The Week in COVID & Education Policy: 18 Key Updates on Schools, Students and the Science Behind the Pandemic

This is our weekly briefing on how the pandemic is shaping schools and education policy vetted, as always, by AEI Visiting Fellow John Bailey. Click here to see the full archive. Get this weekly roundup, as well as rolling daily updates, delivered straight to your inbox — sign up for The 74 Newsletter.

  • School Dashboard Update: Via Emily Oster:
    • “Even in the early rounds of data collection, it became clear schools were not super-spreaders. This has been reinforced again and again in our data, in other data, in the lived experience of the last year.”
    • “In general, we see school rates move with community rates. School staff show up with similar rates to the community, students with lower rates. This is what we would expect if there was relatively little in-school transmission. Basically, schools reflect their communities because staff and students live in these communities.”

The Big Three

  • Education Secretary Miguel Cardona’s Master Plan: USA Today OpEd — Here is my five-point plan to get students back in school full time
    • “First, we’ll convene the experts. The Department of Education will host a national summit on safe school reopening this month”
    • “Second, we’ll share best practices about the incredible work already happening in our schools.”
    • “Third, we’re getting to work right away on the second volume of the ED’s COVID-19 Handbook.”
    • “Fourth, we need to collect better data about how schools are operating during the pandemic.”
    • “Finally, and most importantly, schools need financial help to reopen classrooms safely, stay open, address students’ learning needs, and support students’ mental health.”

  • The Impact of COVID-19 on Pediatric Mental Health: Study from FAIR Health (Also read coverage at Axios)
    • “Mental health care claim lines — or individual health services — for children 13-18 doubled in March and April of last year, compared to 2019.”
    • “Claim lines for intentional self-harm as a percentage of all medical claim lines in the 13-18 age group increased 90.71 percent in March 2020 compared to March 2019”
    • For the age group 13-18, claim lines for overdoses increased 94.91 percent as a percentage of all medical claim lines in March 2020 and 119.31 percent in April 2020 over the same months the year before.
  • School Closures ‘Sideline’ Working Mothers: New study by Caitlyn Collins from Washington University in St. Louis:
    • “At the start of the 2019-20 school year, U.S. mothers’ rate of labor participation was, on average, 18 percentage points less than fathers”
    • “By last September, the gap grew to over 23 percentage points in states where schools primarily offered remote instruction.”
    • “In comparison, in states where in-person instruction was most common, the gender gap in parents’ labor force participation grew by less than 1 percentage point, to 18.4 percent.”

COVID-19 Research

  • Return To Learn Tracker: A new tool developed by AEI in partnership with The College Crisis Initiative (C2i) of Davidson College, that captures how US public school districts’ instructional models change during the coronavirus pandemic.

City & State News


  • Zero COVID Risk Is the Wrong Standard for Schools: Via Jonathan Chait
    • “Teachers are hesitant to accept even small risks because they share a belief system with many other Democrats. And that belief system — or at least the purist version of it that is coming to the fore as the end of the pandemic draws within sight — could be called Zeroism.”
    • “Zeroism is an inability to conceive of public-health measures in cost-benefit terms. The pandemic becomes an enemy that must be destroyed at all costs, and any compromise could lead to death and is therefore unacceptable.”
    • “It is in part a reaction to the science denial and willful indifference flaunted by the Trump administration, which lied about the virus’s scope and minimized its effects.”
    • “Under any sane calculation, whether school poses a small risk or an extremely small risk hardly matters, because the alternative is a social catastrophe that dwarfs any public health effect.” (Read the full essay)
  • For Some Black Students, Remote Learning Has Offered A Chance To Thrive: Via NPR
  • A Lost Moment for Innovation? Andrew Rotherham — Restaurants innovated as a result of COVID-19. Education largely did not. In our relief over the pandemic’s coming end, the opportunity may slip away
  • As School Closures Near First Anniversary, a Diverse Parent Movement Demands Action: Via the NYT
    • EdChoice / Morning Consult Poll: New survey results (and crosstabs). Incredible data on school reopenings, vaccine hesitancy, learning pods, tutoring, and more.

Federal Policy

  • National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence: Released its final report. Some of the education recommendations:
    • “Congress should pass a National Defense Education Act II to address deficiencies across the American educational system — from K-12 and job reskilling to investing in thousands of undergraduate- and graduate-level fellowships in fields critical to the AI future”
    • “For the foreseeable future, the United States’ STEM education system does not have the capacity nor the quality to produce sufficient STEM or AI talent to supply the United States’ markets or national security enterprise. To compete, the United States must reform its education system to produce both a higher quality and quantity of graduates.”

…And one quick jab

Just stay on track and never look back:

Dolly Gets A Dose of Her Own Medicine: Last April, Dolly Parton announced a $1 million donation to Vanderbilt which helped fund three pandemic-related research projects, including one related to the Moderna vaccine. Yesterday, she received the vaccine while singing a revision of her song “Jolene.”

  • “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you please don’t hesitate”
  • “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, ’cause once you’re dead then that’s a bit too late.”

ICYMI @The74

Weekend Reads: In case you missed them, our top five stories of the week:

  • Missing Students: Texas teachers go door to door as kids disappear from remote classes (Read more)
  • Opting Out: Parents expected to opt children out of spring testing in large numbers, especially in places where schools haven’t reopened (Read more)
  • School Without Walls: Program created by 110-year-old Black church becomes ‘lifesaver’ for Wisconsin parents during pandemic (Read more)
  • Parent Engagement: Bucking the trend — How 2 D.C. principals restored Black parents’ trust in returning kids to the classroom (Read more)
  • State of Reopening: Community health, vaccination policies & local preference — New analysis of how 100 districts are reopening after COVID-19 shutdowns (Read more)

Disclosure: John Bailey is an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation, which provides financial support to The 74.

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