In a recent poll, parents’ top concern was whether their children will miss in-person school instruction time. And they have good reason to be concerned as 67% of teachers said completion rates of student assignments were worse than in-person instruction.
This hurts disadvantaged students the most, as the Texas Education Agency recently noted that students in low-income families across the U.S. had a drop of 55.6% in online math coursework whereas those in middle-income families had a 34.2% decline and in high-income families actually had a 4.8% increase.
These losses in students’ participation in learning can contribute to lower lifetime earnings, with a troubling racial achievement disparity.
One study finds that the educational level of the average black or Hispanic student is already two years behind the average white student. These differences are based on multiple factors, including place of residence and wealth disparity.
Delaying in-person instruction due to fears about COVID-19 will exacerbate this disparity.
That study notes that if in-person instruction doesn’t start until January 2021 across the U.S., then while “white students would earn $1,348 a year less (1.6% reduction) over a 40-year working life, the figure is $2,186 a year (3.3% reduction) for black students and $1,809 (3.0% reduction) for Hispanic ones.”
Add to that how disadvantaged students tend to lose educational progress during school breaks as there’s usually less parental involvement and resources available to them than other students. Just think of how months of missed in-person instruction would set them back.
Even if government schools were to educate every student at the same level, the disparity between races and socioeconomic statuses will grow without the choice of in-person instruction. Unfortunately, minorities and poor Texans will suffer the most from this policy choice but would benefit most from that choice.
Despite these concerns, Austin ISD and many other school districts across the state have already decided to have only virtual education for the first few weeks of the school year.
But what of educators’ fears?
Pediatricians, educators, and superintendents from organizations across America recently released a letter noting, “Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools.”
The Austin Public Health Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott recently told Travis County Commissioners that having in-person instruction would put the lives of the 192,000 students in Travis County in jeopardy.
While he accurately noted that there have been no reported COVID-19 deaths of those under 19 years old in Austin/Travis County, he said there could be “between 40 and 1,370 deaths in that age group.”
But given flaws in the modeling, these projections are highly suspect.
First, Dr. Escott couldn’t use local data because there were no deaths among school-age children, so he resorted to using China’s data—where there was one death out of 965 cases of those 19 years old or younger.
But extrapolating those data from a communist country like China is a poor choice given the different demographics and health of people. This was also the case with Neil Ferguson who projected the U.S. would have 2.2 million deaths from COVID-19 without any other changes—deaths are currently less than 150,000.
Second, even with the problems with America’s government-dominated health care system, its quality and results are much better than the system in China. And the treatments here are better.
Third, COVID-19 seems to be ineffective in harming and spreading among young people or teachers globally.
Considering the poor modeling of the effects of COVID-19 such as Dr. Escott’s high estimate of 1,370 deaths that’s more than the 1,032 deaths of those 34 years old and younger across the U.S. as of July 15, we should be highly skeptical of these types of projections.
So, why delay or deter the choice of in-person instruction when the lives and livelihoods of kids, parents, teachers are at stake? It would be a disservice to the Texans who need opportunity the most.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.