If Everyone Is Behind, Then No One Is Behind

Published September 29, 2020

In early September, researchers Corey DeAngelis and Christos Makridis released the results of a study they spearheaded, which found that “school districts in places with stronger teachers’ unions are much less likely to offer full-time, in-person instruction this fall.” The authors stress that the results are remarkably consistent after controlling for differences in demographics, including age, race, population, political affiliation, household income, COVID-19 cases, deaths per capita, et al.

At the same time the unions dominate government schools, private schools, thankfully, are most influenced by their customers: parents. As such, schools must be responsive to them. So private schools are much more likely to be open for in-person instruction at this time. Here in California, where the governor has shut down a great majority of schools – both public and private – the disparity is stark. Individual schools can apply for waivers, and private schools are far more likely to do so by a wide margin. Writing in CalMatters last week, Ricardo Cano reports that over 500 private schools have had waivers approved, “compared with roughly four dozen public school districts and charters comprising more than 120 campuses.” The waiver applications cover a quarter of all private school students in the state, as opposed to just 1.6 percent of kids in California’s public schools.

Not surprisingly, the teachers unions gloss over any damage done by the ongoing lockdown. Perhaps they don’t know – or at least won’t acknowledge – that the loss of learning due to school closings is doing irreparable harm to children. Actually, one union boss did tackle the learning-loss issue. Washington Education Association president Larry Delaney said in a TV interview (at 29:00 here), “Across the country everyone has missed certain learning. So if everyone is ‘behind,’ I guess no one is behind….” (H/T Liv Finne)

I guess Mr. Delaney would say to grieving parents after a plane crash killed their son, “Don’t fret! It wasn’t just your son. Everyone who was on the plane died.”

Back in the real world, the American Academy of Pediatrics explains that lengthy time away from school often results in social isolation, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.

The unnecessary lockdown will also have disastrous effects on students’ future earning power. Eric Hanushek and Ludwig Woessmann estimate that already accrued learning losses will amount to $14.2 trillion in current dollarsThe economists add that these losses will grow if schools don’t restart soon. They also maintain that the losses are not evenly spread, and will affect disadvantaged students more.

The teachers unions insistence that their reopening stance is guided by “science” is nonsense. England found that after a month of re-opening its schools that very few COVID-19 cases were reported. Also, as Harvard epidemiologist Martin Kulldorff notes, not one child in Sweden has died from Covid, and that Swedish teachers did not suffer unusually high rates of infection, “even though the country never closed schools for those under 16 and didn’t force students to wear masks.”

The unions and so many others align themselves with the simpleminded philosophy put forth by Andrew Cuomo to justify New York’s radical lockdown in the spring. The governor said, “This is about saving lives and if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”

Using that logic, we should lower the speed limit on all our roads to 10 miles an hour. It would save over 38,000 lives, the number of people killed in their cars yearly. (An additional 4.4 million are injured seriously enough to require medical attention.) But there are innumerable downsides to doing that, so we forge ahead and, along with our children, take the small risk of traveling at a higher speed.

As a result of COVID-19 and the responses to it, parents are quickly catching on to the public-private disparity. Just last week, a RealClear Opinion Research survey showed a strong uptick in support for school choice since their last poll in May. For parents with kids in public schools, there has been a ten point jump in support for the concept of school choice, from 67% to 77%. Notably, support for choice is at a similarly high level across ethnicities and political affiliation.

It’s time to put parents, not unions, in charge of their children’s educational lives. Parents focus on their kids, but the teachers unions, however, have a very different agenda, where children’s needs are anything but front and center.

[Originally posted on California Policy Center]