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GIORDANO: Learning the Lessons of School Lockdowns

As kids returned to school last week amid reports of a new COVID variant, some districts around the country began mandating masks again.

The only problem is masks don’t work and lockdowns cause more harm than good.

In response, I believe it’s time for a different kind of lockdown: We need to “lockdown” what we’ve learned from previous battles with COVID and force public officials and educators to deal with the facts.

On my radio show, Dr. Marty Makary from Johns Hopkins University cited the Cochrane Review metastudy which reviewed studies involving 276,000 participants in randomized trials or cluster tests. It found masking did nothing to reduce the spread of COVID. This is becoming the consensus view.

At least this debate on masking is being conducted loudly and in public.

In contrast, not much attention is being paid to what happened to kids’ learning loss from school lockdowns. Where is the public discussion of what schools should be doing to urgently address this educational crime against our kids?

It’s clear to me that the learning loss was devastating but schools don’t seem to share that urgency.  These issues are not just confined to big urban school districts like the Philadelphia School District but are apparent in suburban districts, too.

For example, the Bucks County Herald reported recently that scores on the statewide tests for the Quakertown School District from the 2022-2023 school year were down significantly from where they were before the pandemic. To their credit, district officials said they will engage in intense tutoring to close the gap. What they and other districts need is a Manhattan Project on this issue. The stakes are that high.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin is someone who understands what’s at stake. Youngkin, a Republican, won his 2021 election by emphasizing educational issues, particularly in suburban districts. He released a study that showed Virginia students continue to suffer historic learning loss.

Youngkin also reported that in the 2022-2023 school year, nearly one in five 3rd through 8th-grade students were classified as chronically absent, missing 18 or more days of school a year.

To address these problems, Virginia officials are convening a chronic absenteeism task force to target kids who aren’t making it to school.  They will invest in intense tutoring, meaning students will receive 3 to 5 hours a week of one-on-one tutoring. This is what every school district in our area should be doing right now, too.

Pennsylvania schools were given huge amounts of tax money to deal with issues related to COVID. Where did all that money go?

I understand that controversies over gender and sexually-explicit reading materials in school libraries will be huge topics this year. However, in my judgment, learning loss is the prime issue. I think it should be a major issue in all political battles.

Republicans should use this issue to highlight how teachers’ unions like the NEA and AFT endorsed classroom shutdowns. AFT President Randi Weingarten in particular is still identified with pushing to keep schools closed at all costs and she famously pressured the CDC to do so.

So if you are a concerned parent or grandparent, assess where your children were academically before the pandemic and where they are now. Do not wait to see the first report card. These are long-term proficiencies we are discussing.

By the way, this learning loss issue is one of the reasons I hope Governor Youngkin enters the presidential race. His entrance would elevate the importance of educational lockdowns. Those will have a deep impact on our economy of the future and even our identity as a nation.

We also hear voices now that are gearing up to take us back to the masking of schoolkids and school lockdowns. The facts about what happened to our children should lock that down and prevent it before it happens.

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