What Will School Really Look Like This Fall?

For me, as someone whose whole career is based in low-​income communities, it’s scary to look at the data. I know in 20 years, we’re not going to make excuses for the future adults and say, “Oh, but those were Covid kids.”

Pedro Martinez: We saw sharp differences in academic achievement in our district between our children who had remote school and our children who were there in person — in some grades in math, remote school led to a 30-point drop in proficiency rates on the state assessment tests from 2019 to 2021. This was evident in other districts in Texas too. I keep saying that the drop in scores is not a reflection of my students’ ability, it’s not a reflection of the work of my teachers. It really was the conditions last year.

The share of low-income students who were in remote school at the end of 2020 was 64 percent. It was 48 percent for high-income students.

Schwinn: In Tennessee, about 80 percent of families chose to send their kids back in person last year, while 20 percent did not. There were real trade-offs. Where students were less likely to be in school, I saw more kids hit by cars, who were in ATV accidents or who were gunshot victims — kinds of tragedies that might not have occurred if those kids had been in a school building. In many ways, deciding whether or not to send your child to school during a Covid surge — it was an impossible choice.

Jenny Radesky: Whether students had access to virtual or in-person school had a big impact on their mental health. In some districts here, we saw some kids return to in-​person school in fall 2020 and flourish once they went back. We conducted a survey of about 300 parents of Michigan elementary school students, and found that remote learners had significantly higher hyperactivity, peer problems, defiance and sleep difficulties compared with children attending in-person school.

School is so organizing and grounding for kids. I focus on kids with autism, A.D.H.D., executive-functioning deficits, trauma, learning disabilities and developmental delays. They see the world in atypical ways, and they are often misunderstood. Without the environment of school, which helps them contain their thoughts and emotions, many of my patients were totally dysregulated. I heard story after story about sleep problems and regression into behaviors that children hadn’t exhibited in a long time. They just didn’t have access to the same therapies and role modeling from peers. I had to double the number of hours I worked with patients to meet the need.

I also saw huge disparities in the support kids had. I practice both in Ann Arbor and in Ypsilanti, which has a higher rate of child poverty and of incarceration and substance abuse. The General Motors plant there closed in 2010. During lockdown, it was the families from Ann Arbor who called and said, I need help — please get me a new referral to a therapist. I heard much less often from families in Ypsilanti, who perhaps didn’t expect help.

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