News Story

Don’t call it learning loss, says Ann Arbor superintendent

Superintendent Jeanice Swift disputes value of the term “learning loss,” admits COVID affected “trajectory of growth”

The superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools says students who were locked out of classrooms for up to a year suffered the equivalent of getting a flat tire during a trip to the zoo.

Superintendent Jeanice Kerr Swift made that statement during a Feb. 8 Ann Arbor Board of Education meeting. The primary agenda of the meeting was “equity focus.”

Swift said during her presentation:

This idea of learning loss is really a misnomer. It’s a phrase. That presumption that students lost something that they knew — that they no longer know — is simply not true. That idea that a student maybe knew that two plus two is four, and they no longer know that, that is not the case. We do know that growth and recovery in learning is our focus, that our students are moving forward and that re-acceleration is occurring.

We know that COVID caused impact to that trajectory of growth – definitely caused impact. But the idea that students have lost somehow is simply not true. It is true that we have to do our work to continue to accelerate.

The Education Trust and other academic experts agree that students suffered significant loss due to school lockdown measures. Ann Arbor schools lost 11 weeks of learning in math and four weeks of learning in reading, according to a calculator from EduLab, a research center at Georgetown University. The calculator, which assess the cost of lost instructional time by measuring the cost of hiring tutors to help students recover, estimates Ann Arbor’s cost to remedy learning loss will be $14.7 million for math and $3.6 million for reading.

The school district’s mean SAT score in 2019 was 1152.4, and 35% of the 1,300 students assessed did not meet the college readiness benchmark. The mean score dipped to 1117.8 in 2022, with 45% not meeting the benchmark, according to MI School Data.

Swift told Michigan Capitol Confidential that the quote “demonstrates the nuance” that was the focus of her address to the board.

“We are continuing to address the impact to anticipated trajectory of growth through the Ann Arbor Public Schools learning recovery plan,” Swift said in an email to CapCon. “And we do not find the term 'learning loss' an accurate way to describe the learning experience of our students.”

Others in Michigan disagree. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has spoken of the need to address learning loss caused by pandemic-induced school closures.

Whitmer told the Detroit Free Press last year “staff shortages, quarantine, increased trauma and learning loss make this job harder than ever.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.