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Year in Review: Back to school after COVID-19

American education seems to focus on everything but teaching the three R’s


Getty Images/Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images

Year in Review: Back to school after COVID-19

Students, teachers, and parents across the country welcomed a school year that promised to look more like pre-COVID-19 education. But even as schools relaxed quarantine policies and dropped the masks, parents and educators recognized lingering effects on students and learning. Test scores provided the first tangible numbers measuring learning loss and showed that some student groups face added struggles. Parents who found their voices concerning their children’s education during the pandemic continued to speak up. Here’s a look at some of the biggest stories on the education beat this past year:

Learning lost

As schools made more steps toward normalcy in 2022, educators and analysts evaluated how COVID-19 disruptions and virtual learning affected students. Long-awaited test results provided the first hard data on student abilities during and after the pandemic. The National Assessment of Educational Progress released results from two tests often known as “the nation’s report card” that showed major drops in math and reading. College freshmen also felt the loss. Some schools said incoming students struggled to make the transition from high school to college and its expectations.

As schools readjusted to a new normal, some continued to search for missing students who virtually dropped out of school during remote learning. Some districts opted to keep virtual classes available for families who preferred the model.

Hoping to hasten the rebound from learning loss, parents and educators continued creative approaches to education that flourished during the pandemic. Some turned to nature-based outdoor schools while others pushed for a community school model that offers services to families whose children often miss school. Many schools faced the added challenge of helping students recover academically from the pandemic while working with shortages of employees, such as special education teachers and substitute teachers.

Politically speaking

People on both sides of the political divide brought their convictions and opinions to the classroom in 2022. Conservative political action committees endorsed local school board candidates and sent out campaign mailers while state legislators continued to debate whether to limit or even ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools. Parents and local chapter leaders of conservative groups like Moms for Liberty lobbied for school libraries to remove books with potentially inappropriate content for children.

Many parents got involved in local school politics during the pandemic, and this year they continued to lobby for their children’s education. Thousands of comments poured into the U.S. Department of Education website after the administration released rules limiting which charter schools could apply for start-up funding under a federal grant. The Biden administration appeared to respond to increased parental involvement by starting the National Parents and Families Engagement Council in June. But within weeks, conservative groups, including Parents Defending Education, sued the Education Department, claiming it violated federal law by cherry-picking member groups more likely to agree with the White. Earlier this month, the Biden administration scrapped plans for the council.

Hands-on learning

More students chose not to attend college this year compared to last spring. Many opted out to pursue technical instruction. Instead of studying liberal arts or fulfilling general education requirements, high school graduates went straight into learning skills such as plumbing or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning repair.

In August, President Joe Biden announced student loan debt relief for millions of American students. In November, federal judges put the plan on hold, likely encouraging more students to reconsider whether four years of college studies is the right course for them.

Who should get a leg up?

Even as some students weigh the merits of a college education, lawmakers and advocates urged for more—and in some cases, less—admissions assistance for student groups applying for college. Several schools started or expanded scholarship programs for Native American students. Advocates hope to boost the 25 percent college graduation rate among indigenous groups. Lawmakers debated ending admissions advantages for the children of alumni. Educators and analysts will continue to evaluate admissions concerns next year, as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about race-conscious policies earlier this session.


Lauren Dunn

Lauren covers education for WORLD’s digital, print, and podcast platforms. She is a graduate of Thomas Edison State University and World Journalism Institute, and she lives in Wichita, Kan.

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