School closures were a catastrophic error

By | January 17, 2022

Jonathan Chait writes:

Recently, Nate Silver found himself in the unenviable role of main character of the day on Twitter because he proposed that school closures were a “disastrous, invasion-of-Iraq magnitude (or perhaps greater) policy decision.” The comparison generated overwhelming anger and mockery, and it is not an easy one to defend: A fiasco that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and rearranged the regional power structure is a very high bar to clear. Weighing policy failures in such utterly different realms to each other is so inherently difficult that any discussion quickly devolves into “Could Superman beat up Mighty Mouse?” territory.

But these complications do not fully explain the sheer rage generated by Silver. The furnace-hot backlash seemed to be triggered by Silver’s assumption that school closings were not only a mistake — a possibility many progressives have quietly begun to accept — but an error of judgment that was sufficiently consequential and foreseeable that we can’t just shrug it off as a bad dice roll. It was a historic blunder that reveals some deeper flaw in the methods that produced it and which demands corrective action.

That unnerving implication has a mounting pile of evidence to support 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. [Continue reading…]

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