The Newark Teachers’ Union is calling for a “war on learning losses.”

The city’s teachers ’union said this week that Newark should start a“ war against the loss of education ”and called for a citywide campaign to support students who suffered academic failures during the pandemic.

The association’s call for action comes after the publication of mid-term test scores, which show that the vast majority of students in the state’s largest district do not meet classroom standards in math or school per academic year. A February assessment showed that only 2% of fourth-graders met expectations for the state math exam this spring.

The union, which represents more than 6,200 employees in the district, said teachers and other school staff have worked tirelessly to help students since two years of study and riots in their homes and communities. But even when teachers struggle to help students recover lost positions, and despite widespread staff shortages and fatigue, some city leaders and residents are unaware of the growing academic crisis, said John Abegon, president of the Newark Teachers Union.

“Where is the sense of urgency with the loss of learning?” He asked. “If it’s not resolved now, it could continue for a generation.”

Local leaders are already embarking on a trade union struggle. On Friday, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the city recognizes that the pandemic will halt student learning across the country and will support the district and all partners in efforts to rehabilitate students.

“We are committed to our children and are doing everything necessary, including participating in a working group to address this important issue,” he said in a statement.

The New Jersey Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Newark, also said it would “welcome the opportunity to work with other city leaders in the face of this crisis.” The organization supports Newark’s charter schools, which the teachers’ union has strongly criticized, but the group said it sees the union as an “important partner” in combating learning loss.

“This is a natural crisis that requires a collective effort to rebuild the next decade,” said Kyle Rosencrans, the group’s executive director.

In a statement and interview on Thursday, Abegon and other union officials said the scale of students’ educational and socio-emotional needs required a citywide mobilization.

The Coalition proposed a working group on education losses with leaders of government, business, community and education, which was convened in a district council to help rebuild schools. The group could work together to rehabilitate students, such as involving local college students as mentors or organizing workshops to help parents support their children in math and reading, Abegion said, calling for a “union of forces” to address the losses. training.

“Acknowledge that it exists, sit down as a group and let’s see how we deal with this,” he said.

The New York Teachers ’Union’s new campaign is strongly opposed by more officials from other officials to the academic struggles of students and the hatred of some unions for the term“ education loss ”.

Newark School Board and Superintendent Roger Leon acknowledged that students are suffering socially and academically while classrooms are closed and many families are facing financial and personal challenges. The district has taken steps over the past year to improve education, including after-school classes, the expansion of the summer school, and additional teacher training.

However, during events and public meetings, district officials focused mainly on COVID safety measures and other initiatives, such as opening new schools and implementing Leon’s 10-year strategic plan. They provided little information about their teaching efforts and asked questions about what tutoring programs included and how many students participated.

A district spokesman on Friday did not respond to a request for comment on the association’s campaign.

Meanwhile, some unions of teachers and individual educators are outraged by the notion of learning loss. Critics say the term misrepresents that students dropped out or dropped out during a pandemic when data showed that most students continued their education at a slower pace. Others worry that the term will lead to an excessive focus on standardized tests and a limited focus on students ’academic progress, rather than their overall well-being.

An analyst with the Chicago Teachers’ Union wrote last year that teachers “must resist the false notion of ‘learning loss.’ “To say that our students were not educated during the pandemic is an insult to them and their teachers.”

Newark union leaders are some of these concerns. For example, they said that the average grade for the year only measures students ’knowledge of grade-level material, which can result in students progressing far below grade level. Union officials also said schools could not return to “normal business” but should focus on the mental health and other needs of students alongside academics.

But the Newark union does not deny that students are far behind and desperately need help to reach them. Instead, they argue that schools alone cannot solve the problem.

“We know there are losses, but how do we move forward?” said the association’s vice president, Sylvia Pereira, who also teaches English as a second language at one of the district’s schools. “It has to be at all.”

Pereira, who spoke as union leader, said teachers had worked long hours to reduce the impact of the pandemic on students. When Pereira herself signed a contract with COVID, she continued her education at a distance, not at the risk of leaving her students behind. However, he added, teachers face invaluable challenges, including students struggling to re-adapt to school and the fatigue of teachers themselves.

But the biggest obstacle was a shortage of staff, union officials said. In the past week alone, the union has recorded 15 resignations from school staff, and Leon said 115 teaching positions have not been filled. Pereira said support staff have been reassigned to fill some vacancies, with a small number of people to work individually with students, and the size of classrooms is too large for some teachers to provide individual support to many students.

“If you don’t have a cadre to support students at their level, it won’t work,” he said. “There we fight: we have the tools, but we don’t have the personnel.”

Abeigon also said a small number of students are enrolled in a voluntary after-school program, which he said should be compulsory.

He urged Newark leaders and residents to keep in mind that even when COVID cases are reduced and restrictions are lifted, young people will continue to live with pandemic collapse for years to come.

“As long as there is a loss of learning,” he said, “it won’t end.”

Patrick Wall is a senior photographer for Chalkbeat Newark who covers public education in the city and throughout New Jersey. Contact Patrick pwall@chalkbeat.org.

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