The worst learning loss in a generation is going to extract a heavy toll over the next decade.

Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

Online School Put U.S. Kids Behind,” reported Real Clear Politics on October 24, 2022: “Some adults have regrets.”

There is plenty to regret — national test results are in, and they are abysmal. Extended public school closures erased 20 years of educational gains in reading and math. The price tag for extended public school closures is estimated to be well into the trillions.

Then there is the human cost.

“Vivian Kargbo thought her daughter’s Boston school district was doing the right thing when officials kept classrooms closed for most students for more than a year,” wrote RCP.

Kargbo’s was a sentiment shared by many families in 2020. Plenty of families will recognize what happened next, too.

“But her daughter became depressed and stopped doing school work or paying attention to online classes,” continued RCP. “The former honor-roll student failed nearly all of her eighth-grade courses.”

“Preliminary test scores around the country confirm what Kargbo witnessed: The longer many students studied remotely, the less they learned,” the news outlet reported. “Some educators and parents are questioning decisions in cities from Boston to Chicago to Los Angeles to remain online long after clear evidence emerged that schools weren’t COVID-19 super-spreaders — and months after life-saving adult vaccines became widely available.”

“She’s behind,” laments Kargbo of her daughter now. “It [distance learning] didn’t work at all. Knowing what I know now, I would say they should have been in school.”

“I wish we’d been in person earlier,” a second parent was quoted as saying before echoing another very common refrain: “Other schools seemed to be doing it successfully.”

It’s true: From West Texas to Europe to Florida, public schools in many places only closed for a few weeks, if that.

“The pandemic has caused the most catastrophic disruption to education in history,” WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr. Henri P. Kluge spoke out urgently against school closures in August of 2021, joining colleagues from the WHO and UNICEF. “It is therefore vital that classroom-based learning continue uninterrupted across the European region. This is of paramount importance for children’s education, mental health, and social skills, for schools to help equip our children to be happy and productive members of society.”

“It will be some time before we can put the pandemic behind us but educating children safely in a physical school setting must remain our primary objective, so we don’t rob them of the opportunities they so deserve,” Dr. Kluge implored.

“We encourage all countries to keep schools open and urge all the schools to put in place measures to minimize the risk of COVID-19 and the spread of different variants,” is as full-throated an endorsement of in-person education as there could be.

UNICEF issued another urgent plea the following year, opting to name and shame countries still depriving public school children of in-person learning.

With 23 countries yet to fully reopen schools, education risks becoming ‘greatest divider’ as COVID-19 pandemic enters third year,” warned UNICEF in a press release on March 29, 2022.

“In addition to data on learning loss, the report points to emerging evidence that shows many children did not return to school when their classrooms reopened,” reported the humanitarian organization, citing a new report.

Reporting on disturbing drop-out trends in Liberia, South Africa, Uganda, and Kenya — among other places surveyed — UNICEF warned of the long-term economic, social, and global impact of so many at-risk kids failing to receive even the barest minimum of education.

In Los Angeles, California, the same thing is happening. At the beginning of the 2022 fall semester, when LA district public schools, at last, opened their doors, the school system found itself missing 20,000 students.

50,000 LA public school students missed their first day of school in August of 2022.

What Will It Take to Restore the Social Contract on Public Schools?” wondered the New York Times on September 22, 2022.

It was a tacit admission that extended public school closures broke the social contract under which public education in America was established in the first place — at great cost.

Public education equals a more prosperous, peaceful, and productive society. If we accept that equation as true — and it is — then logic insists the opposite must also be true: Depriving children of a quality public education produces the inverse — a society made poorer, more dangerous, and less financially stable.

For everyone.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)