Friday, September 2, 2022

The Report Card on School Shutdowns

The verdict is in. The school shutdown policies promoted by Democratic governors, Democratic mayors, government bureaucrats and the teachers’ unions have been a catastrophic failure.

Since we on this blog have been joining those who sounded the alarm for the past two years, we feel somewhat vindicated. But not really, what these leftist officials have done to schoolchildren, and especially to minority schoolchildren, should cause them to bow their heads in abject shame and to retire from the public stage.

They won’t, because they have no moral character.

When the news broke yesterday, it was so damaging to the leftist pretense to care about education and especially to care about minority education, that Democrat officials, led by Joe Biden’s idiot press secretary, immediately announced that it was Donald Trump’s fault. Link here.

Of course, we are not surprised. If you do have any moral character you never accept responsibility for your policy failures. And if you are descending into the twilight zone of moral inanition, you will further embarrass yourself by blaming it on Donald Trump. 

Seriously, everyone knows, and the public record shows clearly, that Trump and his administration wanted to keep the schools open. It shows that Democrats, led by the teachers’ unions, wanted to shut them down. The left won the battle, but now refuses to admit that it had anything to do with the policy.

The amazing part, the part that beggars belief, is that Karine Jean-Pierre and Randi Weingarten, among others, imagined that the country contains a significant number of people who are stupid enough to buy their lies and their spin. Apparently, there are. After all, the country is chockablock with people who believe that one’s gender is what one believes it is, that belief must prevail over facts, and that if you do not accept being lied to, you are a bigot.

So, the Department of Education released the findings from standardized tests-- I am waiting for the usual army of dimwits to denounce standardized testing-- in what is called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. And it should have been called the National Assessment of Educational Regress. The children who took the test were nine years old, thus at a point where they need to have mastered the reading and math skills that they will need in order to advance their education.

The scores were very bad, indeed. The Wall Street Journal reported the results (via Maggie's Farm):

Average scores in reading for 2022 declined to 215 out of a possible 500, falling five points from 2020. Math scores fell seven points, to 234. The results mark the largest drop in reading scores since 1990 and the first statistically significant decline in math scores since the math portion of the test began in 1973. Math and reading scores for the exam are now at their lowest levels since the 1990s.

The people who were militating for school closures severely damaged children’s minds. Naturally, while the teachers’ unions blame it on Trump, they insist that the solution is to give them more money. Chutzpah, anyone.

As we have warned, again and again, the conventional wisdom, namely that the children could easily catch up if they were given advanced tutoring, was a convenient fiction.

In truth, these deficiencies do not disappear overnight, if they disappear at all:

While some children will become stronger and more resilient adults, many who fall behind academically at this age will continue to lag, leaving them at risk for increased struggles across their lifetime.

The Journal reports the opinion of an expert who must count among the few who are sufficiently honest to offer a fair assessment:

The scores of lower-performing students are most troubling and could take decades to bounce back, said Dr. Aaron Pallas, professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

“I don’t think we can expect to see these 9-year-olds catch up by the time they leave high school,” he said, referring to the lower-performing students. “This is not something that is going to disappear quickly.”

And also, these comments emphasize the importance of the learning loss for fourth graders:

If students are poor readers at the beginning of fourth grade, the learning gap between their peers begins to compound across subjects, prompting increased frustration and falling self-confidence. A study released in 2011 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that third-graders who lack proficiency in reading are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

The decline is particularly significant because it reflects academic proficiency levels for 9-year-olds, a developmental inflection point and an important indicator for success in later years.

Dr. Carr blamed disruptions that have plagued U.S. schools during the pandemic, such as lockdowns and quarantines that resulted in long periods of remote learning. School shootings, violence and classroom disruptions also are up, as are teacher and staff vacancies, absenteeism, cyberbullying and students’ use of mental health services, she said.

The last points deserve some emphasis. Among the negative consequences of the lockdowns was this: when children did return to school, they were suffering from mental health issues and were prone to bad behavior. For have lost the socializing influence of in-class learning, they had regressed to more feral conditions. This continued to damage their cognitive development.

The data showed that minority children showed the greatest deficiency while some Asian students, those whose parents probably organized tutoring groups, did not fall behind.

The drops in test scores were roughly four times greater among the students who were the least proficient in both math and reading. Gaps in performance in math between Black and white students also grew. Scores among Asian students were the only bright spot: they improved by one point in reading.

As it happened, the people who wanted to shut down schools could have looked at what happened in other countries when teachers’ unions had shut down schools. Doesn’t this suggest that we ought to ban teachers’ unions?

Consider the case of Argentina:

Studies of long periods of interrupted learning in other countries show that the effects of learning loss linger for years. In Argentina, regional teacher strikes were so common between 1988 and 2014 that primary students in some regions of the country missed an average of 88 days of school over the course of their primary-school education, according to a 2019 paper published by the Journal of Labor Economics and co-written by Alexander Willén, a professor of economics at the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen, Norway.

Those students attained less education, accrued fewer skills, and, as adults, had higher rates of unemployment than students who were in districts without teacher strikes. The impact was greater on younger students and those from poorer families.

When they reached the ages of 30 to 40, the men earned 3.2% less and the women 1.9% less than those who weren’t affected by strikes during their school years, according to the paper.

So, we could have known. We could have shown that we cared about children. We could have shown that we cared especially about the educational opportunities we provide for minority children.

We did not. Democratic politicians and teachers’ unions did not. Perhaps they are convinced that their most important goal was not to educate children but to fight a political war against Republicans. 

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