It’s been a year now since students have been in school full-time. A year.
I cannot begin to calculate what that year has cost many of our children. Whatever it is, it’s a cost we will be dealing with as a nation for years to come. Some of the most vulnerable children are likely never to fully recover.
But now, all of a sudden, across the country politicians are waking up to the fact that kids are really being harmed by being out of school for so long. Unfortunately, much damage has already been done.
Back in July, Paul E. Peterson wrote an article for Education Next a publication for which he serves as editor-in-chief, entitled, “The Price Students Pay When Schools Are Closed — Seven ways children, and the nation, lose out when school buildings do not open.” In his article, Peterson discusses the deficiencies of online learning, the social and emotional damage caused when students are denied an in-school experience, and how school closures and online learning widen achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.
Peterson’s article was published before the current school year even began, yet, until recently, he and others raising these concerns have been dismissed by many as alarmists, or worse, people who don’t care whether teachers and students live or die.
In a Jan. 5, 2021 Yale News article, Mike Cummings references a study co-authored by Yale economist Fabrizio Zilibotti. This study concluded, “the pandemic is widening educational inequality and that the learning gaps created by the crisis will persist as students progress through high school, putting their future prospects at risk.”
Zilibotti continues, “children living in the poorest 20% of U.S. neighborhoods will experience the most negative and long-lasting effects of school closures.”
Their model predicts that one year of school closures will cost ninth graders in the poorest communities a 25% decrease in their post-educational earning potential, even if it is followed by three years of normal schooling.
Perhaps we should make a deal with teachers and unions still refusing to return to in-school instruction. School buildings will stay shut, but teacher salaries will be reduced by 25% for the rest of their working lives. After all, according to the Yale study, that’s the price we’re asking our most vulnerable students to pay.
What we’ve done, and continue to do to students, especially the disadvantaged, borders on the criminal, and I would think the people responsible for ensuring equity in education — locally and across the nation — would be screaming the loudest to fully reopen schools.
For a year now, I’ve listened to politicians lecture me about the need to “follow the science.” Well, the science says, and has said, it’s safe to open schools with the proper precautions. Yet, they remain closed in too many places. Perhaps last spring when we didn’t know much about COVID-19 closing schools was justified, but keeping them closed beyond that has come at a terrible cost.
CCPS’ focus on compensatory services for special education students in the coming year’s budget makes sense. State and federal law require they provide these services. Time will tell how effective their efforts will be, but the need extends far beyond special education students and I fear a few million dollars of extra funding by the county will be insufficient for the task. The problem is far larger and will be much longer-lasting than some may wish to acknowledge.
The county commissioners have a tough decision to make when deciding how to fund the school system this year. On one hand, they must consider the magnitude of the problem. Honestly, I don’t think there’s enough money in the world to undo the damage we’ve done to our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. We’ve dug an enormous hole, and now we’re hoping to get some teaspoons to fill it.
On the other hand, CCPS is shedding enrolled students as parents seek alternatives to educate their children. This creates a potential long-term funding problem the commissioners must take very seriously. They need to make sure CCPS has done its due diligence, has accurately determined the reasons why students have left, and has taken the steps necessary to effectively address the problem going forward. If CCPS is just assuming the students who left will return when the public schools eventually do reopen, they are rolling the dice, and it will be Carroll’s taxpayers who will foot the bill if they lose that bet.
Thanks to those CCPS school board members who fought hard to at least get Carroll County’s schools partially reopened. Their efforts on behalf of students have not gone unnoticed. There are those who fought you every step of the way — they’re still fighting you — so thank you for holding your ground. Please continue to advocate for our children and for fully reopening schools.
It’s time to stop the bleeding.
(For further reading, check out this “progressive parent’s rant” on the subject that Dr. Robert Wack was kind enough to send me.)
Chris Roemer is a former banker and a former Carroll County Public Schools middle school principal who writes from Finksburg. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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