It Wasn't the Pandemic That Set Our Reading and Math Scores Back By Two Decades

AP Photo/Denis Poroy

The biggest news story of the day is not Sarah Palin’s loss in Alaska. It isn’t Donald Trump’s rebuttal to the Department of Justice. It isn’t anything to do with immigration or any of the other niche issues out there.


No, the biggest story of the day is this report from the New York Times on the losses in education in the time of COVID-19.

In a piece titled “The Pandemic Erased Two Decades of Progress in Math and Reading,” the writer goes into detail about the losses American children overall saw in the wake of the pandemic.

National test results released on Thursday showed in stark terms the pandemic’s devastating effects on American schoolchildren, with the performance of 9-year-olds in math and reading dropping to the levels from two decades ago.

This year, for the first time since the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests began tracking student achievement in the 1970s, 9-year-olds lost ground in math, and scores in reading fell by the largest margin in more than 30 years.

The declines spanned almost all races and income levels and were markedly worse for the lowest-performing students. While top performers in the 90th percentile showed a modest drop — three points in math — students in the bottom 10th percentile dropped by 12 points in math, four times the impact.

Two decades of gains in reading and math have been obliterated.

In math, Black students lost 13 points, compared with five points among white students, widening the gap between the two groups. Research has documented the profound effect school closures had on low-income students and on Black and Hispanic students, in part because their schools were more likely to continue remote learning for longer periods of time.

The declines in test scores mean that while many 9-year-olds can demonstrate partial understanding of what they are reading, fewer can infer a character’s feelings from what they have read. In math, students may know simple arithmetic facts, but fewer can add fractions with common denominators.


The results are nothing short of horrific, and they should have every parent, student, and teacher in the country on high alert. There is simply no way to, as a country, recover from the losses incurred during the pandemic and in its aftermath. But the headline of this story is a major problem. It was not the pandemic that caused this. It was the policies of public schools, at the behest of teachers unions and Democrats, and emboldened by media fear-mongering, that caused this.

At no point during the campaign was there any data showing that kids were spreading the virus to each other at a massive rate. There was little evidence of adult-to-child transmission outside of their homes. Schools were never at risk of becoming mass-spreader sites. The entire education complex was turned upside down by fear.

I worked in a school district that was forced to shut down on March 13, 2020, by Governor John Bel Edwards’ mandate. It was going to be for four weeks, and it got extended to the rest of the school year. The next year, my district opened up, although on a hybrid basis. Local teachers and local teachers unions were furious that the district “never cared about them.” But there was never a mass spreader event, even with over-populated classrooms and the bare minimum of social distancing between kids. That district saw test scores rise back to near pre-pandemic levels while other districts in the region struggled to rebound from their losses.


But around the country, in blue states and blue cities, schools stayed closed for more than a year and children were forced to (attempt to) learn through simply a computer screen. Kids who rely on facial expressions for communication, understanding tone and non-verbal cues, and more struggled with more than a year of loss because of masking. “But kids are resilient,” we were told when we protested. Turns out they weren’t.

Special needs students were left without valuable assistance because they could not be with the teachers who specialize in helping them. Students who require extra assistance could not get it. There was no real method of ensuring students did their work, and no way to verify that they were learning. And, as it turns out, they weren’t.

Teachers unions convinced the Biden administration and the CDC to advise schools to stay closed. They convinced the Department of Justice to consider parents who demanded more from school boards to be terrorists. The Democrats obliged.

The media ran story after story condemning any form of re-opening. They called Georgia’s plan to re-open an “experiment in human sacrifice.” They attacked truckers and business leaders who protested the economic shutdowns. They did everything they could to vilify those who wanted to reopen and justify the fears of those who wanted to stay locked down.


No, the pandemic didn’t cause these losses.


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