January 6, 2024

Jose Luis Vilson: Learning Loss and the Lessons Americans Refuse To Learn

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Jose Luis Vilson is a writer, teacher and scholar. Here he looks at the recent flap over PISA scores and the topic of concern over America’s less-than-top performance.

Despite the jingoistic flag-waving some do whenever this topic is brought up, The United States has never been #1 on these international assessments. How does The United States expect to be #1 in education when we’ve never authentically prioritized education for every student in America?

When people say “learning loss,” they also pair it with the idea that students are losing their positions in life somehow. If the end goal is to get into a highly selective – or “highly rejective” (h/t/ Akil Bello) – college, then that feels more like an indictment on a society that keeps leveling up the accreditation stakes. While 10-15% of students at Ivy League colleges are categorized under “legacy,” this country has generally blamed the Black and Latinx students – who often come in with higher GPAs than the average – for attending these schools. The specter of multiculturalism in the hallowed institutions is enough to drive rejected students to Fox News and the like. Even after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action, students who were used as a wedge to strike down affirmative action in colleges still felt the anxiety of college admissions.

This all points to how education as a construct is severely hampered by structures that existed prior to the pandemic. There’s a sizable subset of parents right now imagining phantom students that their children must be better than, which only breeds contempt for anything “public.” The “learning loss” narrative just puts students, parents, and communities on a hamster wheel with no off-ramp.

Saying a child is “behind” assumes a race for which we have no real finish line besides death. And we rarely accounted for those losses, even less so during this pandemic era.

Can we do better? Vilson thinks so.

As we head into the new year, we still have an opportunity to rethink what we’re doing. The best time was yesterday, but the better time is now. Our students deserve to have an education system that doesn’t punish them socially and economically for not attaining the highest possible score on a standardized test. While the majority of Americans appreciate the efforts of their local schools and the adults who serve them, the narrative of “failing schools” is only driving towards the dissolution of public institutions.

Read the full essay here

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