Helping students recover (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)
“Have you been reading to your child and teaching them about letters daily? Ever since the pandemic, we have seen a delay in letter recognition and this is a very important skill for kindergarten children.”
This is what was conveyed to each of us individually when we brought our children to tutors to assess whether they were on track to learn to read. As working mothers who engage with schools on a daily basis, it was very difficult for us to admit that our kids were what are now called ‘pandemic babies.’ Unfortunately, their learning was gravely impacted by school closures, mask mandates, and the lack of basic normalcy over the past two years.
It is now known that the average child lost four months of learning in math and reading during the pandemic. Schools across the country are now reporting with regularity children of all socioeconomic backgrounds who are emotionally immature and cognitively delayed and lacking in basic motor and behavioral skills. Even more disturbing are the learning gaps we are seeing: low-income kids and children of color lost more learning than their wealthier peers based on data already available from other states.
Despite all this evidence, our elected officials have not admitted their mistake of implementing policies that did not prioritize our children. Nor have they explained how New York State will address this early literacy crisis going forward. Where is the plan and funding to bring the science of reading to every public school in our state? Why are we not seeing a big push for proper phonics instruction in every one of our school districts? Why is Mayor Eric Adams still masking toddlers (and only toddlers) at pre-schools, especially since in comparison to other populations they are consistently among the least vulnerable by considerable measure?
Our own kids will be fine. We’ve both arranged for weekly tutoring sessions (with masks optional) to teach them phonics. They have both made impressive progress in catching up and are learning new sounds and words at every session. That said, we are always greatly concerned with the ongoing struggle of children whose families do not enjoy the resources to have them so closely supported by instructors and caregivers retained outside the public education system.
Our leaders have thus far lacked any and all creativity, and did not fight nearly hard enough to protect our children over the past two years. Instead, they've gone with the status quo, and the acquiescence to rudderless policy recommendations from unaccountable bureaucracies who are wholly detached from the working people they are entrusted to serve. Following is not leading, and leading is often not easy.
How do we help the families and children who can't afford literacy assessments and tutoring sessions? We need a statewide, bi-partisan, effort to ensure that the covid generation won't pay the price for our mistaken policies. We cannot lower our standards and just accept that the ‘pandemic babies’ will be forever delayed in their educational development.
Our elected officials and the public should do whatever it takes to make sure our children and their learning are of utmost priority in the formation of every public policy decision in New York. That must start now.
Ashara Baker is Community Engagement Manager at the New York Charter Schools Association and Danyela Souza Egorov is a candidate for State Senate in New York’s 29th District. On Twitter @bakerashara & @danyela4ny.