Pandemic shutdowns caused ‘devastating’ learning loss for students in ‘high-poverty’ areas

As Americans slowly adjust to a post-pandemic world, the effects of locking down society on the nation’s children are just coming to light, and the picture is far from pretty.

Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) partnered with Stanford’s Educational Opportunity Project to analyze the 2022 scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” at a district level.

The resulting “Education Recovery Scorecard” found what many average Americans could have correctly guessed at the start of the pandemic: children suffered a lot of learning loss during the lockdowns, and those in “high-poverty” school districts suffered the most.

The pandemic “widened disparities in achievement between high and low-poverty schools,” the study concluded. A “quarter of schools with the highest shares of students receiving federal lunch subsidies missed two-thirds of a year of math learning, while the quarter of schools with the fewest low-income students lost two-fifths of a year.”

“The pandemic was like a band of tornadoes that swept across the country,” said CEPR Faculty Director Thomas J. Kane in a press release. “Some communities were left relatively untouched, while neighboring schools were devastated. The Education Recovery Scorecard is the first high-resolution map of the tornadoes’ path to help local leaders see the magnitude of the damage and guide local recovery efforts.”

The study found that average public school students in 4th through 8th grades “lost the equivalent of .52 grade equivalents in math and .23 grade equivalents in reading (approximately 52 percent and 23 percent of a year’s worth of achievement growth respectively).”

“A one grade equivalent loss in achievement is roughly equivalent to the amount of learning that would typically occur during a single school year,” the study explains.

The loss of learning within individual states was, unsurprisingly, greatest in those districts that imposed remote learning on students the longest.

“However, school closures do not appear to be the primary factor driving achievement losses,” the study reveals. “Achievement losses varied widely among districts that spent the same share of 2020-21 in remote learning.”

“Even in school districts where students were in person for the whole year, test scores still declined substantially on average,” said Sean Reardon, a professor in poverty and inequality at the Graduate School of Education and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, according to Fox News Digital.

Again, it doesn’t take an Ivy League degree to figure out why.

As states decided to close businesses and restrict activities, parents became more and more stressed while children, during developmentally crucial years, became more and more isolated. Under any circumstance, it isn’t an environment conducive to learning, but add to it a fear of anything that might harbor a germ, stifling masks, and the need to stay six feet away from anyone who may offer comfort, and one can see why geometry or learning to read may have been too much to ask of our nation’s youth.

But never fear, the Education Recovery Scorecard group is planning on more studies to investigate “the role of other factors—such as COVID death rates, broadband connectivity, the predominant industries of employment and occupations for parents in the school district—that might be contributing to the disparate impacts of the pandemic.”

In the meantime, the U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona believes the solution to the problems highlighted by the study is to govern people harder and throw more money at the issues.

“We must muster the political will at the state and local level to match the urgency and federal investment in our students through the historic $122 billion in the American Rescue Plan,” he stated.

“The latest Nation’s Report Card results must serve as a call to action to revisit our existing plans and scale up proven academic recovery strategies such as ensuring a robust and qualified teacher and leader workforce, intense and frequent tutoring aligned to high-quality curriculum, and after-school and summer enrichment programming,” he continued. “While the recent data is alarming, catching our students up to the 2019 achievement levels is a low bar. We must aim higher. Our students should be leading the world.”

It is unclear how long it will take for students to catch up.

The Nation’s Report Card released national test scores on Monday that showed math scores tumble in their largest-ever decreases and reading levels for 4th and 8th graders fall to their lowest point since 1992.

“The average mathematics score for fourth-grade students fell five points from 2019 to 2022,” Fox News reports. “The score for eighth-graders dropped eight points. Reading for both grades fell three points since 2019.”

According to American Federation For Children Senior Fellow Corey DeAngelis, “you can thank [President of the American Federation of Teachers] Randi Weingarten and the teachers unions for these disastrous results.”

“They fought to keep schools closed for over a year, holding children’s education hostage to secure multiple multi-billion-dollar ransom payments from taxpayers,” he told Fox News Digital. “These union-induced school closures exacerbated already-existing inequalities in the government school system. The most advantaged families had the resources to better adapt to the union-induced disruption, and their children suffered less as a result.”


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