To temper opposition, “schools should provide bonuses to teachers and staff to work through the summer, as districts in South Carolina, Virginia, Texas and other places did last year,” Bloomberg’s editorial board wrote in February. “They should also hire more part-time instructors, including retired teachers and college and graduate students. Explaining the value of extended school, especially to skeptical parents, will be critical.”
Beyond missed learning
As significant as educational setbacks caused by school closures may be, they are arguably only one of the most immediate and measurable challenges that the pandemic has visited on school-age children. Consider that more than 200,000 children lost a caregiver to Covid, according to an estimate from Imperial College London, and millions more were cut off from the social activity and vast array of public services that schools provide, including food, speech therapy and child care that enables parents to work.
“Standardized test results and college-enrollment figures create visible measures of learning loss,” Meira Levinson and Daniel Markovits wrote in The Atlantic in July. “But schooling loss during the height of the pandemic inevitably hurt children in other ways, too. Parents, teachers, doctors, and students themselves all see harms that can be hard to measure and resist a simple summing up, but they aren’t any less important.”
Some of those harder-to-measure harms were reflected in a survey of 362 guidance counselors that The Times conducted in May, in which nearly all said their students were showing more signs of anxiety and depression than before the pandemic. Nearly nine in 10 said students were having more trouble regulating their emotions, and almost three-quarters said they were having more difficulty solving conflicts with friends. Only six of the 362 counselors said that behaviors and social-emotional skills had returned to normal for their students’ age or that they hadn’t seen lagging skills this year.
As Kang noted, post-Katrina New Orleans showed that school programs that acknowledge the emotional stress that students experience after a tragedy can go a long way toward closing learning gaps. But as Covid lingers, he wrote, it remains to be seen whether the pandemic will be “a speed bump that can be dealt with over the next few years or we are dealing with a generation that will need to be taught very differently, both because of learning loss and the trauma that millions of schoolchildren have endured over the past two years.”
While Kane and Levinson and Markovits are somber about the scale of the challenge, some of the guidance counselors The Times spoke to were optimistic, reassured by the progress they’ve seen children make since schools reopened, their openness to talking about mental health and their willingness to seek help.
Read More: Opinion | Can America’s Schoolchildren Recover From the Pandemic?