COVID Shutdown Repercussions, Teacher Vacancies, and Ideologies among Problems Plaguing Education, Experts Say
National test results released on Thursday from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) revealed that the math and reading scores of elementary school students reached historic lows in 2022, with an unprecedented drop in math and the largest drop in 32 years in reading among nine-year-olds. Experts say that the drops can be attributed to a variety of factors, including repercussions from school shutdowns, discipline issues, open borders, classroom time spent on controversial ideologies, and other factors.
Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council, emphasized that the dropping test scores reflect a tragic failure of the U.S. education system for vulnerable children and American taxpayers.
“Test scores are important, but these reports can’t possibly measure every facet of educational performance, nor is it possible to quantify every factor that creates this national set of numbers,” she told The Washington Stand. “We should remember that a line on a graph represents millions of school children who need to learn. Americans value education, and we pay taxes into system that is not delivering.”
Many experts agree that the 2020-2021 shutdown of most schools during the COVID-19 pandemic and the transition to “distance learning” detrimentally affected the education and economic opportunities of children, particularly minority students. What many see as particularly frustrating is that schools were shut down by government agencies despite the low risk of serious health issues that the coronavirus posed to children and despite evidence that shutdowns were ineffective in stopping the spread of the virus.
Peggy Carr, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, has pointed to problems that have arisen in schools as a result of the lockdowns, including “a rise in classroom disruption, school violence, absenteeism, cyberbullying, and teacher and staff vacancies, and schools also say more students are seeking mental health services.”
Kilgannon sees similar concerns but also a host of others.
“We all have a duty to address this problem, because children can’t fix a failing school system,” she observed. “Concerned citizens need to engage at the local school board level. We need to have conversations about why teachers are leaving the profession. Is it because school discipline is now a civil rights issue making learning impossible in chaotic classrooms? Is it because of vaccine requirements, or are some teachers afraid to return to in-person teaching? Is it because too many students come to school unready to learn? How is the crisis at the border impacting schools all over the country, when unaccompanied minors (who are trafficking victims) are placed in communities in the heartland, many of which lack the infrastructure to accommodate them? How has the emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and social emotional learning impacted student learning in core subjects? These are the kinds of questions we need to answer in our local communities so that each child enjoys a safe and rigorous education.”
School districts across the country are indeed reporting historic levels of teacher shortages, with The Washington Post indicating that the shortage is partly due to “an escalating educational culture war” that is exhausting teachers, with highly controversial material like gender theory, critical race theory, and DEI being increasingly included in classroom curriculums.
Still, Kilgannon sees hope in what Christians can do to help revitalize the education system.
“When we see test scores like these NAEP results, people rightly feel discouraged, upset, and powerless,” she concluded. “As Christians, our response could be to bring our values to a system that desperately needs our love and our understanding that every child is created in the image and likeness of God. We can run for school board, apply for newly created teaching positions that don’t require an education degree, volunteer in our children’s classrooms, and especially pray for our schools and the children, teachers, and staff in them. We live in the greatest country in the world and our nation’s schools should be the very best. Our children deserve it, and our nation needs it.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.