Why Are Fact-Checkers Ignoring False Statements On School Closures?

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by Tyler Durden
Saturday, Nov 05, 2022 - 09:30 PM

Authored by Chandler Lasch via,

With each new report on the effects of pandemic-era school closures on American children, the story only seems to get worse...

In September, the Associated Press reported that, according to a study from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “Math and reading scores for America’s 9-year-olds fell dramatically during the first two years of the pandemic … Reading scores saw their largest decrease in 30 years, while math scores had their first decrease in the history of the testing regimen behind the study.”

On October 24, data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the “nation’s report card,” shed more light on the abysmal declines. According to the AP, “Across the country, math scores saw their largest decreases ever. Reading scores dropped to 1992 levels. Nearly four in 10 eighth graders failed to grasp basic math concepts. Not a single state saw a notable improvement in their average test scores, with some simply treading water at best.”

“It is a serious wakeup call for us all,” Peggy Carr of the NCES told AP reporter Collin Binkley.

“In NAEP, when we experience a 1- or 2-point decline, we’re talking about it as a significant impact on a student’s achievement. In math, we experienced an 8-point decline—historic for this assessment.”

As Derek Thompson of The Atlantic noted, several studies have tied falling test scores to school closures, including a 2022 paper published by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. The authors concluded: “It seems that the shifts to remote or hybrid instruction during 2020-21 had profound consequences for student achievement. In districts that went remote, achievement growth was lower for all subgroups, but especially for students attending high-poverty schools. In areas that remained in person, there were still modest losses in achievement, but there was no widening of gaps between high and low-poverty schools in math (and less widening in reading.)”

In addition, the effects of school closures on students extend beyond falling test scores and lost learning. They include social isolation, loss of motivationadverse mental health symptoms, and a lack of resources for students with disabilities, not to mention the high economic costs and other burdens placed on parents.

With all this data comes the need to analyze school-closure policies and, for those responsible, to answer criticism. But as some officials have issued misleading and false statements about their roles in the pandemic response, a question arises: Where are the fact-checkers?

After the September report from the NCES, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, “What is the administration going to do about this severe learning loss, and does the administration shoulder any blame for not pushing schools to reopen sooner?”

Jean-Pierre blamed Republicans for the slow reopening of schools.

“[Reopening schools] was the work of this president and that was the work of Democrats in spite of Republicans not voting for the American Rescue Plan, [of] which $130 billion went to school[s] to have the ventilation, to be able to have the tutoring and the teachers, and be able to hire more teachers,” she said.

“And that was because of the work this administration did.”

But it was Democrats, not Republicans, who led the charge to keep schools closed.

Did any major fact-checkers set the record straight and correct Jean-Pierre’s false statement?


Neither, the Washington PostUSA Today, nor Politifact saw fit to address this topic. (PolitiFact has examined only two statements from Jean-Pierre since she was appointed press secretary in May, arguably part of a larger pattern of ignoring her claims.)

Jean-Pierre is not the only one trying to shift blame about school closures. In an ABC interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci recently claimed, “I ask anybody to go back over the number of times that I’ve said ‘we’ve got to do everything we can to keep the schools open.’ No one plays that clip. They always come back and say, ‘Fauci was responsible for closing schools.’ I had nothing to do [with that].”

Fauci, who plans to step down later this year from his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, should not be held responsible for every decision made to stop in-person learning across the country. But to say that he played no role is a stretch.

Like many other officials, Fauci changed his opinions on school re-openings over the course of the pandemic. At times he advocated for a return to in-person schooling; at other points he claimed that, while reopening schools was ideal, “what is paramount is the safety and the welfare of the children and of their teachers,” and that schools could safely reopen only when “you have a very, very low level of infection.”

His advocacy for school closures during his tenure as head of the NAID is evidence enough that he played some role in keeping schools locked down. But mainstream fact-checkers once again failed to acknowledge his false assertion.

With all the false and misleading claims being made about school closures, fact-checkers have ample opportunity to set things straight. As recently as October 25, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer severely understated the amount of time that students in her state were out of school. In a debate against Republican challenger Tudor Dixon, Whitmer stated, “Mrs. Dixon says that I kept students out longer than any other state. That’s just not true … Kids were out for three months.”

According to Bridge Michigan, Whitmer later clarified that she was referring to “closures that were the direct result of her or her health department’s orders.” While she shouldn’t be held liable for decisions made at the local level that kept some school districts remote into 2022, she nevertheless misstated the extent to which schools were closed. Fact-checking outlets avoided addressing Whitmer’s dubious assertions, as well as Fauci’s and those of other prominent figures who try to minimize the impact of school closures or their roles in them.

At times, opinion writers took to task those responsible for school-closure falsehoods when fact-checkers at those same outlets declined to do so. For example, Marc A. Thiessen wrote an op-ed titled “What Fauci got wrong is still costing America’s children,” and Ingrid Jacques criticized American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s attempts to distance herself from her own union’s pro-closure policies.

With the midterms just around the corner, it’s important for parents and other voters to understand who played a role in the pandemic decisions that affected students. And when it came time to provide context and clarity on this issue, fact-checkers shirked their duty.