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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

 Remote learning was a disaster

Photo: Marta Wave/Pexels

Remote learning was an academic disaster, writes David Leonhardt. And it may have been unnecessary.

In March 2020, all states closed schools and switched to remote instruction, he writes.

But in the fall, some schools resumed in-person instruction, while others relied on online instruction for many months. Some were closed for a year or more.

Researchers at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research analyzed the MAP reading and math test, taken by millions of students three times a year, “to study learning during a two-year period starting in the fall of 2019, before the pandemic began,” he writes.

On average, students who attended in-person school for nearly all of 2020-21 lost about 20 percent worth of a typical school year’s math learning during the study’s two-year window. . . . But students who stayed home for most of 2020-21 fared much worse. On average, they lost the equivalent of about 50 percent of a typical school year’s math learning during the study’s two-year window.

Low-income, Black and Latino students lost more in-person schooling and fell further behind. Thomas Kane, an author of the Harvard study, fears “the largest increase in educational inequity in a generation.”

Did keeping schools closed save lives? Apparently not, writes Leonhardt. “In places where schools reopened that summer and fall, the spread of Covid was not noticeably worse than in places where schools remained closed. Schools also reopened in parts of Europe without seeming to spark outbreaks.”

The Washington Post recently profiled a district in Colorado where schools reopened quickly, noting that no children were hospitalized and many thrived. . . . Hundreds of other districts, especially in liberal communities, instead kept schools closed for a year or more. Officials said they were doing so to protect children and especially the most vulnerable children. The effect, however, was often the opposite.

Emily Oster, a Brown economist, called it in October 2020, when she wrote Schools Aren’t Super-Spreaders in The Atlantic.

In addition to the “lost” or “unfinished” academic learning, out-of-school students lost social skills.

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