This is our weekly briefing on how the pandemic is shaping schools and education policy, vetted, as always, by AEI Visiting Fellow John Bailey. Click here to see the full archive. Get this weekly roundup, as well as rolling daily updates, delivered straight to your inbox — sign up for The 74 Newsletter.
America Has Failed to Learn from the Safe Opening of Classrooms Abroad: Via the Economist.
“Over the past two years, America’s children have missed more time in the classroom than those in most of the rich world. School closures that began there in early 2020 dragged on until the summer of 2021. During that time the districts that stayed closed longest forced all or some of their children to learn remotely for twice as long as schools in Ireland, three times longer than schools in Spain and four times longer than in France.”
“Teachers unions have ignored encouraging findings from other countries, such as research suggesting that teachers in schools that had opened faced no greater risk of severe sickness than other professionals.”
“Remote teaching has harmed children’s learning, mental health and physical safety. America’s schools should be buoyed by early evidence suggesting that Omicron infections lead to less severe symptoms than other variants of COVID (which are themselves mild in most children) and that vaccination still offers strong protection against serious illness.”
“When staff shortages are severe, it would be better to force only some year groups into remote learning before closing whole schools. Even then, schools should allow vulnerable children and those of key workers to remain in the building. That has been common in Europe, but far from standard in America.”
“Children have little to gain from school closures and much to lose. Teachers unions should stop dumping the pandemic’s costs on them.”
The Big Three — January 21, 2022
State of Affairs: Pediatrics and Omicron: Epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina explains two types of thinking about the pandemic.
“In this post, I frame the data a little differently to address ‘numerator thinking’ vs. ‘denominator thinking.’ Dr. Lindsey Leininger (a Dartmouth-based policy expert and co-founder of Dear Pandemic) recently introduced this perspective to me, and it was incredibly eye-opening. In fact, I think explains why there is substantial disagreement throughout the pandemic on almost everything.”
“Numerator thinking: A heavier lens on the absolute numbers — How many children are hospitalized? Is this number increasing? How many children have died?”
“Denominator thinking: A heavier lens on the population in which the numerator arises — How many children have died compared to adults? How many myocarditis cases per 1,000,000 doses?”
“One puts weight on each differently based on history, background, culture, employment and context. For example, clinicians care for these patients every day, and the numerator is top of mind. As a parent, having my kid in the numerator is not comforting even if the probability of that happening was small. Policymakers, on the other hand, need a more denominator-oriented perspective. But, everyone needs to consider both elements.”
Children and COVID-19 Vaccinations Trends: Via American Academy of Pediatrics
7.5 million (27%) U.S. children ages 5 to 11 have received their initial dose of a COVID-19 vaccine
15.9 million (64%) U.S. children ages 12 to 17 have received their initial dose of a COVID-19 vaccine
13.3 million (53%) of these children have completed the vaccination series.
Fading Pandemic Assistance: Via the Washington Post:
“At its peak, 18.5 million kids relied on Pandemic-EBT, which began under the Trump administration and continued under President Biden. The program gave families forced home a debit-card benefit to use at the grocery store, for some online food shopping or even at farmers markets.”
“Now the program is flagging. Most states have not applied for the school year that began in September. Experts say the pandemic has changed in ways that make maintaining the program an impossible burden for already strapped administrators.”
“With only eight states approved for this federal aid, and another 17 somewhere in the application process, the remaining states threaten to leave billions of dollars on the table in direct assistance to students and preschoolers who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.”
“This school year, with most American schools returning to the classroom in September, it became a nightmare. Administrators were forced to track which individual students were quarantining or out sick, with low-income kids mailed reimbursement just for the meals they missed on those days.”
“Thus far, 15 blue states and 10 red states have applied or been approved. But the reluctance appears to be less ideological and more logistical.”
CDC Updates Mask Guidance, Says N95s Offer Highest Protection: CDC updated guidance on Friday.
“But the agency stopped short of saying that people should opt for certain masks instead of others, saying that the “CDC continues to recommend that you wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently,” NBC News reports.
“Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection,” the CDC said. Cloth masks should include multiple layers of tightly woven fabric. The fabric should block light when held up to a bright light source.
CDC Backlog of Mask Approvals: The CDC oversees a backlog of 142 applications from manufacturers of air-filtering masks such as N95s, which the agency was criticized as being slow to recommend over cloth masks before updating its guidance last week.
City & State News
Arizona: The Treasury Department told Arizona officials on Friday that it could claw back some of the state’s pandemic aid and withhold future payments if the state did not halt or redesign programs that use the money to undercut mask requirements in schools.
The Open for Learning Recovery Benefit portal is now live and available for parents of kids whose schools or classrooms have temporarily shifted to full remote learning.
California: “In Los Angeles, schools saw a massive 130,000-student drop in daily attendance when students returned from winter break this week, the latest pandemic hit to education.”
Frustrated by Chicago Public Schools’ battles with the Chicago Teachers Union, a growing number of weary parents enroll kids in city’s Catholic schools. “But in fall, months before the latest standoff between CPS and the CTU shuttered city schools for five days, the archdiocese schools reported a 5% jump in student enrollment — the first increase the school system has seen in 40 years.”
A new report from the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools says a shortage of teachers and substitutes is forcing school officials statewide to cancel course offerings, move them online or fill open positions with underqualified candidates.
88% of districts believe they have a teacher shortage
96% believe they have a substitute teacher shortage
17% of open teacher positions either unfilled or filled with someone less than qualified for the position
New Mexico: National Guard may help staffing shortages at schools.
Tennessee: State education department announces that the U.S. Department of Labor approved the state to sponsor Registered Teacher Occupation Apprenticeship.
Texas: Schools struggle to stay open as teachers and bus drivers call in sick with COVID-19.
Is Omicron Signaling a Shift to Endemic COVID?: New executive brief from BCG.
School Closures During Social Lockdown and Mental Health Among Children and Adolescents During the First COVID-19 Wave: New study.
“In this systematic review of 36 studies from 11 countries, school closures and social lockdown during the first COVID-19 wave were associated with adverse mental health symptoms (such as distress and anxiety) and health behaviors (such as higher screen time and lower physical activity) among children and adolescents. The effects of school closures could not be assessed separately from broader social lockdown measures.”
The Impact of School and Child Care Closures on Labor Market Outcomes during the COVID-19 Pandemic: NBER paper.
“Our results suggest that while closures have had little impact on whether parents work at all, they have had significant effects on whether parents work full time (at least 35 hours) and the number of hours worked per week. These effects are concentrated among low-educated parents, suggesting that such individuals had a more difficult time adjusting their work life to closures.”
Schools, Job Flexibility and Married Women’s Labor Supply: Evidence From the COVID-19 Pandemic: NBER paper.
“Difference-in-differences estimates show that K-12 reopenings are associated with significant increases in employment and hours among married women with school-aged children, with no measurable effects on labor supply in comparison groups. Employment effects of school reopenings are concentrated among mothers of older school-aged children, while remote work may mitigate effects for mothers of younger children.”
Experts Criticize CDC Report on COVID-19 and Diabetes Risk in Kids:
Via Emily Oster, with a great overview:
“There are (at least) two important problems with this study. By far the most important is that the authors are unable to control for any characteristics of individuals other than age and sex.”
“Essentially, this is a problem of ‘residual confounding’ or ‘omitted variable bias.’ The two groups — the COVID and non-COVID group — are likely different in a number of ways that the authors do not adjust for.”
Via The New York Times, Dr. Jeffrey Flier, a diabetes researcher and a former dean of Harvard Medical School:
“Design of the study had many confounding influences that could easily negate the proposed association once factored in. This seems likely.”
“Even if the association proved true, the risk to any child would be tiny, of a magnitude that would be extremely unlikely to cause alarm.”
“The C.D.C. erred in taking a preliminary and potentially erroneous association and tweeting it to specifically create alarm in parents about the risk of diabetes going up in their children should they get COVID, which has a very low risk of harming their children.”
Via Healthline: “Dr. Sarah D. Corathers, an associate professor in the division of endocrinology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, says the CDC study is an observation report of health claims data, not an explanation of causation.”
“Over a seven-month study in 2021, 1,054 patients under the age of 17 took both a PCR test and a rapid antigen test at the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital. According to researchers, among the cases found using a PCR test, 92.7% of those were also detected by the rapid antigen test.”
Remote Schooling’s Perverse Social Divide: Via Bloomberg
“Parents with lower education levels, who were less likely to be able to work from home and thus supervise their kids there while keeping their jobs, were more likely to have kids doing remote school and less likely to have kids attending in-person school. The same holds when you sort the respondents by race and ethnicity.”
School Closures Were a Catastrophic Error. Progressives Still Haven’t Reckoned With It: Via Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.
“It is now indisputable, and almost undisputed, that the year and a quarter of virtual school imposed devastating consequences on the students who endured it.”
“It is nearly as clear that these measures did little to contain the pandemic. Children face little risk of adverse health effects from contracting COVID, and there’s almost no evidence that towns that kept schools open had more community spread.”
“By the tail end of spring 2020, it was becoming reasonably clear both that remote education was failing badly and that schools could be reopened safely.”
“What happened next was truly disturbing: The left by and large rejected this evidence. Progressives were instead carried along by two predominant impulses. One was a zero-COVID policy that refused to weigh the trade-off of any measure that could even plausibly claim to suppress the pandemic. The other was deference to teachers unions, who were organizing to keep schools closed. Those strands combined into a refusal to acknowledge the scale or importance of losing in-person learning with a moralistic insistence that anybody who disagreed was callous about death or motivated by greed.”
“The head of the largest state’s most powerful teachers union insisted on the record ‘there is no such thing as learning loss’ and described plans to reopen schools as ‘a recipe for propagating structural racism.’ Within blue America, transparently irrational ideas like this were able to carry the day for a disturbingly long period of time.”
Latest COVID Surge Pushes Parents to Next-Level Stress: Via Scientific American.
“Parents in the U.S. are at least as stressed now as they were in March 2020, when coronavirus shutdowns first hit, according to preliminary data.”
“A key problem is that governments and schools are not responding to this wave at a level commensurate with the stress and fear parents are experiencing, [University of Indiana Bloomington sociologist Jessica] Calarco says. There is a ‘huge mismatch’ between the ‘business as usual’ attitude of many policymakers, schools, and employers and parents’ fears and experiences, she explains.”
The “unequal burden means mothers are often the ones most worried about what is to come; they are the parents expected to step in as primary caregiver if a child is sick, a testing requirement gets missed or school goes remote.”
Teachers and K-12 Education: EdChoice/Morning Consult survey.
In the last month, one out of five teachers reported having to quarantine because of COVID-19.
COVID Chaos Leaves Districts With Bus Driver Shortage: Via EdNC
Inside the Student-Led COVID Walkouts: Via Wired
Virtual Learning, Now and Beyond: New brief from COVID Collaborative, CRPE, Bellwether Education Partners, Walton Family Foundation and Allstate.
Anxious? You Are Not Alone: Emily Oster asked parents of the under-5 set to weigh in on their pandemic experiences. More than 20,000 responded.
…And on a Lighter Note
Breaking news: A former television reporter has gone viral for turning her toddler’s tantrum into a hilarious news segment (and an exclusive follow-up interview).
@kaylareporting Now accepting donations for babysitters & or take out! Venmo: @Kayla-Sullivan-96
Weekend Reads: In case you missed them, our top stories of the week:
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Disclosure: John Bailey is an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation, which provides financial support to The 74.