The coronavirus has disrupted American life for most of us, and perhaps our children have been the most affected.

They do not get sick from the virus nearly as much as their parents or grandparents, hardly at all based on the statistics unless they have a preexisting condition, but their lives have been disrupted by the closing of schools in a critical way. 

During the early phase of the virus, from March until about mid-May we were learning about the virus, and it was prudent to shut down schools for at least part of that period and convert to online education.

Steve House

Was this an effective way to educate our children? We don’t know yet, but there are strong indications that it did not work as well as face-to-face education in a school. 

The Colorado Constitution, Article 9 section 3, provides for free education for all students between the ages of 6 and 21. It doesn’t indicate the level of quality of that education, but the state must provide for that education.

Let’s first ask ourselves if our children are being educated. In the “Secret Shame Report” on school performance published by Bright Beam Network in January of this year, we see that Aurora schools have a math proficiency rate of 17% overall, with 14% of Black students achieving proficiency, 12% of Latino students and 33% of white students.

In reading, it’s 26% overall with 24% of Black students achieving reading proficiency, 20% of Latino students, and 44% of white students. 

Even though these proficiencies are at very low levels, in terms of what is in the best interest of the student and the options they have with their life, graduation rates are 65% overall, 68% of Black students, 62% of Latino students and 72% of white students.

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Graduating students at over 65% when they are not efficient in reading or math is pushing the problem forward — not solving it.

So are we educating our children? With those proficiency levels in reading and math, it would be difficult for me to argue the system is working.

I am not advocating for nor interested in blaming someone for the outcomes; I am only interested in using the current state of secondary education to motivate us to act now and to consider what we might do during the coronavirus and beyond to give educators and parents the information and flexibility needed to make sure their kids get the education they need. 

Our student scores are not competitive worldwide and not competitive with other schools in the state in many cases. Aurora is actually better than some other schools in the state. 

The State Board of Education has decided that they will not do standardized tests in the coming school year because “it wouldn’t be fair given the disruption to the students and schools caused by the virus.” 

I believe that is exactly the opposite of what we should do. We need to test; we need to know how much harm has been done by closing schools, so we know what to do now. Not testing is essentially admitting that we believe the outcomes will be bad, but we don’t want to know how bad. 

This is not right for our children. It leaves us unaware of what we must do in order for our children to catch up. If some students have done better online than in classrooms, let’s learn from that. 

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said that “keeping schools closed poses a greater health threat to our children than reopening.” The American Academy of Pediatrics — yes, the doctors who specialize in health for children — have also indicated they believe we need to open schools for our children for the same reason. 

Should we reopen? At the very least we should look at the most vulnerable children, in terms of where they are in their education process, and make sure they are in schools. 

So far, 90 children in the U.S. have died of COVID-19. This represents .06% of all deaths. Statistics aren’t the only way to make a decision, and no child’s death to this virus should be an acceptable tradeoff.  

However, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics tell us that children are 3-6 times more likely to die from the seasonal flu than of COVID-19, and that not going to school is more harmful than going, even with the COVID-19 risk. 

Should we open schools? For years, researchers in Maryland have been looking at the effects of snow days on students and have found significant learning losses occur, especially from younger students. I defer to the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics and agree that we should open schools because the risk of not opening is greater than the risk of opening. 

Parents who have children with health risks should make their own decision on whether their kids should attend right now or not. Perhaps schools should be free to try different solutions, such as sending juniors and seniors back to school.  

These students are so close to transitioning to the next phase of their life and need to be in school at this critical time. Maybe we should open our schools to sixth and ninth graders who are also facing a major transition to high school and we cannot afford to let them fall behind. 

We could make the same case for first and second graders who must advance in reading or they will fall behind forever. It is a question of risk. Risks are something we take every day when we send our kids to school, in this case the risk seems higher to keep schools closed then to open them. 

Our children need and deserve a high-quality education. The rest of their lives depend on that. The solution seems clear, let’s test and use flexibility around what we know to make the best decision for our children. Their futures depend on it.

Steve House is a candidate for U.S. Congress to represent the 6th Congressional District. He is a former Colorado Republican State Party Chair and ran for Colorado governor in 2014. 

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