COVID-19 Watch: Tracking Hardship, October 28, 2022


October 28, 2022

COVID-19 Hardship

October 28, 2022 

The invest in education edition. This week, the largest standardized test results in years came out, and we received another snapshot of just how far behind the pandemic has left many students. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) – the “nation’s report card” — tested hundreds of thousands of fourth and eighth graders across the country. Reading scores are down and math scores plummeted by the largest margin in the history of the NAEP program, which began in 1969.  

Among fourth graders, Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native students saw larger drops than White students. Because they were already behind before the pandemic began, this only served to widen the academic achievement gap. And in both math and reading, scores fell most sharply among the lowest performing students, creating a widening chasm between struggling students and the rest of their peers. 

Of course the academic achievement gap existed before the pandemic. Now it is worse. “Every student has the right to be taught to read, but we failed at that,” Sonya Thomas, a mother who is Executive Director of Nashville PROPEL told the Washington Post. “That’s creating social emotional problems. That’s creating workforce problems. That’s creating life and death problems.” 

As you will read below, there are other ways we are failing our children. Teacher salaries are too low; there are tens of thousands of teacher vacancies across the country.  

Our students are depressed, anxious.  As of last July, districts had earmarked more than $4 billion for mental and physical health services, but that will be allocated over more than one year. Money allocated by Congress has been slow to land where it is needed, in part because it takes school districts time to plan and adjust their annual budgets. In some cases, states have been slow to distribute the funds, and many districts intend to spend the money over several years. Much of the $122 billion is intended to help students catch up academically. Some school districts are addressing the decline in academic achievement by hiring tutors or temporary teachers and teaching students one-on-one or in small group settings. More of this is needed. 

When Congress returns in a few short weeks, it will try to wrap up its work on an FY 2023 appropriations bill. Our nation’s schoolchildren must be front and center in their thoughts and actions.   


37%; 25% 

37 percent of 4th graders were at or below the lowest (basic) reading level in 2022; 25 percent were at or below the lowest (basic) math level – both significantly worse compared to pre-pandemic 2019. Tweet this.


49% vs. 82% 

In school districts doing remote learning, only 49 percent of lower-performing 4th grade students in reading had access to a computer or tablet all the time; while 82 percent of higher-performing students had such ready access. Tweet this.




Researchers estimate there are more than 36,500 teacher vacancies across the U.S. And they estimate that there are more than 163,500 positions filled by teachers who aren’t fully certified, or they are not certified in the subject they are teaching. Tweet this.


$122 billion 

In March 2021, as part of the American Rescue Plan, Congress approved $122 billion in funds to help schools reopen. More than 85 percent of those funds have not yet been spent, although school districts have committed over half the funds in multi-year plans. The money is supposed to be used to reopen schools, address mental health needs, and to help students who have fallen behind academically. Tweet this.


27%; 25%; 23% 

Of the $122 billion, $64.2 billion was itemized by school districts as of July, 2022. 27 percent will be spent on staffing, 25 percent on students’ academic recovery, and 23 percent on facilities/operations – in many cases over several years. Tweet this.



Nearly half of parents (47 percent) say the pandemic had a negative impact on their child’s mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation/CNN survey. At least eight in ten parents are worried about depression, alcohol or drugs, or anxiety negatively affecting teenagers in the U.S. And seven in ten are worried that self-harm, loneliness resulting from the pandemic, or eating disorders may negatively affect teenagers.


1/2/ 1/3/ 4 in 10  

Half of young adults ages 18-29 say they have felt anxious either “always” or “often” in the past year, compared to one-third of adults. One third of young adults describe their mental health or emotional well-being as ”only fair” or “poor.” compared with 22 percent overall. And four in ten say a doctor or other health care professional has told them they have a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.



More than 68 percent of LGBTQ students said they felt unsafe in school due to their gender identity or expression or sexual orientation, according to a survey conducted by GLSEN. Some 76 percent were verbally harassed because of their gender identity; 31 percent said they were physically harassed. More than 12 percent were physically assaulted – for example, punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon.



Around three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds nationwide are now full, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Many of the patients have respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV for short. But others have rhinovirus, enterovirus, adenovirus, and several coronaviruses, including COVID-19. Some hospitals are sending sick kids to hospitals in other states to be treated.



The number of positive tests for RSV rose more than 500 percent from August 13 to October 15, according to CDC. Doctors are particularly worried because RSV cases do not typically peak until winter. 






COVID-19 Watch