The pandemic and schools – why I changed my mind

This post is sparked by a coincidence. On my morning walk, I listened to Russ Roberts interviewing Emily Oster about her research on the pandemic and schools – an enormous tracking effort covering 780,000 kids in all states. She concludes that especially for younger students, schools have not been super-spreader events, and that infections – which are more common among teachers and adults – align closely with rates of infection outside the schools. In other words, schools are safer than many of us – including me – originally believed.

When I got home, I picked up the Washington Post and turned to an article on how second graders are struggling with home instruction: a class that reached 90% reading proficiency in first grade now has zero proficiency at second grade, and many students have regressed to the point where they cannot read at all.

I believe it’s time to turn away from politics and back toward policy based on evidence and data. Decisions about schools quickly became political because Trump made them political. We need to end that mistake. I understand that teachers are understandably nervous, and so are parents. But the way out of the mess is to recognize that distance learning is inflicting severe damage on an entire generation of kids, especially disadvantaged kids, and that wishing it were otherwise doesn’t make it so. Weigh the evidence first, and then make the best decision balancing needs and risks – which will likely be different for each school distinct, and even for the same district over time.