January 19, 2022

ANALYSIS: TRUE. School Closures Were a Catastrophic Error. Progressives Still Haven’t Reckoned With It.

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. Studies have found that virtual school left students nearly half a year behind pace, on average, with the learning loss falling disproportionately on low-income, Latino, and Black students. Perhaps a million students functionally dropped out of school altogether. The social isolation imposed on kids caused a mental health “state of emergency,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The damage to a generation of children’s social development and educational attainment, and particularly to the social mobility prospects of its most marginalized members, will be irrecoverable.

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. . . .

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.

Social scientists have measured the factors that drove schools to stay closed last year. One study found schools with unionized teachers, more of which were located in more Democratic-voting districts, were more likely to remain all virtual. Another likewise found “local political partisanship and union strength,” rather than the local severity of COVID, predicted school closing.

School closings admitted — and then demonstrated — that public education isn’t an essential service, and that teachers, as a group, don’t really care about your kids.

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