strain5_(Kent Nishimura  Los Angeles Times via Getty Images_school Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

America’s Education Emergency

New test scores have confirmed what many had suspected: pandemic-era school closures resulted in a disturbing loss of learning for millions of American schoolchildren. Worse, there is scandalously little political appetite to take the steps needed to help students get back on track.

WASHINGTON, DC – In the fall of 2020, many local and state authorities in the United States decided not to reopen schools for in-person learning. This will be remembered as a shameful failure by policymakers to get their priorities straight. Absurdities abounded. In Georgia, adults could enter tattoo parlors, but fifth graders could not go to math class. In many states, adults could gather in a bar, but children were forced to sit in front of computer screens, receiving online lessons that, in many cases, were equivalent to no schooling at all.

We now know the consequences. Newly released test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress this month show a dramatic reduction in nine-year-olds’ math and reading abilities. Math scores were lower in 2022 than in 2020 – the first-ever decline in the NAEP’s five-decade history – and reading scores were down by the largest amount in over three decades. Moreover, this year’s math and reading test scores were both below their 2004 level. The pandemic erased two decades of progress.

It is no surprise that students struggled to learn. Zoom is no substitute for real classrooms, which were closed for far too long in much of the country. Worse, the lowest-performing students were hit the hardest by school closures and remote learning. Math test scores for students performing at the 10th percentile fell by four times more than did scores for students at the 90th percentile. For reading, the lowest-performing students’ scores dropped by five times as much as the highest-performing test takers.

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