The leader of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which represents more than 30,000 employees in the nation’s second largest public school district, said in a recently published interview that learning losses during the pandemic are a myth.
“There’s no such thing as learning loss,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz told Los Angeles in what the magazine described as a rare sit-down interview, which took place in May. Many parents at that time were criticizing the teachers’ union for pushing back the city’s school reopening plan and for insisting on terms that they said would prevent the return of an in-person, five-day-per-week schooling schedule.
When asked how her insistence on keeping schools closed for more than a year might have affected 600,000 students of the Los Angles Unified School District, Myart-Cruz argued that the experience of living through such a turbulent period would make up for the loss, if any.
“Our kids didn’t lose anything,” she said. “It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words ‘insurrection’ and ‘coup.'”
Myart-Cruz also dismissed criticism from parents, including those who rallied outside UTLA’s headquarters with signs calling for her ouster. “I love that my picture is the biggest one,” she said, referring to a protest poster of her and one of California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “But here’s the trouble: You can recall the Governor. You can recall the school board. But how are you going to recall me?”
The claim that K-12 students didn’t suffer any learning loss during the school closures and remote learning apparently contradicts the results of many quantified studies conducted at both local and national level. In Los Angeles, non-profit education group Great Public Schools Now reported widespread learning loss, especially in the black and Latino communities.
According to the report, which was based on Los Angeles Unified School District data, only 43 percent of black and 44 percent of Latino K-5 students were not reading below grade level by fall 2021. Only one-third of middle and high school students are at the proper reading and math levels, and an estimated 40,000 high school students would not be able to graduate on time.
The findings echoed that of a national study by Mckinsey, which found that the pandemic has left American students, on average, five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the 2020-2021 school year. Unless the year’s learning loss is properly addressed, the consulting firm warned, today’s students could earn $49,000 to $61,000 less over their lifetimes, costing the domestic economy as much as $188 billion every year when they enter the workforce.
The UTLA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.