As report cards begin to roll out for fall, public schools across the nation are reporting a massive increase in children failing classes, due to the majority going online and the chaos of rolling COVID closures. In Fairfax, Virginia, one of the nation’s largest districts, “the percentage of middle school and high school students earning F’s in at least two classes jumped by 83 percent: from 6 percent to 11 percent,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday. That’s nearly 10,000 children.
Saint Paul, Minnesota, reported recently that 40 percent of high school students are failing, “about double what we might expect in a typical year,” said the large district’s superintendent. It’s even worse for younger children.
In Houston, Texas, the superintendent says 42 percent of students failed two or more classes this fall, up from 11 percent in a typical year. In Alabama, 5,000 children have never shown up for class this school year, either in-person or online.
In October, 79 percent of U.S. parents of school-age children told Pew their children were receiving either entirely or partially online instruction this school year. Only 20 percent of U.S. kids were reported as receiving fully in-person instruction this school year.
In-person instruction decreased further in November due to media panic over increasing COVID cases, even though research shows children are at lower risk of a bad case of COVID than from the seasonal flu, and most teachers are also young and in the low-risk category. Foreign countries that kept schools open found they did not significantly contribute to COVID spread. The United States is a first-world outlier in continuing to keep children online now for nearly an entire school year.
Data showing children are at low risk from COVID was available by early summer 2020, yet most public schools have kept or increased online activities after shutting down in the spring then providing chaotic, poor-quality instruction until the school year ended. Joe Biden’s plan would keep rolling school blackouts going indefinitely.
Ninety percent of parents whose children were getting exclusively in-person instruction were satisfied with it, while three-quarters of parents whose children had some or all online instruction told Pew they were satisfied. There is a clear disconnect between parents’ claims of satisfaction with online offerings and children’s actual performance.
Besides reinforcing that online instruction is clearly inferior to personal instruction, which was well-established long before COVID, all of these reports show that the children who are most harmed are the most at-risk: poor and struggling learners. This matches the large amount of other research that finds that the pre-COVID mediocrity of American public education handicaps all children and taxpayers, which is most visible in children whose families cannot or will not compensate for schooling failures.
Once children fall behind in school, they rarely ever recover. U.S. public schools are extremely poor at remediation, largely because the leftist ideology controlling it despises the core curriculum that most strongly propels achievement for all. The left’s war on norms, normality, and a common culture makes closing education gaps almost impossible — even though that’s precisely what America’s educationally abused COVID generation needs more than ever.
The Post says the spike in fail rates “confirm[s] fears about how the pandemic is driving an equity gap in American education that may prove impossible to close. Fairfax’s data shows that children who are engaged and care deeply about school — children in stable home situations, whose parents have sufficient resources — will stay engaged in an online environment, while children whose temperament, socioeconomic status or home situation have historically barred them from academic achievement will slip further and further behind.”
This is terrible news for taxpayers, as children like this graduate into economic dependence on their fellow citizens and the United States is facing the largest debt crisis in human history.
“More than 70% of Black students are learning entirely remotely right now, compared to about 40% of white students and about 60% Hispanic or Latinx students,” according to Marketplace Edison Research. The firm says this is partly because more black parents chose online learning because higher percentages of African Americans suffer from COVID infections.
Teachers of children who have stable families with a non-working parent free to fill in instruction schools are refusing to provide also privately report many such children are also not doing well. They also have been forced into the constant chaos of changing school situations, high rates of isolation, the distractions of screen-centered interaction, and a lack of professional in-person instruction. Like America’s “good” school districts, the middle-class kids with stable families look better in comparison to the devastated children. But they’re being seriously hurt, too.
As researchers such as E.D. Hirsch and Jay P. Greene have demonstrated, America’s middle-class students and highly rated schools have been at best mediocre for decades when compared to peers in other highly developed nations. The United States’ free economy helps compensate for its academic decrepitude, but that advantage is narrowing. The U.S. economy is increasingly saddled with government and consumer debt, and the U.S.’s high numbers of unstable homes and schools that aren’t capable of compensating for them produce increasing numbers of adults unfit for work. COVID instability increases the pressure on this already weak social infrastructure.
It is already possible to see what the long-term consequences will be for the nation. It was possible to see that back in March when schools were first closed. As I wrote in April:
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.
The Post paraphrases Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, as saying: “the United States has reached a tipping point: The damage done to schoolchildren with scarce resources is likely to be irreparable.” U.S. governors, school superintendents, legislatures who refused to check pandemic excesses, and other leaders who failed this generation cannot say they weren’t warned. But by the time the evils they have caused can no longer be hidden, they will be out of office with a nice retirement fund, still assuaging their guilt with the lie that lockdowns “saved lives.”
There are only a few strategies possible to help children overcome the damage our society has done to them. Most importantly, state legislatures must immediately grant parents the power to microtarget effective in-person instruction to their children through education savings accounts. The only schools that have a track record of overcoming education gaps as a sector are charter, Christian, and home schools.
Second, states must end the “college to nowhere” reality with drastically improved secondary trades apprenticeships. As Stanley Kurtz writes, the right must “build up a competing, quicker and cheaper apprenticeship sector that serves the upper-middle class as well as blue-collar workers.” Ideology has ruined K-16 education in America, and kids handicapped by COVID closures cannot afford that. They need paths to self-sufficiency that won’t make them mental and financial slaves.
Democrats aren’t going to do this — school closures were their demand in the first place, and education’s ideological corruption serves their interests by creating economic and mental dependents. If Republicans don’t stop sitting on their hands in their moms’ basements like Biden and start helping the kids and our nation effectively address this, they don’t deserve to exist. This is an existential crisis for America.