For all its obsession with “equity,” the Biden administration sure has the wrong results to show for it. In fact, the first national results showing test scores before and after covid lockdowns shows how the most vulnerable kids got hit hardest by learning loss.
The results, which compared outcomes on tests taken by nine-year-olds this past spring with those taken in early 2020 (i.e., right before hysteria shut down schools), confirmed wider learning gaps between the proverbial haves and have-nots.
Overall, the test showed a five-point decline in reading scores—the largest since 1990—and an even larger, seven-point drop in math, the first one recorded in the test’s 50-year history. Those results illustrate the broad-based damage lockdowns inflicted on all student learning progress.
But dig into the details further, and a troubling pattern emerges. While most students suffered learning loss, those in greatest danger of falling through the cracks suffered most.
- While reading scores among those in the top 10 percent dropped by a modest two points, the scores of those in the bottom 10 percent dropped by 10 points, or five times as much as their higher-achieving peers.
- Math scores showed a similar disparity: Those at the top saw scores decline by three points overall, while those at the bottom saw scores decline by 12 points.
- While white students’ math scores declined by five points, Hispanic test scores declined by eight points, and African American scores declined by 13 points—a decline more than twice that of white students, and one that exacerbated existing achievement gaps.
- In both math and reading, children in lower-income households (eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches) suffered greater testing declines than their more affluent counterparts.
Impact of Remote Learning
It should come as little surprise that those with the least resources suffered the greatest learning losses due to lockdowns. Many lower-income households had to cope with economic turmoil caused by lockdowns, and did not have the family resources to replace lost in-person instruction. In far too many cases, students disappeared from formal education entirely.
The survey results, which included a new batch of questions added to assess student learning patterns during covid’s spread, confirmed these fears. For instance:
Of the 70% of nine-year-olds who learned remotely during the 2020-2021 school year, higher performers (those at or above the 75th percentile) had greater access to a desktop computer, laptop, or tablet all the time; a quiet place to work available some of the time; and a teacher available to help them with mathematics or reading schoolwork every day or almost every day compared to lower performers (those below the 25th percentile).[Emphasis original.]
It also seems unsurprising that higher performers had more confidence in their ability to find resources online, and ask for help when they needed it, while learning online compared to their lower-performing peers.
The results all appear consistent with a group of well-heeled students whose parents provided them enough assistance (e.g., extra tutoring, parental assistance, online aids, etc.) to overcome, or at least muddle through, a chaotic and disruptive two-year period. By contrast, when schools shut their doors—and, in many cases, remained shut for far too long—students in poorer households struggled to patch together resources to replace in-person classroom instruction.
The Left’s Contradictory Results
Ironically, a progressive left that claims to be focused on “equity” has inadvertently helped to worsen it. Keeping schools closed in the name of “protecting” students has caused children least able to bounce back to suffer learning losses from which they could take years to recover—if they ever do. That sad result comes on the heels of Democrats’ gusher of spending, which has created an inflation spiral, and efforts to “defund the police” that have led to sharp increases in crime rates in many cities. All of these make life harder for the most vulnerable.
Rather than trying to patronize those of modest means by getting them hooked on more welfare benefits, perhaps the left should try to prioritize things that the working class needs most: Good schools—or, better yet, the ability to choose the school that works best for them; safe streets; and sound money that doesn’t vaporize in value the second it lands in the palm of one’s hand.
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s axiom about the nine most terrifying words in the English language, if Democrats keep “helping” the working class the way they have the past several years, there may not be a working class left.