How 2021 Set the Stage for a Seismic Overhaul of Education

By Lauren Camera for US News and World Report

When America’s public school system began creeping back open in January 2021 after last year’s holiday break, only 32% of children were in school full-time five days a week – the majority of them from middle- and upper-income school districts that served mostly white families.

“We owe it to our students – especially students in underserved communities and students with disabilities – to get all our schools opened safely and to meet the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of all students,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in one of his first communications as a newly minted member of the Biden administration.

“It will take years to address the devastating impacts of COVID-19 – including the ways that the pandemic exacerbated the existing inequities in our education system,” he said, acknowledging the stark disparities in access to education in year two of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, heading into 2022, virtually all of the country’s 51 million children are back in classrooms learning in person – an incredible victory given states’ disparate responses to the risks posed by COVID-19 and the country’s bifurcated education system in which schools have access to varying levels of resources.

Of course the path to the universal reopening was made possible, in large part, by two major changes to the education landscape: an unprecedented influx of federal aid to the K-12 system and the availability of vaccines, both for teachers and students.

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