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COVID Classroom Lockdowns Blamed for Record Low Test Scores

Decades of educational gains were lost during the COVID-19 classroom lockdowns, leaving vulnerable students with learning gaps that will last a lifetime, according to new data out this week. 

The National Assessment of Education Progress report, released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education, shows test scores for nine-year-old students declined five points in reading and seven points in math compared to 2020. According to NAEP, that is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990 and the first-ever score decline in mathematics.

In an odd twist, Democrats who pushed to keep classrooms closed are now blaming Republicans for school shutdowns.

Dr. Aaron Pallas, a professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, told The Wall Street Journal it could take decades for these students to close the learning gaps, if ever. “I don’t think we can expect these 9-year-olds to catch up by the time they leave high school. This is not something that is going to disappear quickly.”

New Hampshire’s Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said the results are not surprising given the long school shutdowns and remote learning challenges from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

“COVID negatively affected student performance across the board and exacerbated systemic problems in achievement that preceded COVID, notably high performing students–top quartile–holding steady or making modest gains/losses while bottom quartile students–those already the most vulnerable–are falling farther behind,” Edelblut said. “In math, the top 10 percent of students nationwide declined 3 points while the bottom 10 percent declined 12 points. English Language Arts tells a similar story for national trends. Among these declines, black students fared the worst.”

The NAEP scores for New Hampshire students will be released in October.

 Jason Bedrick, the Heritage Foundation research fellow at the Center for Education Policy, says the scores show the depths of the shutdown’s calamity.

“The dismal NAEP scores confirm what we already knew: the unnecessary school closures that the unions demanded were disastrous for children, especially the most disadvantaged. Black and Hispanic students saw two-to-three times the decline of White students. For Black nine-year-olds, for example, nearly three decades of progress in math was wiped out. Proficiency rates were already low. This is a calamity,” Bedrick said.

A calamity the Biden White House is trying to pin on the GOP.

On Thursday, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said it was the Biden administration who re-opened classrooms, and she said it “was the work of Democrats in spite of Republicans.”

In fact, Democrats overwhelmingly supported teachers unions’ efforts to keep classrooms closed long after most European countries had students back in school. In July 2020, the Democratic National Committee even ran TV ads accusing President Trump of trying to re-open classrooms too quickly.

“Desperate to reopen schools because he thinks it will save his reelection, threatening their funding, ignoring how the virus spreads, risking teachers’ and parents’ lives, going against the advice of experts,” the DNC ad says.

Edelblut said he is looking forward and is focused on solutions. He said all options need to be on the table to guarantee that students going forward can get the education they need.

“Recovery back to where we were before COVID should not be our goal. No one was satisfied with that performance. We now have an opportunity to lead and transform the disrupted education system to serve all students, top performers and those who are not finding success in the current system,” Edelblut said.

NH Kids Recovering – Slowly – From Classroom Lockdown Learning Loss

Students are starting to regain the ground they lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the New Hampshire Department of Education. But the destructive impacts of classroom lockdowns backed by teacher’s unions continue to be felt.

“Assessment scores are inching upward and returning to near pre-pandemic levels. But it is clear there is still work to be done to recover from the academic declines that resulted from COVID-19,” said Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut. “New Hampshire has not fully regained ground, but these early signs of improvement are promising.”

In 2021, New Hampshire Statewide Assessment System performance levels dropped at every grade level from third through eighth grade, including both English and math scores. The state completed a comprehensive analysis of those results to help understand how to support students recovering from the pandemic. In 2022, that performance data started to turn around. 

It is hardly a New Hampshire problem. Multiple studies have found online learning was a disaster for K-12 students in response to the COVID pandemic. Learning loss was worst among low-income and minority students, one reason so many parents and supporters of education reform fought against teachers’ union demands to keep classrooms closed. The results were mixed.

The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University reports some one in five U.S. students were enrolled in districts that continued online learning for most of the 2020-21 school year. The learning loss is estimated to be as much as 22 weeks of learning.

In New Hampshire, this year’s early data sets show students in grades three through seven improved their math assessment scores in 2022, while eighth-grade math scores remained at classroom-lockdown levels.

For example, proficiency scores showed small gains with 51 percent of third-graders proficient in math in 2022 compared to 45 percent proficient in 2021. The trend was similar for fourth graders, which showed 48 percent were proficient in math in 2022 compared to 41 percent in 2021. 

COVID gaps remain for many students, however, including at the high school level. The high school junior class 2022 SAT high school assessment data reveals slight declines in reading proficiency in 2022, and more moderate declines in math proficiency–a trend found among other states as well, according to the DOE.

New Hampshire students still performed better on the SAT than students nationally, according to the DOE.

In 2022, New Hampshire’s average reading score on the SAT was 511 compared to 517 in 2021 and 515 in 2019. The average math score for 2022 was 492 compared to 509 in 2021 and 508 in 2019. 

“We know that these students, who will be starting their senior year in a few weeks, have had a high school career filled with disruptions, remote classes, and missed learning. We also know that SAT participation dropped in New Hampshire to about 82 percent in 2022” said Edelblut. “While many states have seen an overall decline in SAT scores, New Hampshire scores continue to remain comparatively high.”

Individual school and district data for both the NHSAS and SAT results will be released in the fall through the iPlatform system.

 

New Scholarship Program Tackles NH COVID Learning Loss

Students suffering the effects of the long COVID lockdowns are getting some help, thanks to a New Hampshire Department of Education (DOE) scholarship program. 

The Yes, Every Student (YES!) scholarship program is designed to help families and residents whose education was negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic by awarding $1,000 tutoring scholarships to New Hampshire students, which includes public, non-public, home education, and Education Freedom Account students. It is the second year in a row the Department of Education has offered the scholarships.

“Although it has been two years since the start of the pandemic, some students may still feel that they are not meeting their desired academic performance,” said DOE Commissioner Frank Edelblut. “These scholarships will be used to help children that may have experienced disrupted learning and provide them with individualized tutoring and support to target their unique educational needs.”

Andrew Yates with the national education non-profit yes. every kid praised New Hampshire’s scholarship program.

“We commend Commissioner Edelblut for putting forward a universal scholarship program to help all NH students seek tutoring services to help combat Covid learning loss,” Yate said. “Every family and student has faced unique challenges during this pandemic, and we support allowing all students the opportunity to find the best pathways to their educational success.”

According to a recent Harvard study, students in K through 12 schools that went remote during the pandemic have fared worse than students who stayed in school, losing ground in math and reading.

“In districts that went remote, achievement growth was lower for all subgroups, but especially for students attending high-poverty schools. In areas that remained in person, there were still modest losses in achievement, but there was no widening of gaps between high and low-poverty schools in math,” the study states.

Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and philanthropist, recently noted that students in high poverty areas who were abandoned to online learning have experienced an education gap that will impact them for decades.

“In K through 12, we have a learning deficit that will take us a long time to erase, and sadly it’s a deficit that in the inner city is almost two years,” Gates said.

According to a report from the consulting firm McKinsey, the learning gap experienced by school students now, especially minority students, threatens economic depression in the years to come.

“Our analysis shows that the impact of the pandemic on K–12 student learning was significant, leaving students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year,” the report states.

Parents in New Hampshire responded to closed classrooms and learning loss by fleeing the public school system.

“Until the pandemic, enrollment decline in New Hampshire was relatively slow but steady: between 0 and 2 percent each year,” NHPR reported. “But in 2020, enrollment declined by 4.5 percent, about 8,200 fewer students in one year.”

The scholarships from the Department of Education can be used for tutoring as well as special education therapies and services. The state has about $2.3 million in funding from the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund under the CARES Act for the scholarships. Last year, the DOE awarded nearly $1.9 million to almost 500 recipients for tutoring and other needs.

To apply for a Yes! scholarship, visit Yes, Every Student. Please email questions to [email protected]

Youngkin Follows NH’s Lead with Anti-CRT ‘Tip Line’

Virginia’s newly elected Republican Gov. Glenn Younkin is borrowing a page from New Hampshire by setting up an email tipline for parents to report on teachers who use Critical Race Theory (CRT) curriculum in the classroom.

Youngkin, who won an upset victory for governor in a state Joe Biden carried by 10 points a year earlier, campaigned hard against the use of CRT in Virginia classrooms. On his first day in office, he signed an executive order banning “divisive concepts” like CRT from the state’s classrooms.

He told media this week the email tipline allows parents to report teachers “behaving objectionably.”

“We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations that they have that will help us be aware of things like ‘privilege bingo,’ be aware of their child being denied their rights that parents have in Virginia. And we’re going to make sure we catalog it all,” Youngkin said. “This gives us a great insight into what’s happening at a school level, and that gives us further ability to make sure we’re rooting it out.”

“Privilege bingo” is an actual classroom exercise used as part of a CRT-based curriculum to highlight racial differences among students and label certain children “privileged” based on race, regardless of their actual circumstances. The Fairfax County, Va. public school system apologized for using it after parents found out about the classroom exercise and complained.

Youngkin’s moves mimic those taken by the New Hampshire Department of Education. Last fall, Commissioner Frank Edelblut set up a website that allows Granite State parents to report violations of the state’s new anti-discrimination law. New Hampshire did not directly ban the teaching of any specific concept but instead banned teaching that any group was superior or inferior based on race, creed, or sexual orientation.

“This website in support of the commission provides parents with an online site to address concerns that their child may have been discriminated against,” the DOE said in a statement when the site was launched. “Parents, guardians, and teachers are able to submit a public education intake questionnaire that will be reviewed by a [state Human Rights] commission intake coordinator to determine if there are grounds to file a formal complaint.”

Edleblut did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, but his staff indicated that any complaints filed through the website would go directly to the state’s Human Rights Commission (HRC). Edleblut has said that by going to the HRC, the due process rights of any teacher accused of violating the law will be protected.

Ahni Malachi, the commission’s executive director, refused to say Tuesday how many cases, if any, had been referred to her office since the website was published. She did say that no cases have been fully adjudicated at this time. But it is not clear if there are any cases pending before the commission, are still in the investigative stage, or are heading for mediation. The commission’s website lacks transparent information on the number of cases handled, and there is no public data available on the website beyond 2018 numbers.

NHJournal has reported on multiple Granite State school systems, including Manchester, Laconia, and Litchfield, that were found to be using CRT-inspired content.

New Hampshire’s anti-discrimination reporting system caught flak from teachers unions after it was learned a group of activists, Moms For Liberty, was offering a $500 bounty for the first verified report made to the commission. While Edleblut distanced himself from the bounty scheme, the heads of New Hampshire’s two teachers unions accused him of engaging in dangerous vigilantism.

“Totally innocent teachers could lose their teaching license over claims that are not backed up by any evidence. Edelblut has declared a war on teachers, a war that the overwhelming majority of New Hampshire parents will find repulsive,” AFT-New Hampshire President Deb Howes said.

Meg Tuttle, president of the NEA-NH, said Edleblut was keeping New Hampshire children from learning about injustice.

“Politicians like Commissioner Edelblut are using the dog whistle strategy of distraction, division, and intimidation in their efforts to dictate what teachers say and block kids from learning our shared stories of confronting injustice to build a more perfect union,” Tuttle said.

To date, no bounty has been paid, according to Moms For Liberty. Both the AFT and NEA have since filed independent federal lawsuits against the state over the anti-discrimination law.

The lawsuits incorrectly describe the law as banning the teaching of “divisive concepts.”

Prenda’s Micro-School Model Creates Opportunity for Students — and Adults, Too

Months before New Hampshire passed Education Freedom Accounts legislation and drastically expanded parental choice, the state’s Department of Education had already contracted with Prenda to bring its micro-school model to the Granite State.

Now Prenda is here, offering opportunities for students who need more personalized attention than they’d get in a traditional classroom — and for adults who would like to be part of educating the next generation.

“Prenda is a model of education called learning pods. These are small groups of mixed-age kids — between five and ten students — who will meet in an informal space and do their education together,” says Kelly Smith, the company’s founder and CEO. “They will study academic core subjects like math, reading, science and social studies. They will also collaborate on creative projects, engineering, business. There’s a lot of group dynamics and fun.

“The goal is to empower these kids as learners, to give them an education for the 21st century. We want them to be someone who knows how to learn, who goes out and chases down the material, the content, the skills that they need to accomplish their goals.”

With New Hampshire school enrollments declining and districts forced to close schools, the micro-school model could be the perfect solution in some rural communities, as well as for parents whose students struggle in large classroom settings.

Education pods exploded onto the education scene during the COVID-19 lockdowns as frustrated parents looked for ways to get organized, adult-led education for kids otherwise abandoned to “Zoom school.” Multiple studies have shown that online-only learning has been an academic disaster for many students, particularly elementary school.

A study by the Rand Corporation found that students using the “personalized study” model similar to micro-schools experienced significant improvements, often surpassing the national averages in math and reading achievement.

But while the goal is student empowerment, Smith insists “there’s a critical role of an adult in this education.”

“Playing the role of a human being who’s present with these individual kids.  They know each child individually, they motivate, they coach. They inspire and mentor,” Smith says.

What these “learning guides,” as Prenda calls them, don’t do is set the academic standards or pick the content.

“They do not prepare lesson plans. They’re not responsible for the pedagogy. In fact, we have a whole system and support for that: remote resources, experts in learning science and teaching special ed and all the things that need to be considered,” Smith says.

“There’s a real need for a caring adult who knows you and is invested in you and wants you to be your best self. Unfortunately, not every student shows up perfectly motivated and ready to learn.

“Learning guides play the key role of the human who’s there helping you decide you want to be a learner,” Smith says.

N.H. Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut is a believer in the Prenda model. Last spring, his Department of Education entered a $6 million contract to make Prenda services available to districts where they are needed. The program, called Recovering Bright Futures, is designed to help students recover lost learning from the COVID-19 lockdown.

Much of the conversation about expanding education choices in New Hampshire has focused on the students and what they hope to achieve. But without adults who are passionate about education and willing to step into roles as mentors and guides, etc., the demand for alternative models like micro-schools may exceed the supply.

“There are probably people reading this interview who are thinking ‘I could make a contribution in my community, maybe I could do this [be a learning guide.] We’d love to talk to them.

“And,” Smith adds, “they get paid.”

The Top 3 School Choice Issues To Watch In The NH Legislature

Not only is it National School Choice Week, it’s also New Hampshire School Choice Week. Gov. Chris Sununu signed the proclamation on Tuesday. So naturally, the discussion of school choice in the Granite State is bound to come up. And the Legislature has a slew of bills related to charter schools, public versus private schools, and parent involvement in their children’s education.

With a Republican-controlled State House, expect to see several school choice bills make it through and end up on the governor’s desk. Education reform is definitely a priority for the Sununu administration.

“We’re not trying to blow up education, or battle public education,” he said at an event for National School Choice Week in Manchester on Tuesday. “I love public education. It’s just about actually taking the system that we have, the fundamental structure that we have — and it’s not bad; it’s a good structure — but providing some leadership to really implement those innovations that we always talk about.”

Here are NH Journal’s top school choice issues to keep an eye on at the State House as lawmakers begin to debate these bills:

 

CHARTER SCHOOLS

There are about 10 bills dealing with charter schools, which is still a contentious topic in the world of education. Here’s a quick run-down of what they are:

  • Charter schools are publicly-funded independent schools that are not subject to the same regulations as traditional public schools.
  • They do not charge tuition.
  • They must accept all students who apply, but if the number of applications exceeds the school’s capacity, a lottery must be held to select students who will be offered a place.
  • They are considered part of the state school system and are accountable to state and federal authorities for compliance with the terms of their founding charter, which often includes achievement-based standards (read: testing).
  • All charter schools must apply for authorization and receive approval from a local school district, a town vote, or the state board of education. Charters are valid for a term of five years, at which point a school must apply for renewal.

There are currently 25 charter schools operating in New Hampshire, with another one slated to open in fall 2017, according to data from the NH Department of Education. There were 3,011 students enrolled in charter schools, or about 1 percent of the state’s total student population, as of October 1, 2015.

Most charter schools receive funding directly from the state, at a rate of about $6,500 per pupil, which is a lower than average per-pupil expenditure at traditional public schools, which averaged approximately $14,375 in 2015. Data from the current academic year is not available yet.

So why are charter schools so divisive? Charter school advocates want more funding and to raise the cap on admittance. They say the schools create new educational models of teaching and learning that appeal to students who might not learn best in a traditional school setting and give parents more choices in their children’s education.

Opponents say charter schools take away state money that could go to improve traditional schools, and they lack equal proportions of disabled or special needs students, who then are forced into the traditional public school system.

And the argument that charter school students perform better on standardized tests is a moot point. While statewide assessment results generally show that trend, the comparisons can be misleading since charter schools and traditional public schools do not have equivalent student populations in terms of learning ability and special needs.

Out of the 10 bills filed for the current legislative session, seven of them seek to place limits on charter schools or give the state more control of them. They are sponsored by Democrats. Three of the bills look to provide more funding or give charter schools more authority — all sponsored by Republicans. So you can see that this issue largely falls on party lines.

Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, appears to be charter schools’ biggest opponent by being the prime sponsor on most of the “anti-charter” legislation. But with a Republican governor and a GOP-controlled Legislature, it’s difficult to see a scenario where any of the Democrat’s legislation makes it far. Especially with a pro-charter school governor who wants to increase funding.

And Sununu’s nominee for education commissioner, former state Rep. Frank Edelblut, is also a school choice, pro-charter supporter. It seems unlikely that any of the limiting charter school legislation will make it out of the House Education Committee.

 

THE ‘CROYDON’ BILL

For those unfamiliar with the story of the town of Croydon and school choice, let me fill you in.

The town has been in an ongoing legal battle with the courts and state Department of Education over its decision to send some of its students to a nearby Montessori school at taxpayer expense.

Many small communities in the state do not have a local K-12 school district and they contract with larger nearby districts to send their students to school there, usually though a per-student tuition contract paid for by the town where the students come from.

So, the Croydon School District had a tuition agreement with the town of Newport, but that contact ended in 2014. Croydon gave parents the option of choosing public and private schools to send their children, which would be funded by taxpayers.

The state and courts have ruled that the town cannot use public funds to pay for private school. But the school district says there is nothing in state law that prohibits it from using private schools if it’s in the best interest of the students.

Now, school choice advocates are rallying behind House Bill 557, which would allow a school district to send a child to a private school, even a religious one, if there is not a public school for the child’s grade in their home district.

The first hearing for the bill was held on Wednesday and the state Department of Justice said the bill violates the N.H. Constitution for allowing taxpayer money to be used for religious schools and could lead to other court cases in towns where parents are paying for private schools out-of-pocket.

It’s a tricky bill, but if it makes it out of committee and goes through the Legislature, Sununu is expected to sign it. In an op-ed published in the New Hampshire Union Leader during his gubernatorial run, he said, “the issue in Croydon is a clear example of government overreach.”

“Too often, special interests and unelected bureaucrats act as if they know what is right for children over the judgment of parents,” he wrote. “Instead of expanding options for families, the state has unfortunately been working to reduce them.”

And assuming Edelblut is approved by the Republican-controlled Executive Council, he has also indicated that he supports the Croydon School District, so he could make this bill a priority and work with members of the Legislature to get it passed.

 

COMMON CORE

While not directly about school choice, the issue of Common Core State Standards will be a dividing issue in the Legislature. School choice is all about giving parents a greater role in their child’s education and with Common Core, many parents feel the federal government and state are mandating what their children should learn — even if they don’t believe it’s in their best interests.

Bills in the House and Senate seek to make clear that school districts are not required to implement the standards if they don’t want to.

NH Journal has previously reported on the issue of Common Core in the state and how the state board of education gave towns and cities the flexibility and local control to implement the standards how they saw fit.

Sununu and Edelblut have both said they want to “repeal Common Core.” What exactly that means, is still unclear, but if these bills make it to Sununu’s desk, it’s also likely that he would sign them.

 

HONORABLE MENTION:

Here are some other bills relating to school choice (or parental involvement) that will appear in during the current legislative session:

  • Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 7: “The general court shall have the authority to define standards of accountability, mitigate local disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity, and have full discretion to determine the amount of state funding for education.”
  • House Bill 395: “This bill repeals state board of education rulemaking authority for home education programs and inserts the duties and procedures related to membership in the home education advisory council statute.”
  • House Bill 103: “This bill requires school districts to provide advance notice to parents and legal guardians of course material involving discussion of human sexuality or human sexual education.” Here is NH Journal’s story on how that bill came to fruition.

 

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