Federal data released Feb. 9 painted a bleak picture for education in the United States. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many students were forced to learn at home due to lockdown orders instituted by state governments that closed down public schools. Over the past year, the nation has seen the consequences of these measures as children are struggling to maintain proficiency levels in subjects like math and reading.
Indeed, a recent analysis of Baltimore public schools revealed that only 7% of their third through eighth graders were proficient in math. Such disturbing statistics have been observed across the country. The question is: Will America’s students recover?
Public Schools Failing Children
Almost half of K-12 public school students started this academic year behind in their grade level in at least one subject based on a national survey. The most common areas of concern were math and reading. The Washington Times reported:
“The 49% of 1,026 schools who told the National Center for Education Statistics’ [NCES] latest School Pulse Panel that their students started the year behind a grade level is statistically unchanged from last school year. But it’s much worse than the 36% of students before the coronavirus pandemic who started the school year on the wrong track, according to the agency, which is the statistical arm of the Department of Education.”
Said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr, the data suggest that “academic recovery will take time” and “additional data show that public schools are employing a combination of learning recovery strategies to help students get back on track.”
School districts have about a year and a half to spend their share of the $189 billion in pandemic relief funds that were issued by the federal government. “About half of the schools surveyed said they’ve allocated some of those relief funds toward extra academic support for students and training for staff to become tutors. But just 1 in 10 students nationally have received ‘high-dosage’ tutoring,” according to the report.
Mental health is also an issue, with experts explaining that safety concerns over recent school shootings, a shortage of teachers, and the increasing numbers of children seeking help for anxiety and depression all contributed to the decline in academic proficiency.
“Additionally, the pandemic isn’t over and although school is back in session for in-person learning, children as well as staff still get COVID and need to retreat back to online learning at times,” said clinical psychologist Thomas Plante. “Bouncing back from the pandemic will take time and perhaps more time than we expect for schoolchildren as well as so many others.”
The Washington Times reported:
“A paltry 26% of eighth graders were considered proficient in math in 2022 — down from 34% in 2019 before the pandemic, the most recent year the national report card was issued. Fourth graders in over 40 states saw their math scores decline. Only 36% scored proficient, down from 41%.
“Reading scores offered little solace, with only one-third of fourth graders marked proficient, continuing a slide that began before the coronavirus hit. Only 31% of eighth graders received proficient scores, the lowest average since 1998.”
The NCES found that educators and school districts have taken steps to get these students up to speed. About 88% employed assessments to determine where the pupils were falling short, while 81% covered material that students missed during the pandemic. Another 29% held longer class sessions, and 19% extended the length of the school day.
Unfortunately, these actions did not seem to make a difference, because they did not decrease the number of pupils who fell behind in their learning. Some attribute these failures to the ongoing efforts on the part of school districts to focus more on infusing left-wing politics into the classroom than on teaching basic subjects.
“This data is tragic but expected. Every level of leadership in the school system is distracted from academics,” said Sheri Few, president of United States Parents Involved in Education. “Government schools are so utterly focused on sexualizing children and indoctrinating them against their country and each other that real academic learning is clearly not the priority.”
However, the nation’s leading teachers’ unions cited a lack of sufficient resources and low teacher salaries as the reason for this trend.
Can This Be Reversed?
Now that the nation is finally moving on from the COVID-19 pandemic, the ultimate consequences are being assessed, and they are not pretty. As politicians and members of the chattering class insisted on locking down schools and enforcing mask and vaccine mandates, America’s children suffered. Worse is the reality that the science did not back up the decisions made by government officials when they decided shuttering schools was the answer.
Currently, the efficacy of the nation’s education system is in a precarious spot. It will not be easy to bring the students affected by the closure of public schools up to speed. This is one of many reasons why so many parents have chosen to pull their kids from these learning institutions in favor of better options. It is also why the school choice debate has found a prominent place in political discourse. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the public education system, which could be a boon for those advocating for less government in the classroom.
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