As COVID-19’s impact on education extends into a third year, the nation’s growing concern over accumulated student learning loss is more acute than ever.
The common catch-up strategy in the U.S. has been to remediate: work backwards to teach students what they missed. However, there is compelling evidence that it isn’t the best approach.
“Remediation doesn’t work,” says David Steiner, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. “In fact, it has done damage by locking students into long-term learning gaps that worsen each year. They never catch up.”
Steiner, a former New York state education commissioner, is at the forefront of a growing community of education strategists who advocate acceleration. “We must figure out and pre-teach just those critical skills and knowledge students must have in hand to prepare them for their grade-level lessons,” he says. “We cannot try to teach them all that they missed in the past—we have to let that go.”
Steiner made headlines recently when UNESCO and the World Bank, surveying global learning loss, asked him to present on acceleration strategies. He also has discussed the idea for the Washington Post, the Financial Times, and other platforms.
Acceleration requires trade-offs, he cautions. Educators must be prepared to reorganize school time and the use of school personnel to support accelerated learning. But the alternative may be much costlier.