After nearly three years of patchwork rules, as school districts tried to manage the coexistence of public education and public sickness, it was finally the year of normalcy for millions of American students. Where I live in Philadelphia, the return to normal meant the reappearance of normal public school problems: In the first week of the new school year, school officials announced that more than a hundred schools would close early. There have been no outbreaks of illness or illness sending children home. Instead, getting back to normal meant returning to classrooms cooking in the August heat, making it dangerous to keep students indoors. Philadelphia is no stranger to hot summers, however, only forty-three percent of schools have adequate air conditioning. The district projects that it will not meet its goal of having all schools air-conditioned until 2027.
The hot air that shut down Philadelphia’s public schools was just a snapshot of the troubles that accompanied the return to normal. In Columbus, Ohio, for the first time in nearly fifty years, teachers have allowed their union to strike in the school district over issues ranging from building conditions to class sizes and salaries. In the state’s largest district, more than four thousand teachers and education workers formed picket lines demanding district commitments on summer cooling and winter heating, downsizing of classes, guaranteed art and music education and, of course, of course, better pay. In Seattle, the first days of school were also delayed when teachers went on strike demanding expanded mental health and multilingual services for students, a lower student-to-teacher ratio in special education classrooms, smaller in general and, of course, improved remuneration.
These labor actions have underscored the frustrations of teachers, who have had to deal not only with the pandemic, but also with political rants about their curricula, as well as insufficient salaries and other long-standing issues related to their real work as educators. Teachers were already leaving the profession, but pandemic-induced stress picked up the pace. Between January 2020 and February 2022, more than six hundred thousand teachers left the profession. According to the National Education Association, more than half of teachers say they will leave teaching sooner than they originally planned. And nearly half of public schools nationwide reported full-time or part-time teaching vacancies driven by quits.
Adding to the list of problems plaguing public schools, a report released in September found that millions of fourth graders have fallen behind academically during the pandemic. The assessment, issued by the National Assessment of Education Progress, showed the biggest drop in reading scores for fourth-grade students in thirty-two years and the first drop in math scores since the organization began testing students in 1969. There were declines across all races and class groups, but, as might be expected, the greatest declines were seen among poor and middle-class students. working class, who are disproportionately black and Latino.
Analysts called it “learning loss” and many blamed school closures and distance learning over the past two years as the culprit. Essentially, schools serving large black and Latino populations were more likely to turn to distance education. And in major cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, schools serving poor and working-class students did not fully reopen until fall 2021. Experts say the learning loss suffered , if not recovered, can cost everyone dearly. student more than forty thousand dollars in lifetime income, which is about two trillion dollars.
These dire records and forecasts led Republicans to say they were right to demand that schools reopen in the fall of 2020, before vaccines existed for adults or children. Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida and potential Republican candidate for President in 2024, said: “These lockdown states, the unions kicked these kids out of school – they didn’t want them in the classroom, and the result was was a huge learning. losses, unprecedented learning losses. But that’s not just the right to brag about a distorted version of the recent past. Anya Kamenetz, NPR correspondent and author of “The Stolen Year: How COVID Changed Children’s Lives and Where We Go Now,” wrote for the Washington Job in September that the Democrats, in order to regain their reputation as the party for public education, should apologize to the “vocal minority of ‘open schools’ parents…who want it recognized that they had right from the start”. Kamenetz also wrote that Democrats must “speak clearly how children have been hurt by extended school closures” and should “stop running away from terms like ‘learning loss’.” Michael Bloomberg was even more specific. in blaming, saying that “leaders of public school teachers’ unions have wrongly insisted that demanding teachers return to work put their safety at risk. It didn’t help that many progressive politicians side with the unions for the welfare of the students.
The sudden onset of the pandemic was the most catastrophic event in recent American history, making it bizarre to expect that there wouldn’t be something called “learning loss.” The idea that life would just go on the way it always has only underscores how there have been two distinct experiences of the pandemic. One for people who have lived through the upheaval but have been able to sequester themselves away from its harsher realities, shop online, consider buying new homes that might better accommodate working from home, and find new ways to overcome the inconvenience of isolation imposed by potential illness. There was another horrifying reality, harvested by poor and working-class families in the surreal number of people who died.
According to official figures, more than a million people have died in less than two and a half years, undoubtedly an underestimate of the true number of covid dead. Millions more were left in an altered state called long covid, in the face of uncertainty as the virus continues to sow confusion. As in almost every field, the burden fell heaviest on those who had the fewest resources to deal with a crisis. A study by the Poor People’s Campaign and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network found that in the United States, the three hundred counties with the highest death rates have an average poverty rate of forty-five percent. As economist Jeffrey Sachs, who worked on the study, explained, “The burden of disease – in terms of death, disease and economic costs – has been borne disproportionately by the poor, women and people of color. The poor were America’s essential workers, on the front lines, saving lives and also risking disease and death.
This tally includes parents, grandparents and other family members of black and brown students whose school ratings have fallen over the past two and a half years. In August 2020, when pleas from mostly white parents to return to school in person reached a cacophony, fifty-seven percent of black American adults said they knew someone who was hospitalized or died due to the virus, compared to thirty-four percent of white American adults. In February 2021, nearly three-quarters of Latino adults said they knew someone who had died or been hospitalized due to the virus. These realities were born out of the reluctance of black and brown parents to send their children back to school buildings. Critics of distance learning have almost always focused on the benign consequences for most children who have fallen ill with it. covid, as if these children lived and were educated in a vacuum and not among adults for whom the consequences could be disastrous, even fatal. At the end of February 2022, more than two hundred thousand children under the age of eighteen, or more than one in three hundred and sixty, had lost a caregiver for covid-19. Black and Latino children lost their caregivers at nearly twice the rate of white children. As one expert pointed out, “grief is the No. 1 predictor of poor school performance”.