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Joel Belz - A careless slur against distance learning


WORLD Radio - Joel Belz - A careless slur against distance learning

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, July 1st. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. WORLD founder Joel Belz now on remote learning—and how to be a shrewd consumer of news.

JOEL BELZ, FOUNDER: How would you respond if the highly regarded Wall Street Journal—in a lengthy front-page feature—proclaimed that you had utterly failed to meet the hardest challenge of your life?

That’s pretty much what the Journal did in mid-June with a big headline—quote—“The Results Are In for Remote Learning: It Didn’t Work.” End quote. The subhead on the second page stressed the same point: “Remote Learning Falls Short.”

Of course, not all “remote learning” is alike. And for thousands of readers who are also loyal homeschoolers, the article came across as a careless slur against a tried-and-true educational model. Wall Street Journal reporters Tawnell Hobbs and Lee Hawkins should have stressed that their focus was almost exclusively on the last-minute “remote learning” schools had to use following mandatory closures. That’s an important distinction.

What happened between February and June of this year was hardly a fair test of remote learning. Cobbled together by educators who had never spent 10 minutes leading any form of “distance education,” the project was set up for failure before it got off the ground. Many of the participants—both teachers and parents—had no confidence in the mass experiment they had to conduct.

Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, illustrated this point. The authors quoted him saying, “We all know that there’s no substitute for learning in a school setting, and many students are struggling and falling far behind where they should be.” End quote. 

So if “we all know” this, what is the discussion about? And doesn’t early June strike us all as a bit early to be evaluating an academic semester that hadn’t even ended yet? 

As it is, the Hobbs and Hawkins feature includes precious little hard data from which the reader can begin to form opinions. When it does, the data prove pretty soft. An Oregon-based nonprofit called NWEA projects students will return to school with roughly 70 percent of the typical learning gains in reading and less than 50 percent in math, based on preliminary research. But words like “preliminary” and “projections” seem a little squishy to serve as foundations for headlines declaring “the results are in.”

Why does it matter? Because, for a variety of reasons, remote learning will play a bigger and bigger role in the years ahead, particularly for WORLD readers and listeners. That will be true in public school settings, traditional Christian schools, and home schools. 

There will be problems along the way—and some serious. But there’s no reason to let that number be unduly inflated by overly negative reports in The Wall Street Journal.

I’m Joel Belz.


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