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Some of the country’s top teachers unions have been silent on a Harvard study that showed remote learning led to large losses in student achievement during the pandemic, with minority students being the hardest hit despite some unions claiming a return to the classroom was “racist.”
“Where schools shifted to remote learning, gaps widened sharply,” said Thomas Kane, a professor of education at Harvard and one of the authors of the study, said of the results of the research released by Harvard University earlier this month.
But many of America’s top teachers unions were involved in high-profile battles to continue remote learning, with unions and their members from across the country pushing for a return to remote learning as recently as this January.
Some of those unions claimed that the push to return students to the classroom represented a form of racism, with United Teachers Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz arguing that money aimed at helping schools reopen would mainly benefit White students.
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“If you condition funding on the reopening of schools, that money will only go to White and wealthier schools that don’t have the transmission rates that low-income, Black and Brown communities do,” Myart-Cruz said last year. “This is a recipe for propagating structural racism, and it is deeply unfair to the students we serve.”
Myart-Cruz said poor schools were being “unfairly targeted by people who are not experiencing this disease in the same ways as students and families are in our communities,” arguing the push to a return to the classroom wouldn’t be happening if wealthier families were carrying the burden.
“If this was a rich person’s disease, we would’ve seen a very different response. We would not have the high rates of infections and deaths,” she said. “Now, educators are asked instead to sacrifice ourselves, the safety of our students and the safety of our schools.”
Unions in New York City and Illinois were also among those battling the hardest to limit in-person instruction.
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“The push to reopen schools is rooted in sexism, racism and misogyny,” the Chicago Teachers Union said in late 2020 in a Tweet that was later deleted.
But the study pointed to all three states as suffering the greatest losses in student achievement.
“In high remote instruction states (including populous states such as California, Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia), high-poverty schools spent an additional 9 weeks in remote instruction (more than 2 months) than low-poverty schools,” the study reads.
Minority students were particularly hard hit by the gaps in achievement.
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“Over the last 30 years, there has been like a gradual closing in both the Black-White and Hispanic-White achievement gaps,” Kane said. “The latest assessment was conducted between January and March of 2022. Our results imply that when those results come out later this year… there will be a decline nationally, especially in states where schools remained remote, and gaps will widen sharply for the first time in a generation.”
While UTLA worked with local districts to keep kids in the classroom, Myart-Cruz did not rule out future returns to remote learning, according to a report in the New York Times.
“You know, I want to be honest – I don’t know,” she told the Times.
The same report noted that Milwaukee schools went back to remote in January, with the local union president Amy Mizialko saying pushes to return to the classroom would turn into a battle.
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“I anticipate it’ll be a fight,” Mizialko said.
New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, Los Angeles’ United Teachers Los Angeles, the Chicago Teachers Union, and Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Education Association Council did not immediately respond to a Fox News request for comment.
Not all states suffered from such wide achievement gaps during the pandemic, with Kane specifically pointing to Texas and Florida as places that outpaced others.
“Interestingly, gaps in math achievement by race and school poverty did not widen in school districts in states such as Texas and Florida and elsewhere that remained largely in-person,” Kane said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was involved in a high-profile battle to keep schools open in his state, something a spokesperson for the governor called a “commonsense position.”
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“Gov. Ron DeSantis was the champion of allowing students the opportunity to receive an in-person education because he understands the importance of having a quality teacher in front of students every day,” the spokesperson told Fox News. “We welcome the broadcasting of this data that supports this commonsense position.”
Kane argued the gap came down to how much time districts spent away from the classroom, saying “districts that spent more weeks in remote instruction lost more ground than districts that returned to in-person instruction sooner.”
“Shifting to remote instruction was like turning a switch on a critical piece of our social infrastructure that we had taken for granted,” he said.