In late August, the U.S. Department of Education issued a press release asserting, “When President Biden took office, less than half of K-12 students were going to school in person. Today, thanks to the President’s swift actions and historic investments, every school in America is open safely for in-person instruction.”
A new book reveals that in January 2021, Biden was in touch with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who launched a drive to get the CDC to halt a quick reopening of schools, and Biden obediently fell into line, assuring the union boss, “I am not abandoning you.”
Weingarten’s union lobbied the CDC on – and even proposed language for – the agency’s school-reopening guidance released in February 2021. Quite obviously, the lobbying paid off since, in at least two instances, language suggestions offered by the union were adopted nearly verbatim in the final text of the CDC document.
In reality, kids almost never transmit Covid. The results of a study released in August show that in the fall of 2021, in 34 Massachusetts schools with 18,000 children, there were 44 potential cases of in-school transmission, including no infections of teachers or other staff members.
It cannot be stressed enough that the closures were a political decision, one that was rejected throughout Europe, in American private schools, and in Republican states like Wyoming, Montana, Florida, Arkansas, South Dakota, Texas, etc.
Then, after the lockdowns, the Democrats did what they do best: spending ungodly sums of taxpayer money. The so-called American Rescue Plan, which Biden called “historical” (but was really hysterical), saw the feds throw $190 billion at the problem. However, a 10-month examination by The 74 shows that many districts never used the funds as intended. Some have barely tapped monies that advocates say are “critical for academic recovery, while others have pumped millions of dollars into major classroom additions, upgrading athletic fields, and other expenditures unrelated to the pandemic.”
But even worse than fleecing the taxpayers was the damage done to children. In a recent interview, Stanford economist Eric Hanushek claimed that students subjected to lockdowns would earn 5.6% less over the course of their lives than students educated just before the pandemic. Hanushek maintains that “the losses could total $28 trillion over the rest of this century” and that “the economic costs of the learning losses will swamp business cycle losses.” The projected cost, in lifetime earnings, to the children whose lives were put on hold during the Covid-era, will total about $70,000 per person.
In other bad news, recent research from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) evaluated learning patterns in 16 states to see how “recovery efforts will affect students’ academic careers,” and what we are doing is clearly not working. At this rate, fewer than two-thirds of students will meet the benchmark of average knowledge in reading and math by the end of their senior year in high school. “But more critically, even many years of additional instruction will yield only a small improvement. Even if schools offer an additional five years of education (assuming students would partake), only about 75% of students will hit that 12th-grade benchmark. One-quarter will remain undereducated.”
Yet another study shows that the lockdowns set older students back the most. The report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), which relies largely on recent findings from various research groups and the federal government, warns that on just about every indicator that matters – basic skills, college attendance, mental health, etc. – the pandemic has set older students back the most. Hence, it is no surprise that college students are now struggling with basic math, and professors are blaming the lockdowns.
CRPE director Robin Lake explains, “Time is running out for these kids. Many have already exited the K-12 system, either by graduating or essentially disappearing on us. Too many kids still are missing — we don’t know if they’ve dropped out or where they’ve gone.”
CRPE is also reporting that truancy rates are skyrocketing. Sixteen million students were “chronically absent (i.e., missed more than 10% of school days) during the 2021-22 school year, twice as many as in previous years.” And the share of students who reported missing five or more days in a month doubled to 10% between 2020 and 2023. “Students in schools that closed the longest were more likely to disengage from school, to drop out or stop attending school,” CRPE notes.
Additionally, citing federal data, CRPE warns that more than 8 in 10 public schools have reported stunted behavioral and social-emotional development in their students because of the Covid-19 pandemic.Nearly half of the schools reported increased “threats of physical attacks among students.”
Also, concerning mental health, a CDC analysis declares that from April 2020 to October 2020 – when the pandemic first peaked and the shutdowns were in full swing – the proportion of mental health-related visits to emergency departments rose by 24% over pre-pandemic levels for children aged 5 to 11 and by 31% for children aged 12–17. “By April 2022, 70% of public schools reported an increase in the percentage of children seeking school mental-health services compared to pre-pandemic levels.”
So, what does the future hold?
Interestingly, while Covid cases are on the uptick this fall, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona maintains that schools should not keep students home. He says that schools should stay open and focus on communication and practicing health protocols that were present at the height of the pandemic, adding that schools should make sure that they’re “communicating the importance of having students come in regularly, letting parents know what you’re doing to keep our students safe.”
Cardona told the Associated Press that he worries about “government overreach, sending down edicts that will lead to school closures because either folks are afraid to go in or are infected and can’t go.”
He added, “Despite the new wave of Covid-19 cases, “schools should be open, period,” and that in-person instruction “should not be sacrificed for ideology.”
The looming Cardona-Weingarten brouhaha could be an epic brawl.
So, students are behind academically and their mental health has declined. Many school districts have carelessly wasted their Covid cash and are facing fiscal problems. Recovery efforts are not working and college admissions are down.
On the bright side, families are choosing to educate their children off Uncle Sam’s unionized plantation in great numbers. This is a good thing, of course, but it’s tragic that we needed such a dire turn of events to effect this change.
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.