MCKENNA: Remote Education Sucked. Now What?

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Laura McKenna is an education writer based in New Jersey. You can find her here ( This was originally published at Laura McKenna’s Newsletter, Apt. 11D.

Research shows that 18 months of remote education was disastrous for kids. So, those who claimed that “kids are resilient” were just plain wrong. Politicians, who chose to close schools and kept the bars and restaurants open, were wrong. Technology gurus, who predicted that the learning through tablets was the wave of the future, were wrong.

Still, many knew that the kids were not doing well, especially parents with vulnerable kids, like me. Some of us got on Twitter and ranted. I ramped up my newsletter and told stories about how much kids were suffering. I went to school board meetings and complained.

In addition to parents in the trenches who knew that major problems were brewing, plenty of education experts predicted disaster. I talked to many of them for articles or at conferences and they all told me the same thing — “predictions are grim.” Yet, those stories took a backseat to mask wars, COVID death counts, and fear journalism.

Finally, people are starting to take notice. Yesterday afternoon, CNN’s Alisyn Camerota had a story on the current mental health crisis in kids. It’s hard to not be bitter and scream at everyone, “I TOLD YOU SO.” This crisis was so utterly predictable and avoidable, but some adults had their heads up their asses for two years.

So what do we know?

Mental health of children and teens plummeted.

Sitting in your bedroom doing classes on your mom’s cellphone (or not doing classes) for nearly two years is bad for a teen’s mental health. Who knew, right? From the Washington Post:

Emergency departments have meanwhile become a tattered safety net for adolescent mental health care. One recent study mirrored Diamond’s experience, showing that suspected suicide attempts dramatically increased among adolescents ages 12 to 17 last February and March. Girls’ visits to emergency departments after suicide attempts soared by nearly 51 percent over 2019, and rose to a high of more than 1,000 weekly visits by spring 2021.

The American Academy of Pediatrics tweeted, “As health professionals, we have witnessed soaring rates of mental health challenges among children, adolescents, and their families over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.” However, the AAP blames systemic racism for this problem, not the fact that schools closed down for two years and were particularly inaccessible for vulnerable kids. Ha.

Learning loss is huge.

It turns out that it’s really hard to learn math and English, while squinting at your teacher on Zoom on your mom’s cellphone. Shocking!

From the Wall Street Journal:

Test scores from the first months of remote learning showed students falling months behind in reading and math. This fall, as many students returned to classrooms for the first time after 18 months of disruptions, some teachers have found the learning loss is worse than projected.

From the New York Times:

McKinsey, the consulting firm, did an analysis extrapolating from the existing research on the impact of remote learning. It projected an average of seven months of unfinished learning, assuming hybrid or fully remote learning continues off and on through January 2021. That rises to nine months on average for Latino students and 10 months for African-American students, given issues underresourced districts have with adequate access to the internet and devices and supporting teachers with remote learning.

They lost kids.

School districts have not talked to some kids since March 2020, and they HAVE NO CLUE WHERE THEY WENT. In New York City alone, they lost 150,000 kids.

Lost. Those kids might be getting homeschooling. They might have moved elsewhere. Or they might be on the street holding up college kids for their pocket change, because they are afraid to go back to school. Learning is a muscle, and if you don’t do it for two years, it is very, very hard to go back. Studies show that those kids aren’t coming back soon.

We don’t know what happened to hundreds of thousands of kids. For me, that fact is utterly heart-breaking. But since this problem is mostly a problem for urban, low income, or ELL kidsit isn’t a front page issue.

Students are struggling with behaviors.

Ten-year-old kids no longer have the core muscle strength to sit at a desk all day and are completely overwhelmed with major challenges, so they are acting up in school. Yeah, no surprises there either.

From Chalkbeat:

Schools across the country say they’re seeing an uptick in disruptive behaviors. Some are obvious and visible, like students trashing bathrooms, fighting over social media posts, or running out of classrooms. Others are quieter calls for help, like students putting their head down and refusing to talk.

From the New York Times:

Children also may be acting out in new ways to get that adult attention. “We actually just had a student start a fire in a school bathroom last week. THAT was a first for everyone in my building!” Nicole Hagle, who teaches seventh and eighth grade English…

It was particularly horrible for vulnerable, special ed kids like mine.

There is no data on this, because nobody is collecting information on special needs kids. Just take my word for it. Or read a couple of my newsletters to learn what it was like to have a kid with autism at home for nearly two years.

What can you do?

  1. Show up to your school board meetings and tell them to fix things. Here is how to be the most effective advocate for yourself and children at school board meetings.
  2. Demand parental input on how federal stimulus money is spent in your district.
  3. Tell them that studies show that intensive tutoring is the best way to address learning loss.
  4. Make sure that the money doesn’t get steered to athletics.
  5. Also, make sure that the money isn’t diverted to pay for things that the district should be paying for anyway, like special education aides.
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