Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Cost of School Closings

Surely, it is one of the most important stories in the Covid metaverse. It is being covered by some media outlets, but it deserves more attention. The issue is simple-- how much damage did local governments do to children when they shut down in-person learning for more than a year? 

Many nations around the world did not shut down their school system. They soldiered on. And yet, in America, the teachers unions and Democratic politicians conspired to damage children, to abuse children, to hurt children-- because they became completely hysterical about a virus. Dare we mention that children were the least likely to be infected or to suffer serious consequences from infection.

I will repeat a point that has occasionally been made. The children who suffered the most from this hysteria have been poor minority children. So, Democratic politicians and teachers’ unions found a way to compromise the futures of these children. This will increase the performance gap between them and their wealthier counterparts.

While politicians are running around screaming about racism, we have an appalling instance at work in great blue cities. You cannot do much worse for minority children than to deprive them of in-person learning.

USA Today, via Hot Air and Maggie’s Farm, reports on some of what teachers have been seeing.

In classrooms across the country, the first months of school this fall have laid bare what many in education feared: Students are way behind in skills they should have mastered already.

Children in early elementary school have had their most formative first few years of education disrupted by the pandemic, years when they learn basic math and reading skills and important social-emotional skills, like how to get along with peers and follow routines in a classroom.

But, will they catch up? Will these children overcome the deficit imposed by politicians and union leaders. Experts tell us that it is likely that they will, but, at this point, why would we believe experts? Now, even the experts are slightly pessimistic:

While experts say it’s likely these students will catch up in many skills, the stakes are especially high around reading. Research shows if children are struggling to read at the end of first grade, they are likely to still be struggling as fourth graders. And in many states with third grade reading “gates” in place, students could be at risk of getting held back.

 2020, 40% of first grade students and 35% of second grade students were scoring “well below grade level” on a reading assessment, compared with 27% and 29% the previous year. 

Obviously, the data has shown that minority children have fared the worst:

Data analyzed by McKinsey & Company late last year concluded children have lost at least one and a half months of reading. Other data show low-income, Black and Latinx students are falling further behind than their white peers, worsening achievement gaps.

“Higher-income parents, higher-educated parents, are likely to have worked with their children to teach them to read and basic numbers, and some of those really basic, early foundational skills that kids generally get in pre-K, kindergarten and first grade,” said Melissa Clearfield, a professor of psychology who focuses on young children and poverty at Whitman College.

“Families who were not able to, either because their parents were essential workers or children whose parents are significantly low-income or not educated, they’re going to be really far behind.”

The story reports the experience of Heather Miller, who teaches the first grade in Austin, Texas. If you look at the story, you will quickly ascertain that the children who have fallen behind are all masked up. Is this a consolation?

Obviously, when different children have had totally different experiences of remote learning, this seriously undermines classroom cohesion. Teachers cannot teach one lesson when children are at such different levels. So, schools will need to track children. Otherwise, they will need to dumb down the curriculum --- hurting either the children who are at grade level or the children who are two or three levels behind:

“My kids are so spread out in their needs,” Miller said. “I just feel like — and I’m sure every teacher feels like this — there’s so much to teach, and somehow there’s not enough time.”

From her own experience Miller sees clearly the advantage of in person education:

She’s also seen higher literacy levels for kids who went to school in person last year. To her, it speaks to the immense benefits kids get from all aspects of in-person learning. “It just shows how important it is for these kids to be around their peers and just have normalcy,” she said.

To catch kids up, Miller is relying on, among other things, one of the staples of the early elementary classroom: center time. For two hours a day, she works with small groups of students on the specific math and reading skills they are lacking.

Despite the obvious need to catch kids up, Miller has been mindful of not coming on too strong with remediation efforts. “I don’t want to push them so hard where they get burned out,” she said on an October evening. “They’ve been through so much.”

Apparently, it will take years to mitigate the damage:

While catching students up is important, society needs to view the recovery process as a multiyear effort, said Mabry, of NWEA. “In previous years, when looking at unfinished learning ... we never expected that we would get students who need support to meet those accelerated goals in one year,” Mabry said. “Now, we’re so frantic.”

For another analysis of the problem we turn to the Washington Post. It reports on what is happening in public schools in the nation’s capital. One suspects that most of the children in these schools are minorities. One understands that the man who is in charge of education in the district does not especially care about these children, who have been hurt by his policies.

The story in D. C. is the same as we saw in other schools. The key concept is: falling behind:

D.C. students continued to fall behind in reading and math during the pandemic, with students of color and those from lower-income backgrounds most affected, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report, conducted by EmpowerK12, an education-focused nonprofit group, examined 2020-2021 testing data from students in dozens of District public and public charter schools. The findings suggest that the city’s students have followed a national trend during the pandemic: Most students demonstrated some academic growth, but overall, they fell behind during the period of remote instruction.

“We have students that are the farthest from opportunity … and it didn’t make sense to think that the pandemic was going to make that better,” D.C. acting state superintendent of education Christina Grant said during a panel Tuesday coordinated by EmpowerK12. “What I do try to make sense of is what we know from history — that we have to invest, plan and act.”

How bad was it? The researchers have been trying to quantify the consequences:

Overall, students in third through eighth grade fell behind by about five to six months in English language arts and mathematics compared with 2018-2019, according to the report. And students who were designated as “at-risk” — defined as students whose families are homeless or recipients of certain public assistance — fell behind significantly compared with their more affluent peers.

The trend held for students in kindergarten through second grade as well. In 2019, 69 percent of students in those grades showed they were reading at or above their grade level, but as of spring 2021, that number dropped to 51 percent, EmpowerK12 found. The shift among at-risk students was similarly heightened in these age groups. In 2019, 58 percent of at-risk students were reading at or above their grade levels; in spring 2021, just 31 percent were, the report said.

Of course, educators are now setting themselves the task of remedying the problem that the politicians and the unions caused. They remain optimistic, because what other choice do they have. If it happens that the performance gaps cannot be corrected, the nation will be facing a generation of minority children who cannot compete in the marketplace and who cannot perform any but the most menial tasks.

If this is not a social catastrophe, I do not know what is.


Sam L. said...

The Teachers' Unions and the Democrat Party must be defenestrated. Or, in Latin, "Delenda Est". (I knew I'd need to know that eventually.)

Freddo said...

If the people in charge of education would actually give a damn about the results then you wouldn't see Common Core or CRT introduced everywhere, or honor programs being cancelled because of insufficient inclusiveness.

One-size-fits-all schools and lack of trade schools does more harm overall than kids spending a year at home and not being bored out of their minds in the regular program.

Sam L. said...

You may call me cynical, but I "wonder" if the Democrat Party and the Teachers' Unions did this deliberately...

markedup2 said...

Why is it that only Democrat run institutions are full of actual systemic racism? </rhetorical question>