The test results are in, and they aren’t good.
“School Closures Still Link to Learning Loss, Nearly 3 Years Into Pandemic,” wrote Emma Camp for the upcoming February 2023 issue of Reason: “Reading and math scores declined between 2020 to 2022, reversing two decades of improvement.”
The same news is everywhere, and it isn’t good.
“Those Grade-School Test Scores Are a Really Bad Sign,” admitted Slate on October 26, 2022.
“Not Good for Learning,” was the official New York Times take on extended public school closures.
“ACT Test Scores Drop to Lowest in 30 Years Following School Closures,” reported Real Clear Politics on October 13, 2023.
Why were public schools in some places closed for so long while so many others — in the U.S. and around the world — remained open to in-person learning almost the entire time?
“First, You Decide That Kids Belong in School,” begged Carrie McKean for The Atlantic on January 27, 2022.
Nearly two years after Covid19 hit American shores, one of the nation’s foremost liberal news organizations felt the need to shout the obvious from the rooftops. It was telling.
“COVID is real,” qualified McKean carefully. “So is our experience out here in West Texas, where schools have gone back to operating much as they did before the pandemic. Masks are optional. The kids can sit where they want at lunch and play with who they want at recess. They typically take COVID tests only when they show symptoms and quarantine only when they are sick.”
Far afield from West Texas, even in deep blue districts like San Francisco, the debate about public school closures waxed hot. The fallout from lengthy public school closures resulted in the successful recall of three San Francisco school board members in February of 2022.
“It’s a good example of how once-obscure school boards became centers of attention during the COVID-19 pandemic as parents, students, and teachers struggled with mandated distance learning and other health precautions,” observed Ed Kilgore for the Intelligencer on February 16, 2022.
Warning that the “San Francisco School-Board Fallout Will Spread Far Beyond City,” Kilgore couldn’t help but note that, “The recalled board members — board of education president Gabriela López as well as commissioners Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga — angered both liberal and conservative parents by keeping most public schools in San Francisco closed from March 2020 to August 2021 even as nearby districts and private schools reopened.”
The kids, it would seem, were not as resilient as we’d hoped.
When public school districts that experienced lengthy closures first reopened, behavioral problems resulted in even more closures. Many months later, the rise in disruptive behavior is still a major concern.
“Public Schools Face Dramatic Rise in Student Misbehavior,” wrote Joe Herring for Real Clear Education on January 13, 2023.
Then, there are those test scores. Two decades of hard-fought gains in math and reading scores — gone practically overnight.
Long-term public school closures in deep blue districts drew attention to something else as well: Reading and math scores for at-risk students were already dismal in many places.
Now that the test scores have gone from dismal to abysmal, some teachers union representatives in benighted areas are anxious to get rid of the testing methods. But throwing out testing methods and merit-based achievements isn’t going very well either.
Five public school districts in Virginia have been caught— so far — withholding national merit achievement awards from deserving students. In an effort to be more “equitable” to students who hadn’t earned such accolades, school administrators quietly stopped handing them out.
When some of those students went on to apply for colleges, they learned about the withheld merit awards. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of their parents were less-than-pleased and took legal action.
A subsequent investigation launched by the Virginia Governor has revealed the practice was more widespread than parents suspected.
Coincidentally, Virginia’s new governor is a Republican — Glenn Youngkin. Youngkin was elected, in large part, due to backlash against Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, who derided the parental role in public education.
“I don’t think parents should be telling public schools what to teach,” McAuliffe famously said during a debate with Youngkin. It was a made-for-campaign moment, a golden opportunity…for Glenn Youngkin.
Youngkin exploited McAuliffe’s gaffe — which was no gaffe at all, as the latter clarified a month later — and lengthy public school closures all the way to the governor’s mansion.
“Today’s NAEP results are the proverbial final nail in the coffin,” said Governor Youngkin in October when the test results were released. “If this doesn’t wake you up, then you’re clearly trying to cover up your own bad decisions. In the business world, if this was your report card, there would be an immediate change in management. You would be fired. And I think that’s what voters did.”
Youngkin isn’t the only Republican taking a victory lap. While Republican results in the recent midterm election were less than the GOP hoped, the same wasn’t true everywhere.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was reelected by a shockingly wide margin in a state that, only a few years ago, was considered a progressive stronghold.
DeSantis fought hard to keep Florida schools open during the pandemic. While Florida’s Covid19 outcomes were no worse than places with extended public school shutdowns, Florida’s test scores were outstanding.
“Blue Vs. Red: 2022 Test Scores Show Devastating Toll of School Shutdowns,” reported the conservative news outlet, the Daily Wire.
The outlet is conservative, but the charts are hard to argue with.
“Achievement data should discourage future school closures,” begged the Pittsburg Post-Gazette on October 28, 2022.
And yet, of the very few school superintendents responsible for the longest school shutdowns, only two were willing to admit they’d do things differently next time.
If plunging test scores aren’t enough of a deterrent, perhaps the astronomical price tag for extended public school closures will be.
“The price tag for COVID school closures that led to historic learning losses for kids could top $28 trillion,” wrote the New York Post on January 17, 2023.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)