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ConGRADulations, fellow kids

2022-06-21

Hey, Weeds listeners: Today, we are bringing you an episode of Today, Explained that originally aired in early June. 

Ten months ago, the faculty of Cramer Hill Elementary set out to get their kids back on track after a year of mostly remote learning. Today, Explained’s Miles Bryan attended eighth-grade graduation to see how they did.

This episode was reported and produced by Miles Bryan, edited by Matt Collette, fact-checked by Laura Bullard, engineered by Efim Shapiro, and hosted by Sean Rameswaram.

Transcript at vox.com/todayexplained

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello and welcome to another episode of the weeds. I'm your host Dylan Matthews and today we are bringing you an episode of a totally different show Called today explained some of you may have heard of it our colleagues at Today Explained recently reported on a new study about pandemic learning loss. For education policy at Harvard and is one of the most expansive looks at learning loss to date. They use data from over 2 million students across 10,000 elementary and middle schools. The Today Explained team has been reporting on COVID in schools for months. And they've been checking in with one particular school, Kramer Hill Elementary in Camden, New Jersey. You can find more episodes. In the series on Kramer Hill at vox.com/todayexplained. Lately, a lot of the talk about schools in the United States has been about school shootings because of what happened in Yovaldi, Texas a few weeks ago. But it is June, which means something a lot more hopeful is coming.
Is happening at schools across the country. Let's greet our eighth grade graduates. Give them a hand. Today Explained has spent the last school year checking in with an elementary school in Camden, New Jersey. Today, we go to graduation at Kramer Hill Elementary. As you get older, Doesn't get easier in terms of things being less uncertain, rather uncertainty. It's more and more frequent in your life. And what I want you guys to do is make sure that as you go to high school and the rest of your life, certainty and take it as an opportunity to try your best.
- This podcast comes from Planned Parenthood. It's hard to imagine a world where we leave future generations with fewer rights and freedoms. Since the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, politicians in nearly every state have introduced bills aimed at blocking people from getting the essential sexual and reproductive care they need, including abortion. Everyone deserves access to care. And with supporters like you, they can reclaim our rights and protect and expand access to abortion care. Visit plannedparenthood.org/future to learn more and support their cause. I think we can all agree the current political moment is fraught. But how does it compare to the other fraught political moments in history? It fell for a time in part of that decade. Everything was falling apart. Young people against old people, anti-war violence, peace movement. I'm former US President.
Attorney Preet Bharara. And this week, Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin joins me on my podcast, Stay Tuned with Preet. We talk about difficult times in America's history and how its people overcame them. Is out now. Search and follow Stay Tuned with Preet wherever you get your podcasts. Previously on Today Explained teacher and administrators have been dealing with helping kids get back on track after a year plus of quote-unquote remote learning. But now they're all back. They've been back for weeks so it felt like a good time to ask how that experiment's going. So we sent today explains Miles Bryan, back to school. Yeah, I went to Kramer Hill Elementary School. It's in Camden, New Jersey, just across the river from where I live in Philly. And a couple of fast facts. It's a K-8 school, so it has kids ages 5 to 13 to 14.
The school has about 800 kids and more than 90% of them are black and Latino. Most of their families are living under the poverty line. So when you talk about kids that are at the biggest risk of learning loss during COVID, these kids are in that group. So ever since last August, I've been checking in on the school and specifically on the eighth grade class. And the eighth grade class, perhaps the most important because those are the kids who are going to be graduating. Yeah, I was interested in them because they had to make this huge transition right from middle school to high school, which is always really important and often really hard for kids. But this group of kids hadn't been in the classroom consistently together since the sixth grade. So they had this.
Even bigger challenge than normal. And it wasn't just you who was concerned about those kids? No, their teachers were concerned, their principal was concerned. Basically anyone paying attention to education in America is concerned. Their concerns were grouped into two big buckets. The first was learning loss, which is a term you've probably heard a bunch at this point. You know, the worry that kids weren't going to be able to learn new stuff or retain what they had already learned on Zoom school and after, you know, so many months of coming back into the classroom and Going back online and all that disruption. -It is my goal and mission, and the thing that keeps me up at night as a principal, By May of 2022, my eighth grade state test scores are equally. To what they would have been or what they were on track to be two years ago. And the second bucket was behavioral issues that kids...
Basically weren't maturing in the way they were supposed to because they weren't together in the classroom anymore, or at least together consistently. How to interact in person. - Well, the school year is over now. How did it go with learning loss and behavioral stuff? - It was a mixed bag. -Humberhill principal Jessi Gismondi about how they did on these issues a couple of weeks ago. She said when it came to learning loss, Done surprisingly well. They've been surprisingly effective. - And so we're about at pace as we were pre-pandemic. I would even There may be a 5% increase to where we were, which is awesome. Kramer Hill actually just won a national. A Blue Ribbon of Excellence Award for its academic performance. Nice! From the Pabst Corporation? I don't think so. A different group, but... You know, same commitment to excellence. Kramer Hill has had strong academic performance, strong test scores at the end of the year, but that is definitely not
This story at every school. You know we're going to get into this in the second half of today's show, but you know the data has generally shown that learning loss during the pandemic has been And that generally speaking, the longer schools stayed virtual, the more kids fell behind. Yeah. But I want to tell you about that, the second bucket, the behavioral issues, because Kramer Hill has struggled more with that, or kids at the school have struggled more with that. Okay. Some of those issues come out in interpersonal relationships. These kids spent years interacting with each other, primarily online. And they've like really struggled to adjust back to IRL. Mmm, in real life, yeah. So let's say at night or something, somebody posts something on Instagram. And then they come in the next day, and guess what? They're in school together. They're not in their houses behind a camera with their camera off.
Will come up to another kid and say, Did you say that about me online last night? Another kid will just not know what to, yeah, like I did, right? And I think that kids really missed out on two years of a journey through interpersonal communication and how to sort of how to have a conversation with another kid in a way that isn't just like totally strange. - It's funny to hear Principal Gismondi call out Instagram beefs. Because there are shootings in my neighborhood in DC and sometimes when I ask a cop
I see on my way home or something. Hey, what's going on? What happened here? Was this like a drug thing? Was this like a gang thing? They'll be like, mostly this is Instagram beef. So this is like a real problem. Yeah, I think that's real. And that's something I've heard in reporting on crime for this show before as well. And there's a huge difference between what Gizmondi just described and, you know, you're heard from these police officers about a fight that led to a shooting, but I think they both get at this fundamental which is... Young people have not been able to develop socially and figure out how to de-escalate confrontation in person after spending so much time online. Another behavior issue in school that I wanted to tell you about, which is endurance. Whether you're working in corporate America or you're a student, there is an opportunity on Zoom to be in your bed or wear pajama pants. Yeah. Or just like
I wouldn't know anything about that. No judgment here. There is a different level of energy that makes you put on a whole outfit. Journey to the school building. Of like by seventh period, which was a long time kids are really spent and we're finding that they weren't like using resources or they'd get to an end of a problem and they would just be like, Well, I don't know. - I can relate. I mean, we see these things in the workplace and we're all adults getting paid to be here. These are kids who are hormonal, going through puberty, going through all sorts of changes, plus the pandemic, plus returning to school, plus. All the social anxiety. Did you talk to any of these kids about how they were feeling? Yeah, I did. I ran what Gizmonde was saying by a couple of kids, including Jael Boreto. Boreto is a star. She's got great grades. She makes her teachers happy. When I'm around my friends and stuff, I'm...
Like the chill one. I'm the one that keeps everyone chill. - But she told me the thing that you have to understand is that after all those months of learning from home and then being in and out of the classroom due to COVID outbreaks, the old normal is gone and it's not coming back. - Since of COVID, everything feels different. So like having to sit in class, I'm like, this is weird because I'm used to sitting at home in my bed, of a computer. So now it's very weird to see them in person walking around, putting stuff on the board. It's like home is normal now and school is weird. Yeah. And I was thinking about what JL said in relation to masks. Kramer Hill made masks.
Optional back in March. But when I was there a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a lot of kids were still wearing them. Now, obviously that has a lot to do with trying to avoid catching COVID. But I also think masks are sort of the default look now for at least some of these eighth graders. - I don't want people looking at my face that much. - How come? Some people... Like, so my teeth are very white and frilly, like. And people are always like, Oh my God, your teeth are so nice. I like compliments, but for you two, like, 24/7. To be like, Oh my god, I love your teeth, or, Oh my god, your cheeks are so cute. That's Chantal Tavares, and I also have that problem, for what it's worth. When you see me with a mask on in the Zoom meeting, I'm just trying to spare you. When you started this interview, you said we were going to talk about graduation. Did you attend graduation? Did you go to the ceremony? You know I did. It was on a Wednesday morning earlier this month, actually June 1st.
I showed up a little bit early and went straight to the classroom of Mr. Justin Newell. He's like the Nintendo Wii guy, right? - Yes, he's the eighth grade teacher that I spent the most time with. He famously compared himself to-- To his Nintendo Wii Mii character. -My Wii Mii looked exactly like me. -That morning in his classroom, his kids were talking and laughing. There were boys in button-ups and fake Ray-Bans. Lots of the girls were in fancy dresses and heels. How are you feeling about everything? I'm very excited, but also kind of nervous. What are you nervous about? Um, probably falling, because I'm just clumsy. The energy was high. It was super nice. Just for the radio audience who can't see, just tell me about what we're seeing. I've never quite gotten used to it. Out there here giving them their shirts. We're kind of just hanging out until it's time to go put the show on.
Ever feel prepared to like set them off to be free? Like butterflies. But I just, I definitely don't feel that way now. I feel like there's still some left on the field if you know what I mean, you know? I think what Newell was saying there was that even... More than a normal year, he felt like there was more to do for these kids. You know, there was more to teach them. There was more experiences to go through. Them and so letting them go at the end of this year was particularly bittersweet. Hmm. Principal Gismondi was there that day too. She was cheering the kids on, making sure they stayed in line a little bit longer. -You guys, honestly, no one needs -- We can cancel graduation right now. -Pro tip -- do not swear in front of your principal, even on graduation day. — In the school year it is. There's absolutely no reason to be cursed. — Especially when you made it here by winging the prayer. — The whole thing felt super normal in the best possible way.
Like for a morning, everybody was able to forget about the chaos and challenges of the last couple years and just enjoy themselves. Not to mention the chaos and the tragedy of the last few weeks. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I don't know how much that was on the kids' minds, but for the adults, Yuvaldi, the mashup. At that elementary school was clearly present in their minds. That had happened just eight days before graduation. And I actually pulled Gizmondi aside and asked her how she was feeling in light of that. Inexplicable feeling as a principal to know that like a tragedy somewhere else has taken the possibility of these moments from from those students and And all we can do is cherish them even more here. And it sounds corny and it sounds, you know, very surface level, but it's just so true. It's like, we cannot not have a graduation. We cannot not have a prom. We can't not not.
Have these moments because truly in the landscape of school shootings and the violence that plagues schools, you just Never know when it'll be the last one. So we're gonna just continue to like celebrate and go as big as we can for our kids, 'cause they deserve it. - It's like asking a lot of school administrators and teachers and students to go through the pandemic, try and recover, and then also have to deal with this constant nagging feeling that their school could be next. But it sounds like it didn't get in the way. Of ceremonies? - No, it didn't actually. So around 10 a.m. the kids filed out of that classroom we were just in and out on-- To the lawn. our eighth grade graduates. Give them a hand. It was this perfect spring day, and there must have been like 300 family members out there cheering their kids on. -Congratulations. You guys look fantastic.
On the lawn and they they all sat down in these rows of white chairs and looked up at the podium and once they sat down their teachers took turns giving out awards they gave out a ton of super specific awards different kids. Now I could have put class mom I could have put runs the show. Chantal with the good teeth got one from Mr. Newell. I made an award called the future leader award and this one I can't I don't. I don't think anybody's really going to disagree with this. We go to Miss Chantal Tavares. Boy, have you taken a picture. And then Gizmondi got up and gave a sort of end of the year speech. As you get older, it doesn't get easier in terms of things being less uncertain. Rather, uncertainty gets more and more frequent in your life. And what I want you guys to do is make sure that as you go to high school and the rest of your lives, you look at uncertainty and you take it as an opportunity to try your best.
What you guys did this year and ended up in a very successful year. I'm not headed into high school at the end of the summer, but I thought there was some pretty good advice there for anyone. Yeah. Finally, the DJ fired up Stand By Me and Mr. Newell came back on stage to start handing out diplomas. I'm gonna keep you awake. Don't worry about it, buddy. I don't want you going to sleep. Don't tempt me with a time, Jose. So for the class, the eighth grade class of 2022, here we go. Miss Haley Allen. Sounds so wholesome. And I guess, despite everything.
The theme here is that life kind of goes on at Kramer Hill Elementary? Yeah, yeah. You know, it was really nice to feel like at the end of this year, this year that we've been following these kids and their teachers and administrators, things worked out. You know, the year was relatively successful. It was a really beautiful moment out there on that lawn under the cloudless blue sky watching those kids pick up their diplomas. Mr. Anthony, still repping the Sixers. Boom! I appreciate that, A. In a minute we're going to take a look at how the rest of the country's schools are doing. It's Today Explained. Jose Burgos. Campos de Jada! Support for this podcast comes from Planned Parenthood.
Is your own. That's why Planned Parenthood is committed to ensuring that everyone has the information and resources they need to make their own decisions about their bodies, including abortion care. Today, lawmakers who oppose abortion are challenging Planned Parenthood. Affordable, high quality, basic health care for more than 2 million people is at stake. Planned Parenthood believes that healthcare is a basic human right. That's why they fight every day to push for common sense policies that protect our right to control our own bodies. They also work tirelessly to oppose the onslaught of new policies aimed at interfering with personal decisions best left to patients and their doctors. They won't give up and they won't back down. You can join Planned Parenthood in the fight to help make sure that the next generation can decide their own futures. The organization needs your support now more than ever. Just like you, they can reclaim our rights and protect and expand access to abortion care. Visit PlannedParenthood.org/future to learn more and support their cause. you
Your podcast comes from Planned Parenthood. Is your own. That's why Planned Parenthood is committed to ensuring that everyone has the information and resources they need to make their own decisions about their bodies, including abortion care. Today, lawmakers who oppose Abortion are challenging Planned Parenthood. Affordable, high quality, basic health care for more than 2 million people is at stake. Planned Parenthood believes that healthcare is a basic human right. That's why they fight every day to push for common sense policies that protect our right to control our own bodies. They also work tirelessly to oppose the onslaught of new policies aimed at interfering with personal decisions best left to patients and their doctors. They won't give up and they won't back down. You can join Planned Parenthood in the fight to help make sure that the next generation can decide their own futures. The organization needs your support now more than ever.
Like you, they can reclaim our rights and protect and expand access to abortion care. Visit PlannedParenthood.org/future to learn more and support their cause. Horace Mann used to argue that schools are the balance wheel of the social machinery, and I think we got a chance to see that, that when schools closed, gals Rameshwaram today explained, we have spent a lot of time looking at how the pandemic played out at Kramer Hill, but to close this series out, we wanted to get a better sense of the bigger picture, so we hit up Tom Kane, he's a casual Celtics fan and faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard. He and his colleagues recently published the most comprehensive look at learning loss during To date. Our research covered 10,000 schools, 2.1 million students in
49 out of 50 states plus DC. Let's talk about what you found. What were your takeaways? So we found that in parts of the country where schools did not. Shut down, students lost ground. So remember, everybody went remote in spring of 2020, and we see that, that achievement slowed down even in places that went back to in-person pretty quickly in 2021. However, in places where schools remained remote for more than half of 2020, 2021, there were much larger losses, especially for students attending high poverty schools. In schools that remained in person throughout 2021, students lost about seven
To 10 weeks of instruction. But there was no widening of gaps between black and white students, between high poverty and low poverty schools. Everybody lost about the same amount. In schools that were-- or remote for more than half of 2021. Widened pretty dramatically between high poverty and low poverty schools, between blacks and whites, between whites and Hispanics. In high poverty schools in those districts lost the equivalent of 22 weeks of instruction, so more than half a year. - How exactly do you measure that? Is it test scores? What is it, grades? - So we're measuring this. With students' achievement growth on math and reading tests. So when we say students lost ground, I'm--
Not literally saying people forgot how to do algebra or forgot how to read. It was that they didn't grow as much in algebra or math and they didn't grow as much in reading as we would expect them to grow. - And when we talk about where schools stayed open and where schools closed, are we essentially talking about, I don't wanna be reductive here, but red states versus blue states? - There was a partisan component to the school shutdown decision, so states like Florida. Texas were much less likely to close schools during the pandemic than states like Maryland, Illinois, New Jersey. JS So what do schools do now to make up for what's been lost? JLK Well, I know everybody is eager to get back to normal, but I hope Bye!
People recognize that normal is not going to be enough. That many districts are thinking about things like high-dosage tutoring, double-dose math, so giving students An extra period of math instruction or reading instruction if it's in the early grades. Well, people aren't doing the math on just how much of this additional help students are gonna need. So based on our calculations, students in a high poverty school that was remote for half the year of 2021, virtually every student in those schools would need a tutor in order to,
to catch up, to make up for the lost ground. So tutoring works, but I don't think people realize the scale of effort that would be required. The logistically, which is politically the least popular option, would be extending the school year. Next couple of years and then paying teachers, you know, time and a half and school bus drivers and other school staff make it worth people's while to teach the additional time. School districts have the dollars through this federal aid that they've received over the last couple of years. And we just need to be thinking about what's the scale of effort that's going to be required to help students catch up. I imagine there's a finite amount of time to address the learning loss that these kids experienced in the pandemic. When exactly does this need to happen or how long?
do schools have to fix this? - Over the course of the pandemic, schools have received about $190 billion in federal aid. And much of that money is currently unspent. But the school districts have until the end of 2024 to spend those dollars. We should be talking now about things like extending the school year. My fear though is people are underestimating the scale of the effort that's gonna be required.
Talking about some improbable solutions, right? Extending school years, paying teachers more, getting everyone a tutor. It all sounds smart, but we don't always choose the smartest path. What happens if we don't address these gaps, if we just keep passing kids along because we don't want to hold them back? - We see what's the relationship between students' achievement scores and earnings later in life. And based on those relationships, like a 22-week loss in instruction for students in a high-poverty school, would translate into about a 5% lower earnings over the rest of their career. Now, that may not sound like a ton.
But actually, if you add that up across the entire economy, if these losses became permanent, it would result in about a $2 trillion loss in present value of future earnings for our country. Students. Whether we agreed with the school closure decisions or not, the fact is those were public health measures that were taken on our behalf. And adults have an obligation now. To pay the bill for that and not expect our students now to pay that bill, because they will pay the bill in terms of... Lower earnings and higher high school dropout rates and lower college going rates if we don't do anything.
About it. Produced by Miles Bryan. His teeth are fine. Miles had help from Matthew Collette, Efim Shapiro, and Laura Bullard. It's today explained. Happy summertime, kids. - My weemie looked exactly like me.
Transcript generated on 2024-05-28.