Over a century ago, American states put in place laws requiring children to attend school. The guiding principle was that school mattered too much in children’s lives to be a matter of individual choice.
Helping out on the family farm or getting a paid job was not a sufficient excuse to give up. Convenience or parental preference either. And students couldn’t leave school just because they wanted to.
Compulsory education laws have done a lot of good. They increased high school graduation rates and the share of students who attended university, such as research from economists Derek Messacar and Philip Oreopoulos found. Additional education, in turn, increased future earnings and reduced future unemployment.
But now Covid-19 is undermining the idea of universal education.
Officially, of course, compulsory education laws remain in place. Kids can’t legally quit this fall. Still, many school districts have indicated that they will allow parents to not send their children to school in the next school year and to learn remotely. Recent polls suggest that up to a quarter of parents plan to keep their children at home.
Families that choose to do so will cover all demographic groups, but they are likely to be disproportionately low-income, black, and Latin American. Distance learning was more popular among these groups last year, and a recent survey of parents in Massachusetts suggests it will be the same this fall. “Parents of color have always been less enthusiastic about the in-person school,” said Steve Koczela, whose firm conducted the survey.
“Little or no progress”
The problem with distance schooling is that kids learn a lot less than they do in person, according to a wide range of data over the past year and a half.
Rand Corporation, a research group, found that students attending distance courses learned less English, math, and science than students attending school in person.
An analysis from Opportunity Insights, a Harvard-based group, found that student scores lagged behind distance learning – and was the most late for low income students.
Individual teachers also say they notice the difference. As Meghan Hatch-Geary, a decorated English teacher at a Connecticut high school, told Education Week, her students who struggled the most last year were those who stayed completely distant.
Distance education, in other words, can be more like dropping out than attending school in person. “Many education experts say face-to-face teaching is the best way to speed up the return to school for those who have fallen behind and deal with the emotional and social consequences after two disrupted school years,” Erin Richards of USA Today. wrote.
The CDC’s position
In response to the evidence, some school districts will be enforcing in-person attendance this fall – often with exceptions for the small share of immunocompromised families in a way that specifically puts them at greater risk of Covid. Chicago, New York and Washington, DC, as well as much of Florida, Illinois and New Jersey, have taken steps in this direction.
Leaders in those districts were heartened by data showing that reopening schools did not lead to frequent outbreaks of Covid, even before vaccines were widely available. (The CDC underscored this point last week, urging schools to reopen and stressing the value of in-person learning.)
Like Meisha Porter, Chancellor of New York Schools, told the Chalkbeat publication: “We know that our schools are safe and we need our children back… Nothing, absolutely nothing, replaces the interaction and learning that occurs between a student and a teacher in our classrooms.
But most districts will continue to let parents choose between distance and in-person schooling, according to the national association of principals.
There are no easy solutions here.
Black and Latino communities have suffered disproportionately from Covid, causing widespread anxiety about the risks of sending children back to school. Low-income communities also tend to be more skeptical of vaccines, leaving many adults still vulnerable to the virus, albeit on purpose. These concerns have angered parents in some districts who tax school in person.
Tafshier Cosby, a resident of New Jersey and an official with the National Parents Union, told Education Week that Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision to require the school in person “was doing parents a disservice” and “disrespectful “.
The situation reminds me the historical debate on compulsory education laws. They sometimes met with strong opposition from parents who felt that they – not the government – should decide whether their children stayed at home or went to school. Ultimately, however, the corporations decided that the long-term damage caused by being out of school was too great.
The misery of the Covid has frequently forced difficult choices. In the case of the school itself, the evidence seems to fall quite heavily on one side of the debate. Severe symptoms of Covid are extremely rare for children, making Covid less dangerous for them than many everyday behaviors (like driving in a car). Safe and effective vaccines are available for the overwhelming majority of American adults and adolescents. Distance education has failed at virtually every level, and there is no reason to believe it will work any better this fall.
But I understand that many parents are still afraid of school in person. The most likely outcome of the pursuit of distance learning, unfortunately, is another force that contributes to increasing economic inequality in the United States.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new issue
Over the past year, Andrew Lloyd Webber – creator of successful musicals including “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats” – has urged the UK government to open theaters to capacity.
He’s pledged to open his new musical “Cinderella” “through thick and thin,” backing down after learning that his audience and crew could be fined. And he rejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s offer to try the show without restrictions, as the plan left out other theaters.
He has also made scientifically spurious claims, claiming, for example, that the air inside his theater was “cleaner than the air outside”, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
“The way he did it sounds like something out of his musicals – it’s loud, it’s overkill,” Arifa Akbar, theater critic for The Guardian, told The Times.
In England, theaters were allowed to open with a masked and socially distant audience for brief periods. Still, Lloyd Webber has asked the government to clarify when theaters can reopen at full capacity.
He recently got a response: The UK government plans to lift most of the remaining restrictions in England on July 19. Sanam Yar, a morning writer