A recent editorial by The New York Times editorial board highlighted the severe impact of COVID-19 school closures on American education.
“The evidence is now in, and it is startling. The school closures that took 50 million children out of classrooms at the start of the pandemic may prove to be the most damaging disruption in the history of American education,” the board stated.
The editorial further elaborated on the consequences of these closures. It noted that these disruptions not only set back student progress in math and reading by two decades but also widened the achievement gap between poor and wealthy children. Economists cited by the Times predict that this generation of students will face diminished lifetime earnings and become a significant drag on the economy.
The board expressed concern over the lack of mobilization by school administrators and politicians to address this crisis. It emphasized the need for a multidisciplinary approach, starting with getting kids back on solid ground and replacing the federal aid set to expire in 2024. Additionally, the editorial pointed out an “epidemic of absenteeism,” where students accustomed to missing school during the pandemic continue to do so, leading to further gaps in learning.
The mental health of these students has also been severely impacted. The Times cited the CDC, stating, “more than 40 percent of high school students had persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness; 22 percent had seriously considered suicide; 10 percent reported that they had attempted suicide.”
Despite its current stance, The New York Times had previously supported school closures. In March 2020, the Times argued that the benefits of closures outweighed the harms and that school closures and significant physical distancing seemed like the best bet at the time. However, in a November 2020 op-ed, contributing opinion writer Aaron E. Carroll cautioned against closing schools, noting that infections in school-age children were not transmitted in classrooms but occurred in social settings.
Contrasting views still exist in mainstream media. MSNBC anchor Mehdi Hasan has argued that school closures were necessary and has labeled the learning loss as a “myth.” Hasan has been critical of those who oppose masking and shutting down schools, emphasizing the pandemic’s impact on children, including the creation of over 200,000 orphans in America alone.
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