Do American Students’ Lives Matter?
The results of the first post-lockdown National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were released on June 1, and they showed anything but progress. Most subgroups took a big hit, but Blacks and Hispanics suffered the greatest damage.
Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the test, said, “These results are sobering. It’s clear that covid-19 shocked American education and stunted the academic growth of this age group.” (It’s worth noting that the NAEP given during the 2019-2020 school year, before the pandemic craziness took hold, revealed that U.S. students’ scores in both reading and math were declining.)
Sadly, the academic loss the students experienced was just the tip of the iceberg. Studies have shown a rise in classroom disruptions, school violence, absenteeism, and students seeking mental health services as a result of the shutdowns. Also, youth crime is increasing, and there have been significant jumps in obesity as well as rates of childhood anxiety and depression. Additionally, it has been reported that because kids have been cloistered away from normal childhood illnesses, their immunity has suffered. As Bethany Mandel explains, “Traditional ‘winter’ viruses like the flu and the respiratory virus RSV have been seen in hospitals during off-peak months, filling beds and taxing healthcare resources.” And lastly, Sottish researchers reported in July 2022 that a lack of exposure to two common viruses during the Covid-19 pandemic may have increased the chances of children becoming severely ill with acute hepatitis.
Economically, the lockdowns will have ramifications for many years. In September 2020, economists Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and Ludger Woessmann, a professor of economics at the University of Munich, found that accrued lockdown-related learning losses will amount to $14.2 trillion in current dollars. Clearly, these losses grew for those stuck in locked-down schools in the ensuing months.
Tragically, none of this had to happen. Sweden never closed their schools and not one child died from the disease, and teacher cases were rare. In a study published in the International Journal of Educational Research, a team of researchers at Stockholm’s Karolinska University analyzed data from 97,073 primary school students across Sweden. They concluded that there is “no evidence of a learning loss regarding early reading skills in Swedish primary school students.”
But unlike Sweden, we have arrogant phonies in charge, like the megalomaniacal Anthony Fauci, who obnoxiously proclaims, “I am Science” and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who in March 2021 falsely asserted that “We’ve been trying to reopen schools since last April.”
In fact, a New York Post exposé revealed that the American Federation of Teachers lobbied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on – and even proposed language for – the agency’s school-reopening guidance released in February 2021. Quite obviously the lobbying paid off as, in at least two instances, language suggestions offered by the union were adopted nearly verbatim in the final text of the CDC document.” AFT senior director for health issues Kelly Trautner went so far as to describe the union as the CDC’s “thought partner” in an email.
Additionally, in September 2020, researchers Corey DeAngelis and Christos Makridis released the results of a study they spearheaded, which found that “school districts in places with stronger teachers’ unions are much less likely to offer full-time, in-person instruction this fall.” The authors stress that the results were remarkably consistent after controlling for differences in demographics, including age, race, population, political affiliation, household income, Covid cases, deaths per capita, etc.
So what do we do now? Eric Hanushek says the best way forward is to hire more effective teachers and reward them, while getting rid of the least effective ones. But this is virtually impossible throughout much of the country, as the teachers unions refuse to change their rigid industrial style step-and-column pay schedules, where teachers only get salary increases for the number of years they work, and for taking (usually meaningless) professional development classes. Also, due to outrageously convoluted collective bargaining agreements, firing a bad teacher is just about impossible.
Union interference was front and center here in Los Angeles recently, when the school district decided to add four optional school days throughout the school year. The plan was that both students and teachers would show up voluntarily, and the teachers who did opt in would be paid for their efforts. The idea sounds good, and could possibly help some struggling students. But the United Teachers of Los Angeles honchos threw a hissy fit, refusing to participate, and called the plan a “misuse of educational funding” and a “$122 million stunt.” The union then took a vote of its members, and 93% of those polled voted to boycott the first planned optional day in October.
But the union’s reticence is really nothing more than a typical ploy. As Mike Antonucci notes, “The dispute occurs within the context of contract negotiations. The teachers’ collective bargaining agreement expired at the end of June. The union is seeking 10% salary hikes for each of the next two years and wants the $122 million designated for the added days spent instead on ‘smaller class sizes, hiring more counselors, psychiatric social workers and school psychologists and investing in teacher development.’”
The United Teachers of Los Angeles loathsome boss Cecily Myart-Cruz has gone so far as to deny learning loss exists, stating “Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.”
Randi Weingarten is certainly uncaring or unaware of the damage to children she has control over. On August 23, the American Federation of Teachers president set out on a propaganda-driven “Back-to School Campaign.” In a press release, Weingarten ironically states, “We’ve been through a lot recently, from the pandemic to an increasingly polarized society that often puts schools at the center of the debate to just the day-to-day stressors of a 24/7 online world. For many of us—kids and teachers alike—school is the place we go to make sense of all that, even when it’s challenging. It’s where our students learn the basic skills they need for life and the lessons that will carry them through to college, career, or whatever comes next.”
Yes, school’s where students learn basic skills, but when the union leader and her CDC cronies decided to shut the schools down, the kids didn’t learn much of anything.
You would think that after the prolonged lockdowns, parents would be eager to send their kids back to an in-person school. But as American Enterprise Institute scholar Nat Malkusreports, the third of public school districts with the most remote learning during 2020-2021 lost additional students in 2021-2022. Conversely, the third of the districts with the most in-person learning during 2020-2021 gained back last year nearly half of the students they lost during the first year of the pandemic. In total, over the past two school years, k-12 enrollment has declined by nearly 3%, or about 1.3 million students nationwide.
At the same time, during the 2020-21 school year, union-free schools prospered. Charter school enrollment grew 7%, the largest increase in years according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Homeschooling has more than doubled nationally since 2020, and shows no evidence of declining, even though most of the Covid craziness has subsided. The Census Bureau reports that between 2012 and 2020, the number of homeschooling families remained steady at around 3.3%. But according to National Home Education Research Institute, during the 2020-2021 school year, there were 3.7 million homeschool students in the U.S. or 6.73% of the total. Private schools have also seen an uptick.
Long after Anthony Fauci, Randi Weingarten and their minions leave the scene, there will be people suffering because of their unnecessary and cruel actions. Shame on them.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.