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An empty classroom in New York City, which closed its schools earlier this month because of rising COVID-19 levels. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

School districts are reporting declining grades as students struggle to adjust to the challenges of remote education.

Why it matters: It's bad enough that many children around the country are receiving sub-par remote schooling. But in an economy that will increasingly reward cognitive skills, those struggling today risk being left behind permanently.

What's happening: The Washington Post reported this week that an internal analysis by Virginia's Fairfax County — one of the largest school districts in the country, and one that has been operating largely online — found that the percentage of middle school and high school students earning F's in at least two classes had increased 83% from the same time last year.

  • More than 40% of students in Houston's Independent School District are earning failing grades in at least two of their classes, while nearly 40% of public high-schoolers in St. Paul, Minnesota, have failing marks.
  • In New York, the nation's largest school system, 60,000 kids can't even participate in remote learning because they lack the necessary devices.
  • A "60 Minutes" report on Sunday found that in a single county school district in Tampa, 7,000 students have simply disappeared, never logging in for remote classes.

Be smart: There are kids who would've gone to college but won't, who would've graduated from high school but won't, because this country has prioritized other, riskier activities over in-person schooling.

  • For too many kids — and especially for those who were already disadvantaged — remote education is like a band-aid that won't stick.

What's next: When these kids do become adults, they'll be entering an economy that will place an even greater premium on the cognitive skills that can only be obtained through education.

  • Robots aren't coming for all of our jobs, but technology is automating low-skilled, repetitive tasks.
  • "Education and training are central to helping the current and next generation thrive in the labor market," said Elisabeth Reynolds, the executive director of the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future, at an event last week.

The bottom line: CEOs and politicians love to tell Americans that they need to up their skills to thrive in a more competitive economy. Yet during the pandemic, we've crippled their ability to do so.

Go deeper

Jan 25, 2021 - Health

The pandemic could be worsening childhood obesity

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The 10-month long school closures and the coronavirus pandemic are expected to have a big impact on childhood obesity rates.

Why it matters: About one in five children are obese in the U.S. — an all-time high — with worsening obesity rates across income and racial and ethnic groups, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.

60 mins ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.