By David Potter
The consequences of closing schools for roughly two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, which required many K-12 students nationwide to participate in remote learning, are starting to become apparent. The 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found a significant decline in student proficiency of both reading and math among students in grade four and grade eight compared to 2019.
After most schools were closed throughout 2020, districts nationwide turned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and their Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation guidelines to determine when it would be appropriate to reopen schools in 2021. The CDC has a long-standing practice of keeping draft guidance documents confidential, but senior officials within the agency shared the draft with the second largest teacher’s union in the nation- the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). AFT played an unprecedented role in the development of the phased mitigation guidelines that deviates from the CDC’s Evidence-Based Guidelines standards.
According to a damning report from the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, the result of this CDC-AFT malfeasance was a set of guidelines intended to increase the likelihood of public schools remaining closed to in-person learning.
The actions of the AFT, which led to an increase in remote learning, and a decrease in on-site learning, may have been a contributing factor to the proficiency decline in math and reading among students in most states.
The decline in student proficiency in math amongst both fourth and eight graders, as measured by comparing the 2022 national average score to the 2019 national average score, was the largest declined ever recorded. Twenty-five percent of fourth grade students nationally scored below the NAEP Basic level of competency in math (an increase from nineteen percent in 2019). More substantial, thirty-eight percent of eight grade students nationally scored below the NAEP Basic level of proficiency in math. Although not as drastic, declines in NAEP Basic levels of reading proficiency were also recorded in both forth and eight graders.
Specifically, forty-three states saw a decrease in math proficiency amongst fourth graders, and all 50 states (along with the District of Columbia) saw a decrease in math proficiency amongst eighth graders, respectively. For reading, thirty states recorded a decrease in proficiency amongst fourth graders, and thirty-three states recorded a decrease in proficiency amongst eighth graders (an increase from thirty-one percent in 2019).
Contributing factors to the decline in proficiency during remote learning include: access levels to a computer (desktop, laptop, or tablet) at all times, availability of a quiet place at home that is conducive to focused work, availability of teacher assistance with homework, and, for eight graders, access levels to daily video lessons. As expected, students with higher levels of proficiency had greater access to the abovementioned. The inverse is true for students who demonstrate lower proficiency in test scores. Those students who were already disadvantaged were impacted more substantially.
Given these nationwide declines in student proficiency, and their correlation with increased remote learning during the pandemic, via the law of transitivity, a clear correlation also exists between Biden’s CDC allowing a teacher’s union to edit public health policy and the decline of student proficiency in math and reading.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky served as a direct contact to AFT. According to the House Subcommittee’s findings, she was personally responsible for incorporating the health policy edits from the teachers union. Initially, the Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation lacked a specific COVID-19 infection rate threshold to trigger school closures, but AFT advocated for a conservative threshold trigger, similar New York Cities’ school closure threshold, which closed schools if the Covid positivity rate exceeded three percent.
An entire cohort of youth is now lacking foundational proficiency in education more than past generations. The teachers union acted against the best interest of students nationwide, educationally speaking. While it’s unclear if their motives were for preserving the personal health of teachers, giving these teachers continued income with less work, a combination of both, or other factors, they never should have been allowed to create public health policy. The move politicized public health and is responsible for a whole generation of under-achievers with increased mental health issues.
The only question is will Congress hold those who allowed politics to override sound policy responsible?