The collapse of educational pathways and structures has had a particularly brutal effect on the poorest students, who can least afford to have their schooling disrupted. High-poverty schools had the lowest levels of in-person instruction, causing low-income students to fall even further behind their more affluent peers. The entirely foreseeable ways in which bad COVID-19 policy choices exacerbated inequality perversely led many public school systems to try to hide their mistakes by dismantling programs for gifted and talented students along with entrance tests and other standardized testing regimens—piling on more bad policy choices that deprive economically disadvantaged students of opportunity.
The available numbers tell a worrying story of educational slippage that is likely to keep large numbers of kids from acquiring the basic skills, both intellectual and social, that they will need to hold decent jobs. Recent test scores have dramatically declined, with one report finding that in districts offering distance learning, the decline in passing rates for math was 10.1 percentage points greater than in districts that offered in-person instruction. In Maryland, 85% of students now are not proficient in math, and in Baltimore the figure is 93%. Michigan, Washington, and other states have found dramatic declines in their test scores. In Los Angeles, the decline has been worse for younger students, with 60% of third and fourth graders not meeting English standards compared to 40% of 11th graders. Overall, the youngest children were most profoundly impacted by lockdowns and school disruptions, and some of them now lack basic life skills.