Friday, May 6, 2022

The Effect of School Lockdowns

Longtime readers of this blog know that closing schools during the pandemic was a very, very bad idea. Today, most sensible adults accept this judgment, but, what is most intriguing is the revelation, offered in a Guy Benson interview with Dr. Deborah Birx, that the CDC knew all about the damage being inflicted on American schoolchildren, but refused to keep schools open.

You might say that in the war between the teachers’ unions and the science, the teachers’ unions won. And we should all question how seriously the CDC takes the science. 

To quote Benson:

Perhaps the most interesting part of my recent interview with Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus response coordinator, was an anecdote she shared about the CDC, data, and the well-being of children. In the context of bemoaning our society's dreadful risk assessment throughout the pandemic, Birx described how important research into the harm being inflicted on kids through COVID lockdowns was essentially shrugged off and ignored by the agency. A lot of people have been making very belated "now it can be said" admissions about the wages of school closures, mask requirements, and other "mitigation" efforts in recent months. Many critics of these policies have been sounding those same alarms for well over a year and were attacked for doing so. What's especially disturbing about Birx's revelation is that the federal government knew about the seriousness of the problem all the way back in mid-2020. Yet schools remained shuttered in many places for an entire additional school year after these findings were presented. 

Among those who are belatedly reporting on the calamities visited on American children by this policy is David Leonhardt, of the New York Times.

Leonhardt seeks out the scientific evidence of the ill-effects of this absurd policy:

Three times a year, millions of K-12 students in the U.S. take a test known as the MAP that measures their skills in math and reading. A team of researchers at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research have used the MAP’s results to study learning during a two-year period starting in the fall of 2019, before the pandemic began.

The researchers broke the students into different groups based on how much time they had spent attending in-person school during 2020-21 — the academic year with the most variation in whether schools were open. On average, students who attended in-person school for nearly all of 2020-21 lost about 20 percent worth of a typical school year’s math learning during the study’s two-year window.

Some of those losses stemmed from the time the students had spent learning remotely during the spring of 2020, when school buildings were almost universally closed. And some of the losses stemmed from the difficulties of in-person schooling during the pandemic, as families coped with disruption and illness.

But students who stayed home for most of 2020-21 fared much worse. On average, they lost the equivalent of about 50 percent of a typical school year’s math learning during the study’s two-year window.

And, as I have often noted on this blog, those who were most likely to be damaged were poor and minority children. As for whether they will be able to make it up, educators are actively working to undo the damage, but the jury is still out. For my part I remain skeptical.

Apparently, those children had been making progress over the past few decades, and yet, now the progress has been reversed. I do not know, from the evidence presented here, how much of the progress depends on charter schools.

One of the most alarming findings is that school closures widened both economic and racial inequality in learning. In Monday’s newsletter, I told you about how much progress K-12 education had made in the U.S. during the 1990s and early 2000s: Math and reading skills improved, especially for Black and Latino students.

The Covid closures have reversed much of that progress, at least for now. Low-income students, as well as Black and Latino students, fell further behind over the past two years, relative to students who are high-income, white or Asian. “This will probably be the largest increase in educational inequity in a generation,” Thomas Kane, an author of the Harvard study, told me.

Whose fault is it? Well, you will be surprised to learn that the Times reporter sees clearly that the fault lies with Democratic politicians and with teachers’ unions:

Why? Many of these schools are in major cities, which tend to be run by Democratic officials, and Republicans were generally quicker to reopen schools. High-poverty schools are also more likely to have unionized teachers, and some unions lobbied for remote schooling.

Second, low-income students tended to fare even worse when schools went remote. They may not have had reliable internet access, a quiet room in which to work or a parent who could take time off from work to help solve problems.

Next, Leonhardt suggests that the school closures were an hysterical overreaction, though perhaps the wish to punish America for electing Donald Trump played into the decision. At the least, the evidence, from around the world, tells us that there was no advantage to shutting down schools:

Were many of these problems avoidable? The evidence suggests that they were. Extended school closures appear to have done much more harm than good, and many school administrators probably could have recognized as much by the fall of 2020.

In places where schools reopened that summer and fall, the spread of Covid was not noticeably worse than in places where schools remained closed. Schools also reopened in parts of Europe without seeming to spark outbreaks.

Leonhardt continues:

The Washington Post recently profiled a district in Colorado where schools reopened quickly, noting that no children were hospitalized and many thrived. “We wanted it to be as normal as possible,” Chris Taylor, the president of the school board, said.

Hundreds of other districts, especially in liberal communities, instead kept schools closed for a year or more. Officials said they were doing so to protect children and especially the most vulnerable children. The effect, however, was often the opposite.

Over the past two years, the U.S. has suffered two very different Covid problems. Many Americans have underreacted to the pandemic, refusing to take lifesaving vaccines. Many others have overreacted, overlooking the large and unequal costs of allowing Covid to dominate daily life for months on end.

So says the New York Times. Perhaps it is time to hold teachers unions to account-- perhaps by doing unto them what Ronald Reagan did to the air traffic controllers. It’s a thought.


markedup2 said...

educators are actively working to undo the damage
That seems to be an assertion without evidence. No doubt some of them are, but as a generalization, I'm skeptical.

How about killing three birds with one stone: Word problems!

If 10% of the population is LGBTQwhatever, trans are 10% of them, there are twice as many F2M as M2F trans, and 10% of them will commit suicide, how many of your classmates will die if they don't get their boobs cut off before puberty?

That one alone is probably at least a week of class time.

Perhaps it is time to hold teachers unions to account-- perhaps by doing unto them what Ronald Reagan did to the air traffic controllers.

This will work. IIRC, Biden was a union buster while he was hanging out with George Wallace. Or was it while he was against abortion? Whichever, he's "evolved" since then, but with all the dementia, a reversion would not be too surprising. No doubt it will happen right after he orders the government to buy Teslas.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

The Times article does provide some information about what is being done to undo the damage-- but it remains skeptical, as do I.

Anonymous said...

Teacher's unions: BAD,

New York Times: I have NO TRUST of the NYT.

Same goes for the Washington Post (which I call the WaPoo.)

Anonymous said...

It’s all for the children, don’t you see…

Once you see that institutional public education is a public works project for adults, it all makes sense. Children’s learning? Collateral damage. School board voters? They just need to and keep paying more, and more, and more. And the curriculum? That’s for the educrats to decide. Shut up, bigot!

The more credentials people amass, the dumber they get. And always remember, unions are in place to protect the below-average performers. Those are the people who benefit most. And probably have master’s degrees.


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