The recently released test scores of our nation’s fourth graders should make anyone who cares about children and our nation’s future weep. The results are the latest proof of the unprecedented learning losses among American children due to extended school closures during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
The tests are part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and were administered to U.S. students age 9. According to The Wall Street Journal, the NAEP test scores “mark the largest drop in reading scores since 1990 and the first statistically significant decline in math scores since the math portion of the test began in 1973. Math and reading scores for the exam are now at their lowest levels since the 1990s.” Not surprisingly, “learning loss generally is worse in districts that kept classes remote longer, with the effects most pronounced in high-poverty districts.”
The pandemic did not cause American children’s learning loss, but the policy response to the pandemic did — the extended school closures and remote learning demanded by the teachers unions and supported by public health officials, the Democrats, and their allies in corporate media and Big Tech. Undoubtedly, we should hold these people accountable for their destructive policies. Yet, let’s also celebrate those courageous Americans who did the right thing during the pandemic. They fought to reopen the schools as soon as possible, often under vicious attack, taking personal and professional risks.
Take Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as examples. Despite relentless attacks, they pushed their states to reopen schools and return to in-person classes in the fall of 2020. Teachers unions and their Democrat allies criticized these governors’ decisions as “ludicrous” and based on “science fiction” and warned that reopening schools would be “deadly.” At least one teachers union in Florida tried to sue (unsuccessfully) DeSantis to stop his school executive order on reopening.
Yet, the school reopenings didn’t become a Covid-19 superspreader event as many had warned, and the education outcomes in both states spoke for themselves. Florida’s September 2020 Quality Counts report showed the state outperformed the nation in 15 of the 18 K-12 achievement measures and ranked third for improvement in fourth-grade mathematics, among other achievements. The Heritage Foundation ranked Florida No. 1 in overall education freedom in America.
As for Texas, The Wall Street Journal reports that it “is a rare example of a state where young students’ reading scores have more than bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. In 2022, half of Texas third-graders met or exceeded expectations, up from 37% in 2021 and 43% in 2019.”
True Professionals Who Followed the Science
Many people were afraid to speak up during lockdowns because scores of scientists, health professionals, and reputable scientific publications allowed their political disagreement with then-President Trump to cloud their judgment. These “experts” and their media allies condemned anyone who questioned destructive measures such as lockdowns and school closures as “grandma killers” and “science deniers.”
But Harvard’s Martin Kulldorff, Oxford’s Sunetra Gupta, and Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya spoke out against the herd by posting The Great Barrington Declaration in October 2020. They called for an end to the lockdowns and a return of life to its pre-pandemic norm, except for the most vulnerable segments of our population. They especially pointed out that “keeping students out of school is a grave injustice” because “for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.”
Rather than listening to this sound advice, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Francis Collins, then-director of the National Institutes of Health, worked with their media allies to trash the authors of the declaration as “fringe epidemiologists who really did not have the credentials,” and said that “hundreds of thousands of people would have died if we had followed that strategy.”
Despite Collins and Fauci’s fear-mongering, hundreds and thousands of people signed the declaration online. They and the authors belong on the list of people we should celebrate. We should also honor those school administrators, teachers, and parents who fought to keep schools open.
Teachers and Parents Who Fought for Kids
In my home state of Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis’s “shelter at home” order shut down schools and sent students to remote learning from March to May 2020. Many public schools reopened at the beginning of the fall semester in 2020, only to shut down and go back to virtual learning after the number of Covid-19 cases surged in November that year.
Yet, Dr. Robert Garrow, principal of Golden View Classical Academy, a charter school in Jefferson County, refused to close his school again. He told me that for a while during this second Covid-19 surge, Golden View was likely the only public school in Jefferson County that remained open, and out of the 70,000 students in the school district, the 700-plus students at Golden View probably were the only ones who attended classes in person. He said Golden View followed all the health protocols and never experienced the Covid-19 outbreak that many had predicted.
Garrow pointed out that school closures were a terrible idea because plenty of evidence since the early days of the pandemic showed Covid-19 wasn’t a big threat to children. He also learned from his own children and his students’ experiences that at-home school was ineffective and disruptive to a natural pace of learning for children. He said effective learning, especially for subjects such as math, could only occur in a classroom when the teacher and her students can interact, so the teacher can easily adjust her material and pace based on verbal and nonverbal cues from her students.
According to Garrow, keeping a school open from fall 2020 to 2021 in Jefferson County was a Herculean effort. He often had to go back and forth with the county health department to clarify various confusing Covid-19 rules. The county regularly sent inspectors to Golden View to enforce the mask mandate by counting how many students wore masks in a classroom. Although county health officials never found any reason to shut down Golden View, they sued three Christian schools in the fall of 2021, alleging they failed to follow Covid-19 mask mandates in their classrooms. Golden View joined the legal battle to help defend these schools, and the lawsuit was eventually dismissed.
When I asked Garrow for his reaction to our nation’s fourth graders’ significant decline in test scores, he felt both sad and angry because the learning loss could have been prevented. But too many adults in charge, driven by either fear or ideology, chose to sacrifice American children’s education and well-being instead.
It has become increasingly risky to speak truth to power in this country because those in power ensure whoever disagrees with them pays steep personal and professional prices. This is why we must celebrate those who spoke up and acted courageously in the last two years. Only by holding accountable those who pushed for and enforced bad policies and honoring those who did the right thing can we ensure our nation will never again harm our children as it did during the virus.