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A Reading Crisis – The New York Times

A Reading Crisis - The New York Times
Written by publisher team

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Dana Goldstein, who covers education for The Times, has been hearing from parents concerned that their young children’s language development might have been hindered by masks in the classroom.

After the Omicron variant wave, when some epidemiologists suggested that it was time to start unmasking in schools, concern from parents “reached a fever pitch,” Dana said.

“But when I got on the phone with speech pathologists and phonics experts, they cast a lot of doubts on the correlation,” Dana said. “There’s not rigorous data at this point that would suggest that masks are the cause of the issue.”

“However, I continued down the road of talking to speech and reading experts and heard about a lot of other really big deficits,” she said.

Perhaps most concerning: About a third of children in the youngest grades are missing reading benchmarks, up significantly from before the pandemic, according to a cluster of recent studies. In Virginia, one study found that early reading skills were at a 20-year low this fall, data that the researchers called “alarming.”

Children in every demographic group have been affected, but Black and Hispanic children, as well as those from low-income families, those with disabilities and those who are not fluent in English, have fallen the furthest behind.

“Reading is the building block of human knowledge,” Dana said, “and it’s the all-consuming purpose of elementary academic education in many ways.” Children who read poorly are more likely to drop out of high school, earn less money as adults and become involved in the criminal justice system.

The reasons for the crisis are many. School closures, remote learning and limited social interactions have all played a role.

issues are exacerbated by “the larger economic story of the Great Resignation, where you have about half of schools reporting that they have vacancies in core teaching jobs — and the largest category of causes for that is resignation, not retirements,” Dana said.

Teaching reading via remote learning was exceedingly difficult, even if students had access to the necessary tools, like an internet connection (many did not). It was tedious for teachers, and students needed supervision at home from an adult who could walk them through online instruction.

There’s also a common misconception that simply reading to children will teach them how to read. “Reading at home is really important for building interest and motivation to read, but many children need a lot more explicit instruction to learn to read — more than parents are able to provide just by reading to them,” Dana said.

And that’s what was largely missing during the pandemic: explicit, hands-on instruction.

“There was a lot of good work happening across the country on improving reading instruction prior to the pandemic, so ideally the future would look like picking that back up and expanding that movement using the federal stimulus dollars,” Dana said.

“But it is very challenging because you can have great intention to improve early literacy at your school, and you can have money, but if you cannot find college-educated workers to hire — or can’t find enough — it’s going to be hard she said.

Ukraine is still grappling with the pandemic, even as it is battered by a military conflict that has strained health care resources. Yet the country has — so far — “remarkably” managed to maintain some response to the virus, said Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe.

The organization said that last week Ukraine reported 731 Covid deaths, a figure that probably underestimates the true scale as most people in the country have turned their focus to war and evacuation efforts since Russia began its invasion last month. “Sadly, this number will increase as oxygen shortages continue,” Kluge said.

Only one-third of people over 60 in Ukraine are fully vaccinated, according to the WHO The country had been reporting more than 30,000 daily cases in mid-February, with the rate declining to around 25,000 in the days before the invasion, according to agency data. Since the military invasion began, the country has been reporting zero cases per day, as shown in the graph below. Deaths were reaching as high as around 300 per day in the days before the invasion.

Catherine Smallwood, a WHO senior emergencies officer, said that Covid hospitalizations in Ukraine had decreased in the past couple of weeks. She said the drop could be attributed to people being discharged from the hospital early or not being able to seek care because of the war.

“We would encourage all of our colleagues inside Ukraine to keep all of the systems in place to manage Covid-19,” she said.

The pandemic upended the global economy, shut down capitals and statehouses, and devastated businesses. But along with these major disruptions came smaller, more personal derailments.

A college student’s semester abroad was canceled. A job opportunity was lost to a pandemic freeze on hiring. A long-distance romance puttered out without the lifeblood of the occasional visit.

For the people who experienced such singular missed opportunities, the sense of loss felt no less devastating.

But as the Omicron variant fades and we being to think about the next phase of the pandemic — and of our lives — we’d like to know how you’re trying to get these opportunities back.

If you’d like to participate, you can fill out the form here. We may use your response in an upcoming newsletter.

After our area’s mask mandate was lifted, I found myself a bit lost without one… and inspired to write about it.

I miss my mask
the thing that fogged my glasses
dried my mouth
stunted my joy of singing

I miss my mask
The thing that absorbed my tears
Silently falling
while I watched my mom
walk slower, eat slower
sit down sooner in her pew
all because of the mask.

— Maureen Maingi, Raleigh, NC

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