The New York Times recently published an article by Thomas Kane of Harvard and Sean Reardon of Stanford lamenting that parents had no idea how much the pandemic had set back their children’s education. (“Parents Don’t Understand How Far Behind Their Kids Are in School”). Most parents, when asked, respond optimistically that they expect their children to bounce back from whatever academic losses they suffered.

Kane and Reardon think it’s time to dash their optimism. First, there are the NAEP scores showing setbacks in reading, math, and history. “By the spring of 2022, according to our calculations, the average student was half a year behind in math and a third of a year behind in reading.”

Working with researchers from other institutions, they reviewed data from 7,800 communities in 41 states, where 26 million students are enrolled, about 80% of all students in public K-8 schools.

Their biggest conclusion: “The pandemic exacerbated economic and racial educational inequality.” Also: test scores declined more in districts where schools were closed longer” but “Students fell behind even in places where schools closed very briefly…” However, “the educational impacts of the pandemic were not driven solely by what was happening (or not happening) in schools. The disruption in children’s lives outside of school also mattered: the constriction of their social lives, the stress their parents were feeling, the death of family members, the signals that the world was not safe and the very real fear that you or someone you love might get very sick and die.”

There is much more to read and ponder in the article.

I sent the article to my esteemed friend David Berliner, who is widely recognized as the nation’s pre-eminent education research expert.

Dr. Berliner kindly replied:

Dear Diane,

I am afraid that medical issues for both me and my wife will keep me from a formal response to the nonsense that was produced by two extraordinary researchers. Their credentials and analysis are perfect. I respect their analytic skills—but if you’ll excuse my Yiddish, they have no sechel. [Editor’s note: “sechel,” roughly translated, is common sense.] Let’s look at what they conclude.



  1. Kids who miss a lot of school do less well on tests of what they learned in school. DUH! I really think I could have predicted that!
  1. Parents who are with their kids many hours per week think their kids are recovering nicely, but these researchers, who never assess a real live kid, say the parents are wrong. That is not wise, if you ask me.


  1. Given the history of NAEP, it appears that the kids today will be back where kids were a few years back on tests like NAEP, and the loss probably extends to all the state tests and even PISA may show it. But,…. those kids who scored lower a few years ago, and whose todays’ kids match by their lower test scores, have helped the US economy remain one of the strongest in the world. Those lower test scoring kids of the previous decades helped make America hum. Why won’t today’s kids, with the same level of formal school knowledge, do the same?

Furthermore, we have the Flynn effect in IQ—today’s kids are well above their grandparents in IQ and their grandparent didn’t have nearly as much schooling as today’s kids. And still the economy hummed. American kids are “smarter” than ever if you believe that is what is measured with IQ tests.

Furthermore again, the wonderful 8-year study, which you know quite well, showed that kids who missed a lot of their traditional high school education not only did fine in college but excelled. The kids of many families, surely the better educated families, who missed a lot of formal schooling did not miss all of their education—they just got a different one, and it is not clear that they will be hampered forever because of that.

Among the authors speculations, is raised the question of a 13th high school year. But public schools are terribly underfunded now, so where the hell is there going to be money for a 13th year, or for an additional year of junior high, or more days of schooling per year, or summer school for all? More days of school means more expenditure of funds and I don’t think America has the money, or the will, to allocate such money.

And would colleges reject this generation of kids, as the authors worry about? Naw! The elites are always rejecting the talented but lower scoring kids as well as the kids whose families can’t make some part of the tuition. These two researchers are at Harvard and Stanford, and I seriously doubt if their freshman classes will be “less” smart. Getting full tuition out of parents, not just assessing student credentials, seems to have a lot more sway in the decisions of many higher education institutions than we want to admit. It is also quite noticeable that college enrollments have been falling dramatically over the last few years, so the way I see it is that if you take the time and put in the energy to apply to a college, you stand a really good chance of getting into some place reputable, even if your SATS or GRE’s are few points lower on average than the freshman class of, say, 2018.

Diane, you and I both remember when Ivan was going to wipe the economic floor with the progeny of Joe six-pack. Or when Akito in Japan was going to wipe the same economic floor with Joe’s progeny. Now its Li in China who will do so. But somehow, we Americans muddle through. I bet we will again.

Should we worry. Sure. But I just can’t get excited about this creative, well-done study, with zero policy options that make sense.

My conclusion is that American kids are behind where they were. OK. Attending school again will catch them up. No big deal.

The real issue is that many kids were already way behind, and they seem to almost all have a major character flaw…. they are poor! That’s Americas’ real problem, not a slightly lower score on a current state test whose predictive power of future achievements and earnings is quite limited.