Montgomery County, Maryland is a wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C. Like many such jurisdictions, Montgomery County remains tightly locked down. Its public schools are closed, and all students are required to participate in “distance learning.” The results have been disastrous –particularly for minority students.
Since the advent of the great “War on Poverty” liberal educators in Montgomery County and elsewhere in the nation have trumpeted their efforts to close the “achievement gap” -the yawning chasm that exists between the performance of white students and minority, particularly black, students. Quite rightly educators have focused on the fact that in an increasingly high-tech world, students who come out of school without the requisite education are doomed to a lifetime of poverty and are much more likely to end up institutionalized.
That was then. This is now. The theology of COVID-19 now reigns supreme. The teachers unions have discarded all considerations of the impact of their decisions on their students. A generation of slow but steady progress has been washed away by the principle that schools cannot open. Never mind that young people are themselves at very little risk from the disease. No challenge will be permitted to the principle of lockdowns.
The results have been disastrous. Since the county moved to “distance learning” there has been an over 500% increase in the number of black junior high students failing mathematics and an over 600% increase in the number of Hispanic students failing such tests. The percentage of black elementary school students failing English has increased 350% and the percentage of Hispanic students failing English has increased over 500%. The county is looking at numbers that have not been seen since 1961, almost sixty years ago.
Montgomery County, which has some of the best schools in the nation, is not an outlier. These results are being seen across the country and were completely predictable. A study by McKinsey & Company consultants last spring estimated that if schools were kept entirely online until January, on average “white students would lose 6 months of learning, Hispanic students 9 months, black students 10 months and low-income students more than a year during the time school buildings have closed for the pandemic.”
Just to the north of Montgomery County in Baltimore the reality of “distance learning” is in stark relief. Schools have been locked down since April. Students there, assuming they have the means to log onto the internet at all, get four hours of live instruction per week, an hour for each of the four main subjects once a week, with nothing on Fridays. In a typical class maybe 20% even log on for class. Often no one does. The students are in free fall.
From a bureaucratic perspective, it does not matter. Students are not penalized for failing to do their school work. They are simply carried forward and promoted anyway. The fact that they have learned nothing is irrelevant to a system that has lost all sense of what it is supposed to be trying to achieve.
From the very beginnings of this nation, we have recognized that education is indispensable to personal advancement and the well-being of the country as a whole. Watch immigrants today as they arrive on our shores. The first generation may work all sorts of menial jobs to support itself. The second generation will be attending our best schools and pushing its way upward in society.
All of that is now at risk, and the most vulnerable in our society are paying the price. As of July, of this year only one person under the age of 19 in Maryland had died of the disease. Nationwide fewer than 100 children had died. That is roughly the same as die every year of the flu.
It doesn’t matter. The orthodoxy must prevail.
In Baltimore the teachers union even opposes allowing teachers to conduct their online classes from their classrooms in school. That’s too dangerous apparently, as if the walls of the school buildings somehow harbor the virus. In many parts of the United States schools have reopened for in person classes without any increase in cases noted. Never mind, science is king, except when it is not, and in this case nothing can be allowed to challenge this article of faith – schools must remain closed.
What is true in Maryland is true everywhere in America where schools have been shuttered. “Distance learning” is a sham. It is a lie. Students are falling into the abyss, and it may be years before we fully understand just how disastrous the consequences will be.
Our public schools have been in trouble for a very long time. They have become incubators of social change dominated by ideologies out of step with the thinking of most Americans. Where once we prided ourselves on the quality of our schools, we have become the laughing stock of the industrialized world, consistently coming in at the bottom in every objective measure of success.
The COVID-19 pandemic has simply exaggerated all of our educational system’s preexisting problems and weaknesses. A bureaucratic structure controlled by administrators and unions has been fully exposed. It exists for one reason and one reason only – to educate our children. And, now, it has been made plain, it does not care at all whether it does that or not.
The impact of lockdowns on our children is literally irrelevant to the people driving educational policy. Why should it be otherwise? Your child may be learning nothing. Hopes of college and a good career may be dissipating by the day. Every single one of those teachers and administrators is still collecting full pay, moving steadily toward tenure and feeling no pain.
Our schools have failed the test, but it will be our children, particularly those of color, who pay the price.