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The Long-Term Effects Of Months-Long School Closures On U.S. Children


So for the tens of millions of schoolchildren here in America, best-case scenario still means months of lost time in classrooms. For more on what the long-term effects of that might be, we have called on John King Jr. He served as Secretary of Education under President Obama. Before that, he was education commissioner for the state of New York, and he is also a former social studies teacher and principal.

Dr. King, welcome.

JOHN KING JR: Thanks. Thanks so much for the opportunity.

KELLY: So what does the research tell us about how much ground students may lose?

KING: Well, we know that when we have summer learning loss, it is a significant driver of our achievement gaps for low-income students. And we can expect that that will be exacerbated by this period that's - rather than two months away from school, we're looking at five or six months away from direct instruction in the classroom. Even in places that do distance learning well, we can expect that students will lose significant ground.

KELLY: I don't want to sound melodramatic, but do you worry about a lost generation here? The students who lose six months - do they ever make that up?

KING: I do worry about that, particularly in our districts have the least resources. But it's really up to us. It's a question of, do we have the political will to invest the resources to make sure that we don't lose a generation? We'll need summer distance learning, we'll need after-school programming and potentially Saturday programming during the school year, and then we'll need to think about extending the school year or providing summer programming in summer '21.

KELLY: These things we're talking about - is it realistic in a moment where we keep hearing about - states are cash-strapped. Cities, counties are cash-strapped. School districts - do they have the money to do things like Saturday school and summer programs?

KING: We're going to need the federal government to step up in a big way. In the CARES Act, there is about $30.75 billion for education split between K-12 and higher ed. That is not nearly enough.

KELLY: If I may bring in your own story, I've seen where you've talked about losing both your parents when you were a child, and you have credited New York City public schools with getting you through that. What goes through your mind when you think about really looking at a nation of kids - in fact, a world of kids - living through this pandemic, some of whom have family members who are sick, are out of work or have died because of COVID-19 and they don't have their usual support system of teachers and classmates at their side?

KING: I'm heartbroken about the kids for whom school is the place that provides structure and support and a sense of security that don't have that. I mean, for me, as a kid, after my mom passed when I was 8, I lived with my dad. My dad had an undiagnosed Alzheimer's, and so home was this place that was scary and unpredictable and unsafe. But school is the place that was reliable and consistent, where I had positive relationships with adults and peers. And I wouldn't be alive today without those school experiences.

And I worry about the kids who are in homes where there is abuse, where there is addiction, where family members - as you say - have lost jobs, where family members are sick or passed away. It's so important right now that school districts find ways to make sure that adults at school are connecting with kids regularly. Kids need during this period to know that they are seen and cared about by people at school.

KELLY: That's such an important point because I know as a parent watching my kids struggle with remote learning right now, I'm so focused on the education and whether they're learning or not. But you're pointing to that schools play a way a bigger role.

KING: Absolutely. I mean, for an elementary school student, the most important thing may be just that morning meeting where they see their teacher, they see their peers and they check in with each other. And if we can create that virtually, that may be the thing that gives them a sense of safety and security in this really tumultuous time. We can't lose sight of the critical socioemotional supports that schools provide.

KELLY: John King Jr. is a former secretary of education and now president of the nonprofit Education Trust.

Dr. King, thank you very much.

KING: Great talking with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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