It has been obvious for quite a while that pandemic-induced school closings and extended remote learning were going to have substantial negative effects on development among K-12 students. Equally obvious has been that Democrat-controlled jurisdictions — which include essentially all of the major cities with high concentrations of poor and minority students in the education system — have indulged in the longest school closures and the most remote learning. Clearly, this would lead to major negative results for the poor and minority students in these jurisdictions, particularly as compared to the students in places where schools mostly remained open for in-person learning.
A big new Report out from the Center for Educational and Policy Research at Harvard (and other institutes with similarly long names) now confirms the facts that we all knew were coming. The Report is titled “The Consequences of Remote and Hybrid Instruction During the Pandemic,” and has a date of May 2022. The lead author is Dan Goldhaber. This is a very large and well-funded study. It relies on data collected from some 2.1 million students in 10,000 schools in 49 states.
Two things about the Report stand out: (1) The large extent of the negative effects of school closures and remote learning, particularly in what the authors call “high poverty” districts, which effects are at the highest end of what anyone might have expected, and (2) The extreme lengths to which the Report goes to avoid pointing the finger of blame where it needs to be pointed, which is toward the politicians and bureaucrats — essentially all Democrats — responsible for the excessive closures in the high-poverty districts, and on the teachers unions that control the schools and back the politicians in those jurisdictions.
The May 5 issue of the Harvard Gazette contains an interview with Thomas Kane, Professor of Education and Economics at Harvard and second author of the Report, that gives an idea of the extent of the damage inflicted on poor and minority students by the school closures and remote learning. Excerpts:
The striking and important finding was that remote instruction had much more negative impacts in high-poverty schools. High-poverty schools were more likely to go remote and their students lost more when they did so. Both mattered, but the latter effect mattered more. To give you a sense of the magnitude: In high-poverty schools that were remote for more than half of 2021, the loss was about half of a school year’s worth of typical achievement growth. . . .
Over the last 30 years, there has been like a gradual closing in both the Black-white and Hispanic-white achievement gaps. . . . Our results imply that when those [NAEP] results come out later this year (likely in October, before the midterm election) there will be a decline nationally, especially in states where schools remained remote, and gaps will widen sharply for the first time in a generation.
The Report itself is much more filled with dense technical jargon, but the gist can be gotten from a few sentences:
High poverty schools were more likely to go remote and the consequences for student achievement were more negative when they did so. . . . As noted earlier, there was essentially no widening in math achievement gaps in districts that were fully in-person (.002 standard deviations). In the fifth row, we report the effect of greater incidence of remote/hybrid instruction in high-poverty schools, which was about one third of the total difference (.051/.168). The remaining half of the gap (.085/.168) was due to the differing impact of hybrid/remote instruction on high-poverty schools.
So what are these “high poverty” schools that had long closures and extensive remote learning and left their already struggling students farther behind than ever? You would think that the Report would call them out by name, but instead it doesn’t name a single one of the worst offenders. Nor is the fact ever mentioned that essentially all of these places are in 100% Democrat control, or that they essentially all have powerful teachers unions that led the demands for the long closures and the remote learning. It’s like these things are taboos that must not be mentioned in polite company.
Instead, if a reader is curious as to whether political differences between jurisdictions might have influenced these results, he is left to read between the lines to search for hidden clues. One of the closest things in the Report to real information is the following chart giving average lengths of closures/remote learning by state and, within states, broken down to low, middle and high poverty:
They never mention which states are governed by members of which party, but if we apply our own external knowledge we can see that 10 of the 12 states (including DC) with the highest levels of remote learning had Democratic governors (mayor in the case of DC; Arizona and Maryland are the exceptions), while 11 of the 13 states with the lowest levels of remote learning had Republican governors (Louisiana and Maine are the exceptions). Nothing in the text of the Report, or in the Gazette’s interview with Professor Kane, specifically calls out any of the major Democrat-controlled cities — like Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia or Los Angeles — with the longest closures and the worst results for the minority students.
In a time where progressives seem to be focused on racially-based guilt for societal failure to achieve equal results in education, you would think that the unveiling of the data in this Report would be an occasion for accountability for the parties responsible for the disastrous school closures. Instead, what we have is Harvard covering up for its systemically racist friends.
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