Closing the Learning Gap: How Frontline Educators Want to Address Lost Learning due to COVID-19


Insights from the Horace Mann Voice of the Educator Study | March 2021

The year 2020 was unlike any other for educators, students and parents. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced a re-examination of how America provides K-12 education. It necessitated on-the-fly adjustments during the pandemic’s onset in spring 2020 and tough longer-term decisions across the nation about how best to provide education in a variety of formats based on new medical information and the prevalence of local infections.

Today, the possibility of a 2021-2022 school year that looks more like the pre-pandemic environment is

looking bright. As of mid-March, teachers were eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in all 50 states. The Centers for Disease Control lessened social distancing requirements to three feet from six feet for students in most classroom settings, a development largely expected to spur more schools to re-open. Several manufacturers are testing their vaccines on children and expect to release clinical trial results over the summer.

This is finally some good news for students’ academic and social-emotional learning outlook after a rough year. The pandemic’s effects on student learning have been profound. More than half of all educators surveyed by Horace Mann in February and March 2021 reported significant loss of academic learning and disruption to social-emotional learning when comparing their current students to those in previous years.

When you add in educators who see some loss or disruption, the impact rises to an astonishing 97% and 96%, respectively. Educators’ biggest concern about students is their mental health, closely followed by loss of learning. A widening gap between academically struggling and high-performing students is by far the top challenge in returning to “normal,” according to nearly half of respondents.

Despite these challenges and concerns, 93% of educators expressed pride in how they’ve adapted to the changing educational environment, leveraged technology and changed their teaching approaches to facilitate remote learning. Educators continue to express enduring commitment to their students – and numerous ideas to help students catch up on their academic and social-emotional learning in the 2021-2022 school year. More than 50% recommend a narrower focus on grade-level standards to help ensure their students learn the most important concepts for their grade level, in addition to calls for less focus on standardized testing. Other solutions include more summer school (38%), bringing in additional paraprofessionals (34%) and more social-emotional learning support in their classrooms (30%).

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