This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Stanley Litow, Professor at Duke and Columbia Universities, where he teaches about the role of corporations in society, and the author of The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward. He formerly led Corporate Social Responsibility at IBM, where he was twice selected as CEO of the Year by Corporate Responsibility Magazine. Other posts in the series are compiled here.
The economic effects of the coronavirus are presenting increasingly difficult challenges for the nation. In the month of April, nearly 30 million Americans moved onto the unemployment rolls and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dipped by nearly five percent. All projections from labor economists indicate that these numbers will continue to go in the wrong direction during the months ahead. The U.S. economy is in its most serious decline since the Great Depression. From a policy perspective, our nation needs to place a high priority on making our nation healthy again, but it also needs to protect workers, small businesses and our economic future. Most economic news reports focus on U.S. industries that are likely to suffer the most, such as as the retail industry, restaurants, small businesses, airlines and the entertainment industry. While each of these sectors are indeed experiencing serious problems, and deserve intervention and support, an industry that is likely to suffer severe, long-term damage is often overlooked—that is, public education and specifically our nation's public schools and public colleges. They face a very difficult future and need our attention and our assistance.
Why is education in America at risk? An interruption in schooling across all grade levels will likely result in a serious decline in student achievement, especially for those students who are the most disadvantaged. This is likely to result in increased drop out rates, a spike in special education, a decline in high school graduation rates, a decrease in college enrollment, lower college readiness rates and declining college completion rates. A large increase in mental health and social service needs should also be expected, which will have a negative impact on student learning and achievement. With increased need and declining resources, our schools, universities and teachers will be faced with a daunting challenge. The long term effect on students and on the nation could be devastating.