Many people talk about the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns many states imposed as if they are the same thing. They’re not. The pandemic was out of our control; how we choose to deal with COVID is not.
The choices we have made over the past year and a half will have consequences. We are already seeing some of these consequences play out today.
For the first time in the nearly 50-year history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ long-term trend assessment, certain groups of students’ scores were down last year. This test, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” measures the academic success of America’s 9- and 13-year-old students.
While the scores of 9-year-olds were unchanged since the test was last given in 2012, 13-year-old students scored lower in both reading and math. You have to go back to the 1970s to find a time when these students’ average scores were lower. On top of that, in 2020 more students than ever before said that they “never or hardly ever” read for fun.
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Even more worrisome, the scores of the lowest-scoring students in both age groups declined much more than the scores of average students. Virtual and hybrid learning have been harder on our most vulnerable students, and attending school through screens made it harder for schools and teachers to close this gap. Now, these students are at risk of being left behind.
In response to a report that showed that virtual learning was causing minority students in San Francisco to fall behind their peers, the president of the city school board said that this doesn’t matter: “They’re just having different learning experiences than the ones we currently measure.”
The “learning experiences” San Francisco students are no longer having are classes on skills like reading, math, and writing that will be crucial for their futures. Nebraska schools wisely rejected this idea, and our teachers worked to strike the right balance between safety and ensuring our children could learn in classrooms.
The negative effects of lockdowns are also coming into clearer focus in other areas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that more than 96,000 Americans died of drug overdoses between March 2020 and March 2021, meaning that overdose deaths are up nearly 30 percent compared to the previous year.
Nebraska saw a 45 percent increase: 217 Nebraskans overdosed over the same time period, up from 149 the year before. Each of these deaths is a tragedy that leaves behind a grieving family and a gaping hole in our communities. When so many more Nebraskans are losing their lives under pandemic restrictions than they did the year before, there is clearly a problem.
The next time you hear someone talk about the benefits of lockdowns, remind them that there is also a cost. Keeping our children out of a school environment has consequences.
Compared to many other states, for the most part Nebraska has been using common sense reasoning and facts when considering possible restrictions. That has been beneficial for our children and our communities.
Deb Fischer is a U.S. senator for Nebraska.