Monday’s release of the nation’s report card on the academic performance of schoolchildren is just the latest stunning measure of how closed schools damaged young Americans. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which looks at the test scores of fourth and eighth graders in math and reading, is a devastating indictment of the nation’s political leaders and teachers’ unions, who collaborated to shut down schools and keep them shut for in-person learning long after those across most of the West had already reopened.
We’re only just beginning to comprehend the wreckage, which has had significant effects on school districts across the country, even after it was clear they could reopen safely. When Covid first arrived in America, its danger to young students was unclear. But by the time these matters were being debated a year and a half later, the low-risk nature of in-person schooling was known. Yet schools across the country remained closed, with the insistence that people who wanted them reopened — politicians and parents alike — were making teachers fear for their lives.
Media reporting about these horrible outcomes is framed in a passive voice, as if it’s the pandemic that shut down schools. This avoids the truth: that the delay in the reopening of schools was a crisis engineered by one party, driven by its most powerful constituent group — the teachers’ unions — which literally helped rewrite CDC policy in ways that were totally unjustified by the science at play. As City Journal noted recently:
In early 2021, the CDC allowed the most influential teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, to review and edit new reopening guidance meant to provide a “safe” path to getting kids back in schools. Union heads were given direct, unprecedented access to CDC director Rochelle Walensky; the CDC inserted verbatim text from their emails into the guidance. As a result, the CDC’s union-approved guidance, released in February 2021, slammed the brakes on full reopening by linking it so tightly to community spread that only 5 percent of the nation’s schools met the criteria to open at the time — this despite several studies showing that spread in schools was far lower than in surrounding communities. One seminal analysis published by the CDC just a month earlier had found only seven instances of in-school transmission over 13 weeks, though cases in the counties studied were exceedingly high.
The union-vetted guidance also strongly recommended six-foot distancing, an unscientific and arbitrary spacing requirement that kept millions of children home half of the week, if they were allowed in buildings at all. In Portland, Oregon, the teachers’ association used this guidance to lock six feet of distancing into their contracts for the entire school year. The CDC eventually updated the guidance in March 2021 to recommend only three feet of distancing, but the Portland district was powerless to increase the density of students in buildings, given the year-long contract specifying 6 feet. Portland’s version of “hybrid” learning for high school students translated to five hours per week in the building.”
We’re just beginning to measure how far students have fallen behind because of practices like these, and how long it will take them to make up for the setbacks of an education establishment more interested in getting billions in slush fund dollars than teaching kids. In case you’ve forgotten, that includes the massive stimulus bill Anthony Fauci said needed to be passed for schools to reopen — despite the fact that he now claims to have had nothing to do with the closures.
There are some small silver linings amid this horrible wrong. The political pressure to pass school choice measures has increased dramatically, bearing fruit in states like Arizona. The number of homeschooling families has exploded, and only dipped slightly as schools reopened. And the understanding of what is actually being taught in classes has shocked many parents, leading to political engagement and backlash at school board meetings over the teaching of gender absurdity and Critical Race Theory. This is little solace, though, given the damage done.
Democrats and the teachers’ unions are likely underestimating the degree to which the incoming red wave in November is a direct consequence of their actions. Yes, polling tells us that economic and inflation concerns are the priority of most voters. But the Randi Weingarten hostage taking, aided and abetted by the likes of Fauci and Walensky, are now viewed as damaging policy fearmongering, lies that are thoroughly owned by Democrats. These are political issues that have a long tail, and as these students continue to struggle, their parents will remember who to blame — no matter how much the media pretends they’re all trying to find the guy who did this.