Academics take a back seat to COVID, monkeypox and fairness in Biden administration town hall

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On the same day, the Department of Education announced statistics illustrating the devastating learning loss that has taken place during COVID, a town hall organized by the Biden administration and two of the largest national teachers’ unions opened in focusing on COVID, monkeypox and school ventilation.

Last Thursday, the Ministry of Education announced a sharp drop in reading and math scores among 9-year-olds, raising concerns about learning loss during the pandemic.

But, those numbers were only mentioned in passing during a town hall later that evening. Instead, the Department of Education chose to focus the town hall opening segment on COVID, monkeypox and school ventilation systems.

SEE CHART: SHARP DROP IN MATHEMATICS AND READING SCORES DURING COVID

The second half of the town hall was devoted to mental health and academics, but even then the drop in test scores was barely mentioned.

In fact, during the entirety of the nearly 90-minute town hall, the words “academic” or “academic” were only mentioned seven times, with reading and math mentioned twice and science mentioned once in the context of academics, according to a C-SPAN transcript of the event. Equity, on the other hand, was mentioned six times and vaccines were mentioned 18 times. Even monkeypox, which was mentioned 10 times, attracted more airtime than academic standards.

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Another less covered topic was parents, which were only mentioned 9 times, compared to the word “pandemic”, which appeared almost 15 times, and the word “COVID”, which appeared almost 30 times. according to the C-SPAN transcript. This, despite the fact that parents have mobilized across the country and protested against the current education system, demanding a greater focus on academics.

Last week, the National Center for Education Statistics released data revealing a sharp drop in reading and math scores from 2020 to 2022. The data showed this to be the largest reading score drop among 9-year-olds since 1990, and the first-ever drop in math score in the same age group. The report showed declining scores across most student groups, including geographic location, demographics, and urban/rural background.

During the town hall, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona acknowledged how the pandemic is “harming students’ academic success,” but was confident that students would be able to recover with the amount of resources that schools have, in part thanks to President Biden’s US bailout. The US bailout provided $122 billion for kindergarten through twelfth grade schools. However, a Goldwater Institute report shows schools have been slow to use federal funds for COVID-related expenses.

Primary school.
(Getty Images)

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City Hall was hosted by the White House, and Secretary Cardona served as the event’s moderator along with the two top teachers’ union presidents: National Education Association President Becky Pringle and Federation President American teacher Randi Weingarten asking questions of Cardona and other members of the Biden administration. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha participated in the first half of the town hall. Human and Health Services Secretary Xavier Becerra answered questions in the second half. First Lady Jill Biden also made an appearance in a video message to the public.

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