In a piece headlined “Michigan’s Education Failure,” the newspaper’s editorial board criticized Whitmer as “one of the country’s most aggressive pandemic lockdown enforcers” whose policies negatively affected the educational outcomes for Michigan’s children, especially in minority communities. The article focused on the governor’s highly criticized claim about school closures in her most recent gubernatorial debate with Republican challenger Tudor Dixon.
“Ms. Whitmer says children were out of classrooms only three months, but she may be suffering from her own math deficit. Many of the districts that stayed closed the longest, including Ann Arbor, Lansing, Kalamazoo and Detroit, have large minority populations,” the Journal wrote.
Whitmer ordered or encouraged schools to close for weeks at a time for as long as a year after the initial lockdown in March 2020. On November 15, 2020, the governor’s health department suspended in-person learning for three weeks at Michigan colleges and high schools. Then in April 2021, Whitmer encouraged schools to pause in-person learning for two more weeks.
“Many states closed schools out of caution at the beginning of the pandemic and test scores fell nationwide,” the Journal added. “But Michigan schools didn’t reopen for longer than many places, and Gov. Whitmer opposed a plan that would have made it a priority to open schools for K-5 students.”
In a debate last week, Whitmer attempted to deflect blame away from her COVID policies’ effect on education, arguing that she left the decision up to school districts after the first shutdown. Dixon shot back, saying the governor was attempting to gaslight Michigan parents.
“This is shocking to me that she thinks schools were only closed for three months, or maybe she thinks she can convince you that schools were only closed for three months, but you know better because your students are the ones that are desperately behind,” Dixon said.
.@TudorDixon: “I’m pretty sure I just heard an audible gasp around town when Gretchen Whitmer said that kids were out of school for three months. Perhaps she wasn't paying attention…But you know better because your students are the ones that are desperately behind.“ pic.twitter.com/d1uD6zGHCn
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) October 26, 2022
The closures had a clear negative impact on Michigan students, especially those in minority communities, as the gap between white and black students’ 4th-grade math proficiency widened from 30 to 35 points. Adding to the concern, the Journal noted that black 4th graders’ reading scores in the state dropped 11 points from 2019, down to 188, far behind the national average of 217.
“Hybrid learning was brutal on young children, who struggled to maintain the attention required to absorb information while staring at a screen for hours,” the Journal’s editorial board concluded. “Ms. Whitmer is right that education ‘levels the playing field,’ but few did more to unlevel it than she did.”