School Shutdowns Were a Catastrophe


America’s response to the covid epidemic was a scandal. On a best-case interpretation, America sacrificed its children to benefit the extremely elderly and the very sick. Even if such a strategy had worked–which it didn’t–it would be a grotesque and arguably evil policy choice.

One of the worst things we did to our children was to shut down the public schools. “Remote learning” was largely a joke, and across the country millions of students checked out and didn’t return. Of course, they were mostly the kids who have the fewest family resources and therefore need school the most. Objective testing indicates that when schools went remote, student achievement fell off a cliff.

Six scholars from Harvard have issued a new report that seeks to quantify the remote learning debacle. It notes that the extent of shutdown varied widely from state to state. There was a clear political pattern. Click to enlarge:

There are some exceptions, but in general, if you were a young person in 2020-2021, it was a huge advantage to be in a red state. The report analyzes a lot of data, which it sums up in this conclusion:

Throughout the country, local leaders made different choices about whether to hold classes in-person or remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were valid reasons for differing judgements—including differing risks related to local demographics or population density as well as real uncertainty about the public health consequences of in-person schooling. While we have nothing to add regarding the public health benefits, it seems that the shifts to remote or hybrid instruction during 2020-21 had profound consequences for student achievement. In districts that went remote, achievement growth was lower for all subgroups, but especially for students attending high-poverty schools. In areas that remained in person, there were still modest losses in achievement, but there was no widening of gaps between high and low-poverty schools in math (and less widening in reading).
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If the achievement losses become permanent, there will be major implications for future earnings, racial equity, and income inequality, especially in states where remote instruction was common.

One plausible interpretation of the data is that liberals hate poor people. Another is that teachers’ unions are one of the most sinister elements of our society.





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