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Families, students, and teachers must work together to overcome the "calamitous" effect of the coronavirus pandemic on children's education, former Education Secretaries Bill Bennett and Arne Duncan said Tuesday.
In a special virtual townhall with "Outnumbered Overtime" host Harris Faulkner, Bennett and Duncan acknowledged that keeping 55 million children out of school for months on end will have "serious consequences."
"One understands why the order was given, given the circumstances and the knowledge at the time," Bennett said. "As the science becomes clearer, I agree with Dr. [Anthony] Fauci. I think we're going to be able to open schools. Maybe not this year because it's getting pretty late, but I would think probably almost certainly in the fall."
Bennett added that for many kids, coronavirus closures haven't just been "disruptive," they've been a "convulsion."
"There are kids for whom school is the best place to be, frankly. It's the place that gives them structure. It's the place that gives them a solid meal. And, when they're not in school and they are at home, some of these children will be at increased risk," Bennett went on. "So, let's get back to school as soon as we can given the circumstances [and] given the state of our healing."
Duncan told Faulkner and Bennett school closings affect children's physical safety, their food supply, and their emotional needs as well as their learning.
"This is a really, really hard time," Duncan said. "And, to all the parents out there: just please hang in there. Be kind to yourself. Take care of yourself. For parents who have lost hours, for parents who have lost their job, who have seen a pretty stable life be turned upside down ... teachers trying to balance things ... We all have to take care of each other [and] support each other."
"There are a lot of debates in education about what works and what doesn't," Bennett rejoined. "There are a few things we all agree on ... kids need structure, consistency, repetition, and they can lose what they've gained in a fairly short period of time.
"It's one of the strongest arguments people make for summer school or all-year-round school," Bennett added. "I'm not necessarily making that argument, but when kids are removed from the school environment and the learning environment ... they can lose a lot of ground.
"It's been estimated, [in] one of the studies I saw, [that] 70 percent of your math learning can be gone in three or four months," he concluded. "So, we need to do what we can right now."