Hot Posts


We told you so about closing schools during Covid

No one should need the New York Times to tell them what they already know about the disastrous outcomes that pandemic-era school closures imposed on America’s schoolchildren. But for those who remain beholden to the shibboleths that once justified that act of national self-harm, the Times’ acknowledgment of the obvious might be valuable.

In a Monday report, the paper of record conceded that “remote learning was a key driver of academic declines during the pandemic.” Its reporters seemed self-conscious about the conclusions to which the “research” now points them. They note that there were “no easy decisions at the time,” and officials had to “weigh the risks of an emerging virus against academic and mental health.” But the decision to close schools to in-person education was still the wrong choice, regardless of the anguish experienced by those who settled on that policy. And it’s a choice that became much more obviously wrong the further we got from the initial outbreak in the spring of 2020.

The Times cites studies that conclusively demonstrate that students who experienced prolonged school closures or suffered through hybridized learning “fell more than half a grade behind in math on average.” The effects on student performance grow worse in direct correlation with the amount of time students spent outside the classroom. That effect is even more pronounced in poorer school districts, which had access to fewer resources to cope with their new reality and were likely to remain closed longer than their counterparts in wealthier areas of the country.

These revelations come as no surprise to almost anyone who personally struggled with the remote-learning regime to which children were consigned in 2020–21. Within weeks of that experiment, parents recognized the catastrophic circumstances that had been imposed on their families. They told anyone willing to listen — from pollsters to politicians — that this new status quo was unsustainable. By June 2020, for example, a majority of parents surveyed by Gallup wanted to see their children return to full-time, in-person learning. But those concerns were met with a blizzard of emotionally manipulative brushback pitches, in which parents were accused of wanting to sacrifice the lives of America’s educators only to restore the convenience that the pandemic had taken from them.

In the summer of 2020, teachers’ unions in places like California voted overwhelmingly against returning to the classroom in the fall in direct response to surveys that showed parents favored a return to in-person education. The alternative, a union statement read, was to use teachers “as kindling” to “reignite the economy.” The Washington Teachers Union lobbied for members to be allowed to “opt-out of in-person teaching” indefinitely. The Chicago Teachers Union engaged in work stoppage unless the city committed to a variety of demands for smaller class sizes and more flexible hours for school employees. In New York City, teachers planned mass “sick-outs” to ensure that schools stayed closed. The briefest of reprieves from the prison of remote education was summarily stolen from pupils again in the fall of 2020 when teachers’ unions forced city officials to shutter the schoolhouse doors again based on arbitrary levels of local viral-transmission rates.

It is nothing short of rewriting history to suggest that school closures were just another pandemic-era conundrum policy-makers had to navigate with imperfect information. As the Democratic governors of seven northeastern states wrote in response to New York City’s return to remote learning in the fall of 2020, “in-person learning is safe,” “even in communities with high transmission rates.” The deleterious effect remote learning was having not just on student performance but also on young people’s mental health was observable and, indeed, chronicled at the anecdotal and clinical level. And yet, critics of school closures were routinely rebuffed. They were told that educational facilities couldn’t reopen, not just because schools had become death traps for teachers but because the country had not committed sufficient resources to teacher safety. That was the point at which the pandemic became an extortion racket.

“I think we need a lot more resources in order to get the schools safe,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky confessed in the winter of 2021. It was a conspicuous assertion since Walensky had claimed even prior to Joe Biden’s inauguration that the conditions for a safe return to the classroom were already in place. But that was before she received a proper education in her role, not as a public-health official but a functionary in an administration utterly captured by pro-union interests.

When Walensky offered that observation, roughly $50 billion of the funds Congress appropriated for schools in the 2020 CARES Act remained unspent — much more than the $23 billion one CDC estimated was necessary for the safe-reopening protocols. All told, Congress appropriated about $200 billion over the pandemic era to fund building upgrades, sanitation measures, and, eventually, educational programs to combat the learning loss students experienced as a result of closures. At the end of last year, Iowa was the only state in the nation to have spent more than 80 percent of the Covid-related funds allocated to schools. Billions are still held in reserve, and the prospect of Congress reclaiming that unspent money is now being described as a “financial cliff” over which flinty conservatives would push America’s educators.

This experience, painful as it was, has clarified the extent to which so much of what progressives claim to care about are just convenient cudgels with which they might bludgeon their right-wing opponents. It was clear early on in the pandemic that school closures hurt minorities and lower-income Americans the most. The Left didn’t care. It was obvious that rates of emotional instability and anxiety in children were reaching crisis proportions as a direct result of remote learning. The Left didn’t care. Federal and state lawmakers buried educators and teachers’ unions under mountains of cash in the effort to satisfy activists for whom every problem is a product of our collective failure to “invest” in their resolution. None of it was enough. And why would it be? The unions and their progressive allies didn’t want more money, better educational outcomes, additional safeguards for teachers, or psychological resources for overstressed students. They wanted the schools closed.

And even now, the authors of our torment remain unrepentant. “I do believe it was the right decision,” Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan told the Times reporters who detailed the catastrophe caused by remote education. “It doesn’t matter what is going on in the building and how much people are learning if people are getting the virus and running the potential of dying.” How quaint this appeal to garment-rending hyperbole reads. This sort of thing was valuable currency when moral blackmail was sufficient to shut down debate over what was best for America’s children. Given the scale of the devastation wrought by the parochialism of union officials like Jordan, the fact that this tactic just isn’t working anymore is cold comfort. But it’s encouraging, nonetheless.

Post a Comment