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New report: Crisis in classroom instruction thwarts academic recovery

In a report released today, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) delivers new information on the dire state of classroom instruction and its detrimental impact on academic recovery in the aftermath of three years of learning disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The report, “Teaching recovery? Three years in, school system leaders report that the pandemic weakened instruction,” revealed the challenges faced by school system leaders as they grapple with the daunting task of reclaiming educational ground lost to the Covid-19 pandemic.

CRPE returned for the fourth and final time to speak to more than two dozen school leaders across five school systems (three districts and two charter networks). All five are urban and suburban and serve higher percentages of students of color and students from low-income families than the national average. They range in size from 5,000 to almost 40,000 students. The leaders shared their unguarded accounts of recovery plans abandoned due to unforeseen circumstances, insurmountable hurdles, and low-quality supports. Their observations proved prophetic as the subsequent release of test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) revealed student academic recovery to be at a standstill. 

A central theme dominated the feedback given by the school system leaders: student recovery initiatives fell prey to a crisis of classroom teaching quality.

“Given the stark reality shared with us by school system leaders across the United States, the recent NAEP and NWEA scores should now be no surprise,” said CRPE’s Director, Robin Lake. “School systems needed to address significant issues of teacher retention, engagement, instructional practice, and lowered expectations for their students. As we were told, leaders’ need to attend to these fundamental issues meant abandoning many academic recovery plans,” continued Lake.

System leaders, speaking candidly during the spring of 2023, revealed that their priority had shifted towards system-wide improvements in classroom instruction, or “core instruction,” over targeted tutoring and acceleration supports for the most vulnerable students, leaving little room for additional support for those students who need it the most. The consequences are glaringly evident in the continued lack of recovery made in national assessment scores as school systems grapple to implement and scale the much-needed targeted student supports.

Key findings in this eye-opening report include:

  • A crisis in classroom teaching quality diverted valuable time and attention away from targeted student supports, undermining the recovery efforts.
  • Despite a decrease in day-to-day chaos, recovery initiatives have been derailed by unforeseen staffing challenges and the uphill battle of teacher development, rendering even the most well-intentioned Covid recovery plans difficult, if not impossible, to execute.
  • Ambitious plans for personalized tutoring and customized assistance have crumbled under the weight of the urgent need to rebuild teachers’ core skills.

When paired with recent NAEP and NWEA results, uncomfortable but critical questions emerge. Is a teaching recovery necessary before a student recovery can begin in earnest? Is it too much to expect school systems to rebuild teaching and support students’ Covid recovery?

“This is an ‘all hands on deck’ moment that necessitates a simultaneous improvement in classroom teaching while doing everything possible to bridge the academic gap for our students,” said Lake. “Now that we understand the reality faced by school system leaders, how we respond will determine whether there is seriousness of intent or a continued lack of will and urgency. We can’t refuse to address the enormity and depth of the problem any longer.”

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