Nuking the Schools

by James A. Bacon

The COVID-19-related shutdowns of K-12 schools across the country have been educational disaster of historic proportions, according to data published in a new McKinsey & Company report. McKinsey doesn’t use the phrase “disaster of historic proportions,” but how else can one describe a response to the pandemic that left students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months in reading?

Worse yet, the racial gap in educational achievement has widened. Students in majority Black neighborhoods ended the year with six months of unfinished learning and students in low-income schools with seven months, the report says.

Over and above the lost academic ground, the shutdowns had a tremendous adverse impact on children’s mental health. Thirty-five percent of parents say they are “very” or “extremely” worried, a significant increase from pre-pandemic levels.

The numbers are national in scope. McKinsey did not break down estimates by state, so there are no Virginia-specific numbers. But given the fact that the school shutdowns were more pervasive and longer lasting on average in parts of Virginia, especially in Northern Virginia and center-city jurisdictions, one can predict that the educational collapse is at least as catastrophic in the Old Dominion as in other states.

The long-term consequences will be terrible for all students, but they will be worst for Blacks and Hispanics. States McKinsey:

We estimate that, without immediate and sustained interventions, pandemic-related unfinished learning could reduce lifetime earnings for K-12 students by an average of $49,000 to $61,000. These costs are significant, especially for students who have lost more learning. While white students may see lifetime earnings reduced by 1.4 percent, the reduction could be as much as 2.4 percent for Black students and 2.1 percent for Hispanic students.

Meanwhile, McKinsey, the shutdowns might have lingering after-effects even after schools reopen this fall.

Some students will have dropped out of formal schooling entirely, and those who remain in school may be reluctant to return to physical classrooms. Our survey results suggest that 24 percent of parents are still not convinced they will choose in-person instruction for their children this fall. Within Black communities, that rises to 34 percent.

In other words, the situation may continue to deteriorate.

Bacon’s bottom line: We cannot blame the shutdowns on “COVID,” as if the virus shut down the schools. These disastrous outcomes are the direct result of political decisions. Here in Virginia, some public schools (mainly rural) stayed open. Many if not most private schools stayed open. In other countries, many public schools stayed open.

Let’s put the blame squarely where it belongs. The schools where in-school learning was most restricted and the educational losses most pronounced were nearly all run by politically “progressive” school boards, which were far more focused over the past year on putting the tenets of Critical Race Theory into practice than ensuring that children got an education. The same can be said of the Northam administration, which showed zero leadership on school closings even while it was pushing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and re-writing guidelines for transgender students.

Responsibility for these disastrous results could not possibly be clearer. Judged by results, Governor Ralph Northam will go down in history as the worst governor for education in Virginia history since Massive Resistance. The names Ralph Northam, Atif Qarni and James Lane will live in annals of educational infamy. But the fault is not all theirs. Local “woke” school board in Virginia’s largest cities and counties are equally to blame, as are teacher unions that lobbied for school closings. If voters don’t see fit to throw the bums out this year, there is truly no hope for the Commonwealth.