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May 28, 2020

New York City Teachers Worry About ‘Covid Slide’

When Kirk Schneider started teaching his high-school geometry classes remotely in late March because of the coronavirus pandemic, he expected that many of the 300,000 New York City students who didn’t have computer access might initially fall behind.

Then, even one of his school’s star pupils—who had a computer but missed friends—“went into a funk” and stopped doing homework. Teachers kept calling to check in, but for days the student was too embarrassed to answer, he said.

“This person was not on our radar,” said Mr. Schneider, who teaches at Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology in Manhattan. The student has since gotten back on track, he said, but “performed much better in a school environment.”

Mr. Schneider and his fellow New York City Department of Education teachers are charged with providing remedial instruction over the summer and possibly in the fall to thousands of students who have fallen behind in 10 weeks of remote classes.

The Department of Education said it expects about 177,000 students to enroll in its remote summer learning program. Of the total, about 102,000 will be required to take part and 27,000 will attend as part of 12-month special-education programs. The department said it would also recommend that another 48,000 students who aren’t in jeopardy of repeating a grade but “could use some additional help” attend.

Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza said the program is designed to “keep our kids on track and ready to hit the ground running come September.”

But some educators worry the “Covid slide” could affect 2020-21 test scores and have a lasting impact on students and the city’s school system. Remote summer school may not be enough, they say.

Abruptly transitioned into virtual classrooms with little training, students have had trouble using technology, teachers say. For some, inconsistent access to technology or other issues such as challenging family dynamics have compounded the problem.

“These kids are struggling,” said Yves Rho, a middle-school teacher at Eagle Academy for Young Men of Harlem. “They may know how to go on Instagram, but that doesn’t translate to how you upload.”

Some students haven’t logged in regularly, missing assignments and weeks of classes. Many struggle to adapt their learning styles to the online realm, and some are suffering pandemic-related trauma, including having relatives who became sick or died from the virus and depression about being confined at home, educators said.

Before remote learning began, schools distributed about 175,000 laptops, tablets and chromebooks from their own stock. The Department of Education said it has distributed 290,000 internet-enabled iPads since March.

Some students who didn’t request devices by the April 23 cutoff for those hoping to receive department equipment before May 1 used their phones to do homework for weeks, teachers said, and received devices this month.

Some of Ms. Rho’s students received their devices only recently. “They might have lost a month and a half of school, and you can’t necessarily go all the way back,” she said.

“I definitely think that there will be an impact, and we’ll see it in state and local assessments,” Ms. Rho said. “When we take Regents and our eighth-grade or middle-school exams, those numbers will start to show.”

Teresa Bello, a teacher at P.S. 185 in Manhattan who works with students aged 2½ to 4½, said the upheaval from the pandemic could have the greatest effect on young children.

“After a month or so, new patterns are set in the development of a child,” she said. “We’re looking at an unprecedented social experiment, because we’re not going to see the results of this until my pre-K kids are 18. So, 20 years out.”

Even with remedial summer classes, many students will need more makeup instruction in the fall, some teachers and administrators say.

“We already know there is a summer slide, and now we’re looking at the Covid slide, thinking, ‘If you were already behind when this happened, how do we make up for some of that?’ ” said Alexa Sorden, principal of the Bronx’s Concourse Village Elementary School.

Ms. Sorden expects to hold virtual meetings with parents, assigning reading lists and explaining how important it is that children complete their assigned tasks. Students will also get an advance look at the lessons for fall classes, so they can have extra time to prepare, she said.

But the real assessment of any Covid slide will most likely need to be done once students return to face-to-face instruction, Ms. Sorden said. And that timing is still uncertain.

Teachers traditionally return to open the academic year on the Tuesday following Labor Day. Mr. Carranza has pledged to “provide as much clarity as soon as we can,” about whether schools will reopen then.



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