The wages of one of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ Wuhan coronavirus pandemic policies, amplified by sympathetic school districts and a hesitant state school authority, reverberate still, and for some children negatively for the rest of their lives.
Recently, the state Department of Education released test score results for the past school year. The news was cautiously good, with minor increases mostly across the board for districts and schools. Unfortunately, these gains didn’t quite balance the losses encountered in the previous year, leaving on the whole student achievement behind where it was for academic year 2020.
LEAP test data clearly showed how curricula delivery based on in-person instruction outperformed that which was entirely virtual. In AY 2021, for grades 3-8, the rate of students who scored at the second-highest Mastery or above level on ELA and Math assessments was 15 percent higher for students who were in-person for the entirety of the year versus those who were virtual for the entire year. Also, students who were virtual for the entire year had an 11 percent greater rate of the lowest Unsatisfactory level scores than students who were in-person for the entire year. For AY 2022, in-person learning was a contributing factor to the progress as 98 percent of LEAP testers engaged in full-time, in-person learning, compared to 57 percent in AY 2021.
Over the course of the pandemic, students engaged in full-time, in-person learning outperformed those engaged in virtual learning. As Superintendent Cade Brumley bluntly put it, “K-12 education is on the rise in Louisiana because we kept schools open, strategically allocated resources, and developed innovative solutions to recover and accelerate student learning.”
No thanks in part to Edwards, who issued a series of proclamations that had the effect, starting in the last few weeks of AY 2020. At the time, education officials encouraged that in an atmosphere of little knowledge about the virus.
But data quickly came to light that children hardly suffered from the virus and families complained about virtual-only learning left children behind, so by the start of AY 2021 Edwards modified his order to allow schools to open if they met certain conditions. Unfortunately, that didn’t go far enough as it left the matter in district and school administrators’ hands, and a number opted not to do so or to do so incompletely.
It also brought up a jurisdictional dispute between gubernatorial powers and those held by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, as to whether Edwards could impose mandates on schools. Regrettably, BESE never challenged his authority to set conditions for school openings, and eventually Brumley on his own issued guidance that directed all schools to open at the start of AY 2022.
Asserting that authority, Edwards should have released all restrictions on gatherings for instruction at the start of AY 2021. When he didn’t, BESE and Brumley should have challenged that with the end result of imposing that release. And when that didn’t happen, the schools and districts that continued with forced or optional virtual learning should not have. While Louisiana did reopen schools before most states and more of them, hesitancy to do so completely still did damage and must serve as a lesson for the future.