What did K-12 public school students lose over the last 18 months? For some, too much.

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Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash.

There can be little question that the overall mental health and well-being of America’s children and teenagers has been negatively impacted by the events of 2020/2021.

The events of 2020/2021 have negatively impacted the mental health and well-being of nearly every human being on the planet, save perhaps Jeff Bezos and Xi Jinping, two of a scant few who managed to parlay COVID-19, and its ongoing aftermath, into more money, power, or both.

Just how bad was it for those still attending U.S. public schools K-12 when COVID-19 hit? We don’t yet have the full answer, of course.

It will likely take years, probably decades, to fully understand the impact losing an entire year in the classroom had on Generation Covid, if indeed we ever do. Some of the consequences will be easier than others to quantify and examine.

But the early data coming in isn’t good. In fact, it’s downright terrible and the other shoe hasn’t even fallen yet.

It is safe to say at this point that online instruction did not provide kids with the same level of education they would have received in person. Students are far behind in math, science and reading comprehension

For at-risk high schoolers who were approaching the graduation mark, but in danger of dropping out during that crucial stage, COVID-19 was a breaking point. They aren’t reenrolling. They have fallen through the cracks of the public education system and we aren’t ever getting them back.

Nor are we ever getting back the lost tax revenues they might have paid as fully educated members of the population- a cost to the U.S. annual GDP early estimates place at $128- $188 billion per year, every year, when Generation C enters the workforce.

Society has failed these students. Whatever gains we may have made in the battle against COVID-19, these young people in particular are the casualties. As are those who paid the ultimate price in the sharply risingteen suicide rates.

Other things will be more straightforward to study.

Though America’s teachers will undoubtably howl about apples to oranges comparisons, sooner or later, students will return to in-person learning.

And in-person standardized testing.

As indeed it already has. Our early data is from standardized tests given to students who returned to in-classroom learning in spring.

The other shoe waiting to drop, is that these students who tested way behind in reading, math and science comprehension are the lucky ones. Their peers who haven’t returned to in-person learning yet, haven’t even begun to play catch-up, let alone take standardized tests.

Eventually, they will.

At that point, the best intentions of U.S. educators and teacher’s unions aside, we will know- for sure- just how effective or ineffective a year of online instruction was for K-12 students.

It doesn’t take a data scientist to predict what we will find. Especially since everyone’s worst fears are already being confirmed.

Is it any wonder teacher’s unions would very much like to change the subject to Critical Race Theory?

Much easier to pitch a media battle against Republicans and make esoteric statements about “dismantling systemic racism” and “teaching true history” and “anti-racism training” than explain why, after failing America’s Blackyouth, impoverished and otherwise, for so very long, public schools are failing them worse than ever after last year.

A disproportionately high number of African-American youth attending public school consistently score below their peers across the classroom on standardized tests, to say nothing of their peers, and future competitors in an increasingly globalized job market, in China and India.

Agitating to get rid of the tests isn’t fixing the problem.

Young Black students are disciplined by teachers at a disproportionally high rate as well. African-American students drop out at higher rates, are suspended and expelled at higher rates.

Much easier to hide behind the shield of advocating for CRT in classrooms and point the finger of systemic racism outward than to confront these very real-world results of systemic racism right across the hall.

Teacher’s union president Randi Weingarten, after denying one day that public schools are teaching CRT, dared Republican legislators the next day to try and stop teachers from doing just that.

Well, that’s nice and all. But if that’s true, what has been stopping U.S. public schools from instructing America’s students on the importance of equality, the concept of equity, and a history complete with the contributions- and struggles- of Black Americans all this time?

Were Weingarten, school boards and public school administrators everywhere, who are so vocal about defending CRT now, waiting all this time for a clear mandate from the government? Pressure from social media? Celebrity endorsements?

U.S. public schools have been failing Black students at a disproportional rate for decades, longer. What are teacher’s unions, Randi Weingarten, school boards et al promising to do about that?

No one is responsible for decades of substandard education, for poor minority students falling through the cracks, to the extent that teacher’s unions, school boards and administrators are responsible.

That they feel powerless to do anything about it, but would undoubtably very much like to, is of little comfort to families devastated by the long-term consequences of these failures. Nor is the fact that there are many other complex social factors, well outside the purview of overwhelmed teachers, which contribute to disparity in outcomes.

The least school boards and teacher’s unions can do is admit their complicity in the ongoing problem, and that they are stymied.

Pretending as if teaching CRT, or a rose by any other name, is going to be a panacea, and solve these problems is selling American students a fairy tale. It may be comforting to school board members to pretend as if the problem is something racist “out there”, and that by teaching about that bad other, everything will right itself.

Perhaps they all need to read White Fragility again. Disparities in outcomes is proof of racism, according to the tenets of CRT and those who teach it.

So, if Black students, on average, achieve poorer outcomes in the U.S. public school system than their peers- as they often do- what does that suggest about the school system?

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)