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Studies: American Kids Will Lose An Entire Grade In Math From Shutdowns


One of the many significant but underappreciated effects of U.S. politicians’ response to coronavirus is their pre-emptive mass school shutdowns. It is likely these shutdowns will harm the next generation far beyond the trillions in government spending these children will someday be forced to pay off for previous generations.

For one thing, the school shutdowns will cripple children’s economic future by depriving them of up to an entire year of learning. That’s because losing two to three months of learning this spring combined with summer break could mean “millions of students could lose most or all of what was learned during the 2019-2020 school year, leaving many students a year or more behind in their learning trajectory at the start of the 2020-2021” school year,  according to a new analysis applying previous research about lost school time to the coronavirus shutdowns.

That’s because kids typically lose two to three months of learning over the summer. Double the effective summer break by shutting down their schools, and they lose a lot more. Another study predicts coronavirus school closures will mean many children will be an entire grade behind this fall in math alone. Under president’s new reopening guidelines, schools could be subject to rolling shutdowns this fall as well, making things even worse.

It appears most districts are giving kids no personal instruction now that school is suspended. Typically, schools are sending kids worksheets and online materials and letting parents figure it out. Since many governors have not only suspended school but also cut required instructional days, many schools can end these poorly constructed half-measures in early May, and provide nothing after that until fall.

Now consider more, even worse, context. Huge numbers of American children already have been entering adult life woefully unprepared, even with full school years. For example, “19 percent of high school graduates are functionally illiterate, which means they can’t read well enough to manage daily living and perform tasks required by many jobs.”

That’s one in five of high school graduates. The latest federal figures show 15 percent of American kids do not graduate from high school. This means one-third of American children were unprepared to contribute much to the common good even before the coronavirus shutdowns handicapped them further while burdening them with greater demands on their future earnings.

This is just one of many ways U.S. politicians’ response to coronavirus has reinforced the modern American pattern of sacrificing children’s interests to preserve adult convenience. Numerous studies have found that closing schools is one of the least effective ways to reduce coronavirus transmission, since children are the population least at risk for serious complications from it. In fact, because of this, keeping kids from helping develop herd immunity by banning schools and activities will likely mean increased deaths of the sick and elderly.

Bethany here mostly focused on the social and psychogical harms to kids, which are also important, but harder to quantify right now. The mental and economic effects, however, are somewhat more possible to predict by triangulating from things we already know.

School disruption even hurts children who switch from public to a better private school, according to school choice research. Due to the better schooling, the children eventually rise above where they would have been in the worse school in math, the subject studied, but the process takes three to four years on average, and it starts with a slump of at least half a grade level.

Since the typical public school is extremely poor at remedial education and lifting children above their demographics, it’s likely that millions of American children will never recover from the educational and thus economic setbacks of shutting down their schools this year. Kids who fall behind in U.S. public schools very rarely recover. Plus, the Common Core era has already seen a decline in U.S. education quality. As always, these compounded setbacks will be worst for the children who can least afford them.

Just this lost education will have significant lasting effects on our society, economy, and tax revenue. Research has established a direct link between children’s academic achievement and the nation’s economic health. “The level of cognitive skills of a nation’s students has a large effect on its subsequent economic growth rate,” wrote a trio of economists in just one of several such studies. If the United States could get children to learn math as well as Canada does, the resulting boost to economic growth would pay for our massive funding shortfalls to entitlements like Social Security.

Conversely, setting back an entire generation of American children in just math will retard the very economic growth we desparately need to recover from the devastation business lockdowns and government bailouts are causing, let alone the pre-existing financial crises embedded in our entitlement programs.

Our nation’s leaders are demanding that American children pay for this crisis through debt-financed spending, while depriving them of the education they need to make that even remotely possible. Our response to coronavirus is upping our society’s selfish demands that mostly the young pay — mentally, financially, socially, psychologically — for tabs the adults run up. This is not just impractical but immoral. Effectively enslaving voiceless citizens is not a just society’s response to a crisis.

A late March Gallup poll found that 59 percent of American parents were either “not too concerned” or “not concerned at all” about the negative effects of the school shutdowns on their children’s education. That was just one or two weeks into nationwide social distancing. As the weeks and then months go on, however, expect the level of concern and the backlash to increase. As kids hit school in September up to a year behind, expect public awareness, anger, and worry to grow.

Proactive parents will get ahead of this by not only doing their best to fill in the gaps as they close out this school year, but also by placing their kids in education environments that have a proven track record of advancing kids farther and faster than the average public school. State policy makers need to stop shutting down schools, especially smaller ones or ones that reconfigure for smaller classrooms such as homeschool co-ops. Children simply cannot have their education suspended indefinitely, especially when that will mean more deaths of vulnerable people in the long term.

State lawmakers also can help with the educational devastation, while reducing the economic shutdown’s devastation of state and local tax revenue, by immediately passing school choice provisions such as education savings accounts. Measures like these can get kids to better schools while costing taxpayers less than half as much.

Amid the coronavirus economic devastation that’s about to hit us in wave after wave, a better K-12 education for half the cost is not a bone to toss voters, it’s a critical necessity. And the feds shouldn’t bail out any state that refuses to provide this lifeline, for the good of taxpayers today and tomorrow.