Fareed Zacaria – Schools in the age of Covid-19

April 3, 2021 – GPS on CNN

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One of the very best parts of Joe Biden’s Covid Relief Bill is what it does for America’s children, especially its poorest children.  It’s estimated that the legislation will, amazingly, cut child poverty in America by half. It also contains money to get kids back to school. This is absolutely crucial because I believe primary and secondary education may be where the pandemic’s disruptions end up hurting America the most in the long run.

Due to the pandemic, students started the school year, on average, three months behind on math and 1½ months behind in reading.  Poor and minority kids had an especially hard time. They were more often ill-equipped for online learning. To take one example, participation in online math-course work fell by as much as 60% for low-income students, but only 25% for kids from high-income households. These poorer students were also more likely to have no live contact with teachers over the course of seven days.

As a result, McKinsey estimates that at the end of this school year students of color may lose up to twelve full months of learning. White students could lose up to eight months. And now as schools are reopening in many cities, students of color are less likely to return to classrooms because of a lack of trust in the school system’s ability to protect them.

Bar Chart - Estimated Student Loss of Learning due to Covid.

The repercussions of all this appear dire. McKinsey estimates that when the current cohort of K thru 12 students join the workforce, average earnings for blacks are estimated to drop by about $2200 per year due to learning loss. For their white counterparts these losses would be about $1400. What’s more, an estimated three million of America’s most marginalized students seem to have disappeared from the education system altogether. They haven’t been seen in schools, virtual or in-person, since March of 2020.

The pandemic exacerbated America’s age-old achievement gap, with non-white groups performing worse on standard metrics of progress in education. We must prevent that divide from becoming more entrenched. One way to do that is to get kids back in school and quickly. The Biden Administration is off to a good start on that moving forward with a plan to reopen schools.

The science is clear. It is unlikely that schools will become vectors for spread if basic health precautions are taken, especially when there are low infection rates in the surrounding community. To make these educational institutions saver still, The White House announced a $10 billion investment in testing for schools.

But even if every schoolhouse flings open its doors tomorrow, and welcomes mass students with open arms, the nation will still have to contend with those devastating deficits in learning I told you about. Those have already happened.

Michael Bloomberg has a plan for that. The billionaire, former Mayor of New York city makes a compelling case in The Washington Post to keep schools across the country open over this summer to fill-in some of those gaps. Why not? I’ve said before, America’s often three-month long summer breaks are an absolute aberration on the world stage. Because of the brevity of the school year, as well of the shortness of the school day in the U.S., children in South Korea and China, by my calculations, end-up spending almost two years more in school than their American counterparts by the end of high school. Is it any wonder that they test better?

Let’s fix these issues, but let’s not stop there. I’ve also talked before about how the pandemic gives us a once in a lifetime opportunity to fix those elements of society that are ailing. America’s educations system should be near the top to the list.