Though millions of doses of vaccines are now being administered throughout the country, we’re going to be dealing with the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for years to come. Education, in particular, is in for a long and slow recovery period. We must do what we can to ensure that long-term damage is kept to a minimum.
The simple fact is that no one was prepared for the coronavirus. By spring break, nearly all schools in the nation were closed — not to reopen for months. School leaders hastily put together plans for remote learning. We know now that remote learning works great for some students, not so well for others, and not at all for some.
Hardest hit by the limits of remote classes — due to a lack of access to technology or the internet, to little or no adult involvement, to language barriers and more — were poor and minority students.
Teaching younger kids to read is already a challenge, the teacher periodical Education Week reported. Going online has made it even more difficult. At the other end of a public education career, the pandemic is expected to raise the dropout rate for high schoolers.
And it’s not just about the education metrics. The school closures have resulted in spikes in mental health issues among children and increased food insecurity.
All of this will have lingering aftereffects. Dropping out of school obviously has long-term consequences on everything from lifetime income to a person’s odds of going to prison. But losing months of education also has consequences. Consulting firm McKinsey & Company says “we estimate that the average K-12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars), or the equivalent of a year of full-time work, solely as a result of COVID-19-related learning losses.”
Enough with the bad news. Here’s the good news: There’s much we can do now to help our kids to brighter futures.
It begins by recognizing that schools aren’t “super-spreaders.” It’s vital to ensure that schools are open and stay open, safely, so students who are ready can access instruction.
Next, we should allow remote learning for those students who prefer it. Before the pandemic, only six Texas school districts were allowed to offer fully online classes. Then they all did. We shouldn’t go back to the old, artificial limit. By allowing all districts to offer remote learning, we can be much more ready for the next emergency.
And we mustn’t abandon those students who feel their academic careers have been cut short by school closures. We can strengthen our Career and Technical Education with new options that are more closely aligned with available jobs. As tech companies are flocking to Texas, Spring ISD is offering a new computer programming career pathway, for example.
We should explore opportunities for businesses to get involved: paid apprenticeships, which provide a return for the students, the districts and the companies themselves.
The pandemic isn’t over. Neither is the fallout for closing schools. But the harm can be limited.