, because essentially you are building knowledge and skills that develop over time.” 

Unfortunately, the students who’ve fallen behind due to COVID-19 turning the world upside down don’t have time to wait. 

How Tutors Have Come to the Rescue

The solution to falling student grades has been in front of our noses for some time now. Private tutors have always been used to filling the gap when students (and schools) fail to achieve objectives. Now, with the plight caused by the pandemic, the invaluable work of tutors may be the only solution if we’re to haul America’s collective grades back up. 

The key is getting around to it. 

Traditionally, tutors are utilized by frustrated parents seeking to help their young ones catch up. Parents wait until after their student has started falling behind in their grades to seek out a tutor. But savvy parents have known that tutors can actually get students ahead of the curve, too! 

Education works by building on top of prior-learned information. Or, as Hampshire College puts it, “New learning is constructed on prior knowledge.” If there’s a gap in that knowledge, then the foundation being built upon is flawed and won’t support the new information. As a result, the student will predictably get even further behind. In all too many such cases, the student eventually throws up their hands and yells, “I give up! I just don’t get it!” 

But the fault is not necessarily their own…and things don’t have to be that way. The learning loss caused by Covid is not insurmountable. It simply takes an effective plan of action that incorporates proven tutoring strategies. One of the great things about tutoring is that it is infinitely flexible and customizable. Experienced tutors can quickly target the individual issues any child is facing and address them more swiftly than a classroom educator can. That’s because tutoring is inherently student-centered, not system-centered. 

Furthermore, tutoring sessions don’t have to be reactive. Tutors can prime students ahead of time so that when classroom teachers introduce a new subject or concept, those students will already be familiar with it. 

This tutoring-in-advance can be especially critical for subjects like mathematics. As explained by Mathnasium, “math knowledge builds on itself, constantly growing and expanding, and requiring a solid foundation and understanding before new concepts can be introduced.” A seasoned tutor can not only coach their students to get up to speed on particularly problematic math concepts, but they can also look ahead to the “next chapter” and start explaining upcoming material before the primary teacher ever gets to it! 

Bottom line: a successful return to school during a pandemic depends on the willingness of teachers, parents, and students to recognize both the problems of the recent past and their ongoing impact on future learning. Effectively planned tutoring schedules can not only offset previous learning loss but prevent it going forward.