Hearing Recap: Learning Loss Edition
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 26, 2023
Today’s Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education (ECESE) Subcommittee hearing, led by Chairman Aaron Bean (R-FL), forced Democrats to face the music regarding their terrible record on COVID and school closures.
Chairman Bean kicked off the hearing with an opening statement that brought the impact of school closures into clear focus. He laid out a three-part, devastating case for declining academic, social, and financial prospects for K-12 students. All totaled, he proclaimed that “the mass shuttering of schools throughout the pandemic is one of the greatest education policy failures in our nation’s history.”
Indeed, it was. The data on school closures show that children lost two decades of academic progress in math, reading, and history over the course of the pandemic. Surveys show 37 percent of high school students experienced poor mental health. The loss will reverberate through students’ lives, as Harvard predicts it will amount to a $43,000 decline in lifetime earnings.
After Chairman Bean laid out the landscape of learning loss, witnesses used a data-driven approach to identify the root causes. School closures were undeniably the main culprit. School closures were highly correlated with the county-level prevalence of Democrats and teachers unions.
Dr. Nat Malkus, Deputy Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, noted the partisan nature of school closures. He quoted a Brookings Institute study in his opening statement, stating, “There is a strong relationship—visually and statistically—between districts’ reopening decisions and the county-level support for Trump.”
The decision to close schools wasn’t just influenced by Democrat politicians; it was heavily led by teachers unions, too. Derrell Bradford, President of 50CAN, noted, “Mayor Muriel Bowser here in the District of Columbia had to file a temporary restraining order against her own teachers union when she attempted to get schools open.”
When teachers unions give 94 percent of their political funds to Left-wing causes, it’s no wonder they act like foot soldiers for Democrats. Fittingly, the Democrat-invited witness was a teachers union activist appearing under the guise of being a parent.
In light of the links between learning loss, school closure, and partisan advocacy, Democrat Committee members were left with a choice: Option A, deny their role in school closures; Option B, excuse their role in school closures; or Option C, pretend that school closures didn’t happen.
Democrats overwhelmingly chose Option B.
Articulating their defense, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) asserted, “If we had kept schools open, more people would have died due to COVID.”
False, according to this Health Affairs study that “found no evidence that school closures influenced the growth rate in confirmed COVID-19 cases.” In fact, the converse of Bowman’s argument might be true after accounting for mental health outcomes.
Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) followed up, declaring, “If kids are dead, they don’t learn.”
While true, her premise is very false. One of the greatest myths busted during the pandemic was that children were at great risk from COVID. The K-12 cohort made up less than 0.1 percent of COVID deaths despite being over 16 percent of the population.
Republicans responded to Democrat excuse-making and blame-shifting.
Following a question from Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA), Dr. Malkus retorted that “these consequences were dire. They were more dire for disadvantaged people … Anyone concerned with equity should be concerned with pandemic learning loss.”
In an exchange with Catherine Truitt, Superintendent of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) asked, “What would you say to Democrats who claim that learning loss can’t be fixed without billions of dollars … at the federal level?”
Truitt responded that the amount of money and lack of data from federal emergency education funds could be “daunting” to local school districts. That perhaps explains why, after tripling the annual amount of federal spending on K-12, we saw such disastrous results in student achievement.
It turns out that the Democrats had their arguments exactly backwards. No surprises there.
The upshot of the hearing? Republicans identified a silver lining of the pandemic: It ushered in a new wave of parental involvement. Republicans agree, developments like school choice and parental rights are the greatest bulwark against an education bureaucracy that doesn’t put students first.
At the end of the day, that’s what matters most—American students’ success.
Bottom Line: Committee Republicans are demanding accountability for generational learning loss and taking steps to ensure it never happens again.