Sweden’s youngest children — who, unmasked and carefree, never missed a day of school during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — didn’t suffer any learning loss during the 2020-2021 school year. Their teachers didn’t all die as a result of being in the classroom.
In a study published Friday in the International Journal of Educational Research, a team of researchers at Stockholm’s Karolinska University analyzed data from 97,073 primary school students, grades one through three, across the Scandinavian country. It found there was “no COVID-19-related loss in reading”; that the “proportion of students with weak reading skills didn’t increase during the pandemic”; and that “students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds were not especially affected.”
Not so in the U.S., where schools were shuttered and teachers unions worked as hard as they could to delay openings in most states. The percentage of students at high risk for learning not to read rose from 8% in the 2019-2020 school year to 37% in the 2021-2011 school year, according to a report published by Amplify, a curriculum and testing company, this February.
The University of Virginia found about 35% of Virginia’s schoolchildren in kindergarten through second grade scored below their expected levels of literacy in the fall of 2021 — a historically high number. The May study showed that “below-benchmark scores were disproportionately higher for students who are Black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, English learners and those with disabilities.”
My three boys were in first and second grade when the pandemic hit (I have twins). Virginia’s Fairfax County public schools, where my children attended, were slow to get their online learning up and running, and when they did, teachers were too busy yelling at the young students to “mute” their screens to focus full-time on reading, writing and arithmetic lessons.
I scrambled to find a private school that would guarantee in-person instruction come the fall. When my youngest tried to test into second grade, he failed — from just three months of lost learning time. His reading skills simply weren’t up to par and he would have to repeat first grade.
I’m lucky. I can afford private school. But what I’ve witnessed during these last two years from our public-school officials and teachers unions makes my stomach turn. I will never forget, I will never forgive, and I will never vote for a teachers union-backed candidate running for office ever again.
“Keeping schools and preschools open when other countries closed them was an extremely difficult decision,” Anna Ekstrom, Sweden’s minister for education, acknowledged on Twitter Sunday, reacting to the International Journal of Educational Research study. “In March 2020, the criticism against me was harsh for not closing down schools and preschools, but I was — and still am — convinced that it was the right decision.”
As I was obsessing on the potential learning loss and the growing educational and economic inequality gap during the summer of 2020, our national media organs were preoccupied with COVID-19 death trackers and amplifying teachers unions’ concerns. Doctors, academics and pundits who warned about the devastation the lockdowns were having on our nation’s youth were smeared and silenced, called “grandma killers” or worse.
We were thought to be heartless and inhumane. We were told repeatedly by those fighting to keep schools closed that children are “resilient,” and it’s the teachers’ lives that matter.
“Teachers are so worried about returning to school that they’re preparing wills,” a CNN headline read on July 16, 2020. That same month, The Washington Post told us not only would teachers die if schools reopened, but it was also racist to consider in-person learning.
“The racist effects of school reopening during the pandemic — by a teacher,” the alarmist Post’s headline read. Why racist? Well, “Black, indigenous and Latinx students would be prone to see more deaths from COVID-19 in their schools than white students.”
In August 2020, Vice reported that “teachers are making their own gravestones and coffins to protest going back to school.”
“Children cannot focus on schoolwork if their family members or teachers are in the hospital or dying,” one kindergarten teacher told the liberal news site.
We cannot forget how, once the vaccines became available, teachers were pushed to the front of the line to get their jab — and then still refused to go back into the classroom. Or, how the American Federation of Teachers worked with the Biden administration’s CDC to move the goalposts of school reopening further down the line. Or how some unions placed far-left social-justice policy changes, like defunding the police, Medicare for All, wealth taxes and charter school bans, on their list of demands for getting back into the classroom.
And school closures didn’t just amount to academic loss. There’s been an elevated loss of lives among our youth during the pandemic due indirectly to boredom or despair, according to a just-released National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.
“Drugs, homicides, traffic fatalities and alcohol-induced causes killed tens of thousands more young adults than they had in the past,” the study said. “Deaths from various circulatory diseases and diabetes were also elevated. Suicides did not increase, though alcohol-related deaths and overdoses might also be considered consequences of self-destructive behaviors.”
The study concluded, “All of this suggests that large and sustained changes in living habits designed to avoid a single virus had not only ‘economic’ opportunity costs, but also cost a shockingly large number of young lives.”
Our children are not OK. Our national media, teachers unions and Democratic lawmakers all prioritized adults over the health and wellbeing of our next generation during the height of the pandemic.
I will not forgive. I will not forget. And I won’t ever submit my family to a lockdown ever again.
• Kelly Sadler is the commentary editor at The Washington Times.
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