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Kim Reynolds aces a course in revisionist pandemic history
So the disruptions caused by the pandemic hit American schools hard, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as “the nation’s report card.”
Nationally, fourth and eighth grade reading and math scores declined, some to historic lows, since 2019. Iowa, fortunately, fared better than most states with no “significant difference” in fourth-grade math, fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade reading. Eighth-grade math scores did decline in Iowa, as they did in 49 states.
It’s good news, although stagnant scores are nothing to celebrate.
School closings hurt achievement, but researchers cautioned that the data isn’t deep enough to judge whether the timing of reopening schools mattered as much as politicians contend. California, for instance, which reopened more slowly, saw similar test score drops to those experienced in Texas and Florida, which pushed schools to reopen.
But Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is running for re-election, isn’t waiting for more data.
“Iowa was the first state in the nation to reopen its schools during the pandemic, bringing students back to the classroom for in-person learning in August 2020 — not to make headlines or for political gain, but because we believed it was the best thing to do for our children’s education, stability, and overall well-being. Now, the first pandemic-era math and reading results reported today by the National Assessment of Educational Progress prove we did the right thing,” Reynold said in a statement.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without the dedicated school administrators, teachers and staff who showed up every day to keep their students on track,” Reynolds said.
Yep, she couldn’t do it without them. Except that she did.
The governor stripped authority away from public school districts which worked in partnership with local public health officials, to craft a local response based on local conditions. She whipsawed school officials, teachers, staff and parents with ever changing edicts.
You may recall Reynolds closed Iowa schools in March 2020 as COVID spread. Soon, schools were closed for the rest of the academic year. That made sense as the virus spread and deaths climbed.
Her Department of Education instructed districts to prepare a plan for when schools were back in session in August 2020, due July 1. But then, in mid-July, Reynolds switched gears and ordered all districts to offer in-person instruction for 50 percent of subjects, including core subjects.
In January 2021, Republicans passed and Reynolds signed legislation forcing schools to provide in-person instruction five days per-week. She gave districts just two weeks to prepare.
In April 2021, Reynolds turned down $95 million in federal funding for COVID surveillance testing in schools. She made the announcement on a Fox News forum with other Republican governors. They’re “Red State Trailblazers,” you may recall.
In May 2021, she signed a bill in the middle of the night prohibiting school districts from mandating the use of masks, flanked by anti-mask parents. Parents found out in the morning that the law had taken effect.
So her administration asked local officials to make a plan, and then dictated a plan without their input. She allowed them to offer hybrid learning, then pulled out the rug. She signed a bill ordering in-person instruction but didn’t want funds for testing and sided with anti-maskers.
The real credit for Iowa kids holding their own on testing belongs to thousands of Iowa teachers and others who adapted, innovated and rallied to support kids. Then there’s the students who stuck with it, worked hard and navigated the trauma that many of us faced during the darkest days of the pandemic. And of course there are the parents who became an education support system for their kids.
Reynolds? She ranks somewhere well behind the custodians who sanitized school buildings.
What actual thanks did our educators get from Reynolds? Well, they were treated to months of damaging diatribes this year from a governor bashing public education — “failing schools,” “pornographic” books in school libraries, “drag shows” and “pronoun lessons.” She condemned public schools so she can get $55 million in state education aid to pay for private school scholarships.
Oh, yeah, and Republicans yanked away teachers’ collective bargaining rights in 2017.
Reynolds came to Marion, but not to thank local educators for a job well done. She met in secret with opponents of Linn-Mar’s transgender support policies. No school officials, board members or parents who support the policy were invited. The governor gave us the bird, double maybe.
What’s Reynolds’ plan for improving public schools, for helping kids who fell beyond make up ground and closing stubborn achievement gaps? She doesn’t have one. Test scores in Iowa were stagnant or declining before the pandemic. With inflation raging, she signed a 2.5 percent increase in state public school funding. She calls it a “record,” but it’s more like yet another insult.
Not for political gain? Every pandemic decision Reynolds made after April 2020 was steeped in red state election year politics. Many of us wanted schools to reopen. But we didn’t trust Reynolds and her Department of Public Health to make the call, given their track record.
Remember October 2020, when the governor hit the campaign trail for Republicans and said nothing to Iowans about a worsening pandemic. She had time to toss out MAGA hats at a Trump Rally but no time to brief Iowans on her administration’s response as cases mounted.
She waited until after the election to put new public health measures in place. On Oct. 1, 2020, the death toll in Iowa stood at 1,367. By Dec. 31, it nearly tripled, with 3,898 Iowans dead. Speaking of math, the toll has now passed 10,000.
Reynolds may not want Iowa students to learn real history, but revisionist history is a big part of the governor’s core political curriculum.
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