By Becket Adams, Washington Examiner
Critics of the pandemic school closures have been vindicated.
They warned the closures would cause serious, possibly irreversible, developmental retardation. They warned of severe learning loss.
The critics were not just ignored, they were also maligned by a vicious cabal of politicians, news media personalities, and education professionals, most notably American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. The critics were called monsters and “grandma killers.” They were accused of not “trusting” the science.
“Children are resilient,” the pro-closure camp smugly asserted. (No, it’s not that children are resilient. It’s that they don’t yet have the words to describe the ways in which you are harming them.)
Now, a little more than two years after the pandemic first came to America, new data confirm the mass school closures, which, by the way, Democratic politicians and teachers’ unions enforced with a religious fever even long after the restrictions were shown to be little more than superstitious hocus-pokery, caused serious harm to young students.
“American students’ test scores plunge to levels unseen for decades,” the Washington Post reported on Sept. 1. “Test scores in elementary school math and reading plummeted to levels unseen for decades,” the report reads , citing the first “nationally representative report comparing student achievement from just before the pandemic to performance two years later.”
It adds, “Math scores dropped seven points during that period, marking a first-ever decline, while reading scores slipped five points, producing the largest dip in 30 years on the National Assessment for Educational Progress, or NAEP, often called ‘the nation’s report card.’ The students who took the tests — given from January to March in 2020 and in 2022 — were 9 years old and mostly in fourth grade.”
At the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the story is the same.
Who could’ve predicted this? Quite a few people, actually.
“There’s certainly no such thing as zero risk in anything we do, and that is certainly the case during a pandemic,” Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard’s school of public health, said in a 2020 paper arguing in favor of school reopenings.
However, he added, “there are devastating costs of keeping kids out of school. When we have this discussion about sending kids back to school, we have to have it in the context of the massive individual and societal costs of keeping kids at home.”
His and similar recommendations were rebuffed quickly by lockdown enthusiasts and teachers’ unions alike, both of whom characterized the effort to re-open schools as dangerous and even lethal.
Frustratingly enough, a not-insignificant number of parents also supported the closures, embracing the belief that in-person learning would jeopardize greatly the life and health of everyone involved. But ask yourself this: Where, exactly, do you suppose these parents got this idea? They got it from partisan state and local leaders, from grossly politicized public health agencies and teachers’ unions. They had fear pumped directly into their veins. They watched in 2020 as the Democratic National Committee ran ads claiming, among other things, that then-President Donald Trump was “risking teachers’ and parents’ lives” is his supposedly “desperate” push to reopen schools.
“[Trump is] ignoring how the virus spreads… going against the advice of experts,” the ad said. “Do you trust him to do what’s best for our children?”
“One cannot overstate what a large role the political reaction against Trump, and his early failures on the pandemic, played in the extended closures in blue states and cities,” ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis rightly observed last week. “Democrats saw a political opportunity in fanning the flames on school reopening, and it came at a cost.”
Check this 2020 headline from the New York Times: “How Trump’s Push to Reopen Schools Backfired.” The subhead reads , “Distrust of the president and his motives hardened the conviction of some educators that teaching in person was unsafe, helping drive union opposition.”
On Thursday, after the learning loss data were released, AFT president Weingarten responded.
“Thankfully after two years of disruption from a pandemic that killed more than 1 [million] Americans, schools are already working on helping kids recover and thrive,” she said. “This is a year to accelerate learning by rebuilding relationships, focusing on the basics.”
The gall of this woman.
Weingarten acts as if the pandemic alone is responsible for the learning loss — as if the restrictions she and her ideological allies promoted and enforced played no significant role. It’s utterly shameless. Indeed, her comment is nearly as shameless as when National Public Radio declared this month, “Resistance to nuclear power is on the decline worldwide — and environmentalists helped lead the push. Here’s why it’s gaining support.”
Yes, like Weingarten’s response this week, this actually happened. NPR actually said this.
And, yes, like Weingarten’s response, it’s a malicious, self-serving rewriting of history.
Becket Adams is the program director of the National Journalism Center.