Our educational system is detached from reality, I guess

The National Academies are recommending that the public schools open. I don’t know the details of their reasoning, since it would cost me $54 to order the publication, but there is a summary. I was boggled at their recommendations.

COVID-19 Precautions for Reopened Schools

The report also recommends schools and districts take the following precautions to protect staff and students:

  • Provide surgical masks for all teachers and staff. All students and staff should wear face masks. Younger children may have difficulty using face masks, but schools should encourage compliance.
  • Provide hand washing stations or hand sanitizer for all people who enter school buildings, minimize contact with shared surfaces, and increase regular surface cleaning.
  • Limit large gatherings of students, such as during assemblies, in the cafeteria, and overcrowding at school entrances, possibly by staggering arrival times.
  • Reorganize classrooms to enable physical distancing, such as by limiting class sizes or moving instruction to larger spaces. The report says cohorting, when a group of 10 students or less stay with the same staff as much as possible, is a promising strategy for physical distancing.
  • Prioritize cleaning, ventilation, and air filtration, while recognizing that these alone will not sufficiently lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
  • Create a culture of health and safety in every school, and enforce virus mitigation guidelines using positive approaches rather than by disciplining students.

The report says the cost of implementing these COVID-19 precautions will be very high, totaling approximately $1.8 million for a school district with eight school buildings and around 3,200 students. These costs are coming at a financially uncertain moment for many school districts, and could lead to funding shortfalls. While the size of the funding shortfall will depend on how well-resourced a school district is, many districts will be unable to afford implementing the entire suite of mitigation measures, potentially leaving students and staff in those districts at greater risk of infection.

Wow, let’s highlight the deep structural problems in the US educational system, shall we? They’re arguing that failure to open the schools would widen the inequities in our society, but $1.8 million for a typical school district, in a system stupidly funded by property taxes is going to fracture everything. The poor districts simply won’t be able to afford that, and the richer districts are often Republican suburbs where we can expect freak-outs over masks, among other things. This is a report straight out of fantasy-land. How “well-resourced” do they think our schools are?

Also, if they want to “create a culture of health and safety”, why are they opening schools at all? Everyone is just playing a grand game of chicken, careering towards catastrophe with a promise that they’ll swerve out of the way at the first sign of trouble. Playing chicken ain’t safety.


  1. raven says

    Our educational system is detached from reality, I guess

    Part of the problem is obvious.
    The last time we had a situation like this was the flu pandemic of 1918.
    No one really has any idea what to do so everyone is making it up as they go along.
    There will outbreaks in the schools, K-12 and universities, for sure!!!

    After Reopening Schools, Israel Orders Them To Shut If COVID-19 Cases Are Discovered
    June 3, 202011:32 AM ET Daniel Estrin via NPR

    Two weeks after Israel fully reopened schools, a COVID-19 outbreak sweeping through classrooms — including at least 130 cases at a single school — has led officials to close dozens of schools where students and staff were infected. A new policy orders any school where a virus case emerges to close.
    Dr. Arnon Afek, who is helping manage Israel’s coronavirus response, played down the outbreak, saying a spike in cases was expected when schools reopened. “It wasn’t a surprise,” he said. “It happened also in South Korea and Singapore.”

    “It wasn’t a surprise,” he said. “It happened also in South Korea and Singapore.”
    Well, it wasn’t a surprise.
    That is reassuring, I guess.
    It also won’t be a surprise when it happens in the USA.

  2. sparks says

    Not an educator here, but it seems to me the bullet points are, well, pointless. You can’t social distance in over crowded classrooms, you eeeeeeeeeeediots. You can’t reorganize children. Period. And my personal favorite: Create a culture….positive approaches rather than discipline. WTF?

    How the hell are you going to discipline the little darlings anyway? You’d have to touch the walking Petri dishes first.

    Jeebus H Christ what a load of shit. But, it’s to be expected: Betsy DeVos.

  3. Ian R says

    I’m sure all those districts whose teachers have to buy classroom out of their own pockets will have no trouble coming up with an extra $1.8 million.

  4. Bruce says

    If I were still teaching in a room with moveable chairs, I’d start off every day by saying: grab your chair, because we are going outdoors.
    I’d do that even if it meant making kids sit in the rain for 6 hours, ruining the chairs.

  5. raven says

    I looked around for data on this subject because it is a key one for much of the USA.
    There wasn’t much and it is scattered and haphazard since the Covid-19 pandemic is only 6 months old.

    There are outbreaks now in child day care centers.
    There have been outbreaks in children’s summer camps such as the bible camp in Missouri.
    In some places, one of the fastest growing patient demographics are children 0-18.

    .1. We already know that some school districts in places with high Covid-19 virus cases, aren’t going to reopen.
    That is true of a lot of California, San Jose, Oakland, etc..
    .2. Any school district or university that does reopen, has to have a Plan B.
    What happens when the kids come down with the virus?

    We are still short on testing most places, 6 months into this pandemic.
    There are local outbreak clusters on the west coast.
    They are having a hard time dealing with them because…they ran out of testing reagents.
    We are also short on PPE because stockpiles were small and we are drawing them down rapidly.

    It’s not going to be a great fall for anyone.

  6. says

    I can’t believe the level of cognic dissonance in the decision to reopen schools now. I’m sorry, I don’t have any kids but unless I’m missing something, we should just cancel fall classes. We can just run school through the next summer. I don’t know why we don’t keep schools running year round. Summer vacation is an anachronism from when most people worked in agriculture. This has not been true for over a century.

    Let me know, if you got kids, am I missing something?

  7. consciousness razor says

    Ray Ceeya, there has to be somewhere to store the kids, if their parents are going back to work. Public schools are our most modestly priced receptacle.

    So, you really have to start with why everybody needs to go back to work (those who still have a job), when that still isn’t safe either.

  8. skeptuckian says

    You can download it free as a PDF. I read the executive summary which is based on hopes and dreams. Until the COVID prevalence rate (#cases over past 14 days/total population in an area) in a school district is 0.01% the risk is too high to open schools. In my district the prevalence is 0.16%, 16x higher than that and plans to open are up in the air although the push is to open and damn the torpedoes. The COVID prevalence in my school district will, on average, guarantee that one COVID infected person will be in every school in the district on day 1 of school. Since testing is lagging and people with mild symptoms don’t get tested, there are probably more. The virus will spread and outbreaks will intensify. The 0.01% level comes from a study in Norway.

  9. says

    @8 School should be school not day care. Something is really wrong if that’s the argument. Treating public school as just a place to send your kids while you work doesn’t sit well with me. There’s this huge push to re-open schools, and it just seems like they’re sacrificing safety for no good reason. Just run school all summer next year. Even if we don’t have a vaccine by then we will at least have some form of mitigation. It’s too soon to re-open schools. We’re setting ourselves up for a nightmare scenario.

  10. anthrosciguy says

    No problem, guys. I’m sure those teachers will happily take a small pay cut to fund those things. Aren’t they massively overpaid, after all? Plus they just had the whole summer off. AGAIN!

    I love my country. I do kinda wish it loved me back.

  11. bodach says

    You can’t get the parents back to work until the kids are out of the house. Maybe Grandma can take care of the little covid-carriers until the folx get back home from saving the economy.
    Sounds like a great plan; what could possibly go wrong?

  12. Matt G says

    COVID is on its way out of control in the US. Are the National Academies people ignoring the data that almost every human on the planet has access to? These are supposed to be the smart, rational people.

  13. captainjack says

    From Josh Marshall-TPM
    “…at the moment the full weight of the federal government appears harnessed toward covering up and denying the bad news about the resurgent epidemic and force-marching the economy and the nation’s schools into a dead cat bounce that will salvage the President’s flagging reelection prospects.”

    Can’t say better than that. Fucking gutless Republicans. There’s way too few that aren’t on the grift.

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    Who runs the National Academies these days?

    Have actual scholars & scientists been replaced by appointees of Trump™ appointees?

  15. whheydt says

    There is a silver lining… That plan will put paid the that which was the bane of my existence in high school: mandatory football rallies.

  16. whheydt says

    Re: Ian R @ #3 and #4…
    I suspect you wre right the first time…

    Re: bodach @ #12…
    My wife and I are already looking after our grandson and have been for some years.

  17. David Richardson says

    I’m a local politician in a town in south-east Sweden with responsibility for education up to the level just before high school (i.e children from about 18 months old to 16 years old). We never shut the nurseries and schools in Sweden, so we haven’t had to wrestle with the problem of re-opening them. High schools and universities closed their campuses in mid-March, though.

    Our officials used to circulate the attendance figures for nurseries and schools every day at the start of the pandemic. However, after a couple of weeks, they stopped … because the attendance figures for both staff and pupils were the same as they had been 12 months previously, at least for the schools. Nurseries had slightly lower attendance rates for both children and staff … but that level is where the level of illness is higher anyway (both for general childhood illnesses for the children and for ‘industrial injuries’ for the staff caused by having to bend down and pick up heavy weights – i.e. children – all the time!).

    In the Swedish system we politicians are personally liable if the decisions we make have negative effects on the people who live in our community, so we’re keeping a close eye on the situation. However, the rates of infection in our region are still very low and our system is coping with the pandemic fairly well (the vast majority of deaths happened at privatised old people’s homes in Stockholm). What’s impressed me, though, is the professionalism of our officials and the ‘granularity’ of the information available to us.

    An important difference between Sweden and countries like the US is that the Swedish Constitution prohibits politicians from getting involved in the day-to-day decisions of government agencies. Our daily press conferences were headed by our equivalent to Dr Fauci (Dr Anders Tegnell), not by the Prime Minister (Stefan Löfvén). If a government minister ‘ordered’ officials to carry out a particular policy (like opening schools), they’d be hauled before the Constitutional Committee of the Swedish Parliament and charged with ‘ministerstyre’ (which is basically overstepping the boundaries between policy-makers and people who carry policies out).

  18. Pierce R. Butler says

    David Richardson @ # 18: In the Swedish system we politicians are personally liable if the decisions we make have negative effects … the Swedish Constitution prohibits politicians from getting involved in the day-to-day decisions of government agencies.

    Sounds like a nasty double-bind – having to take responsibility without having control.

    What happens to whoever gets stuck with the blame for 5,536 deaths and counting?

  19. brucegee1962 says

    Realistically, babysitting has always kind of been one of the things that schools are for. And there are plenty of parents who have jobs, and for whom a lack of child care is a huge problem — health care workers, for instance.
    I spent a while trying to figure out how dangerous the virus is for children, and how likely it was for them to be asymptomatic carriers. There seems to be a whole lot of “we don’t know” in answer to those questions, though. Young kids do seem to have extremely low infection rates compared to other groups — and if they do have it, the amount of virus in their bodies also seems to be low.
    I wonder if what we may see is schools coming up with some arbitrary cut-off age like 10 or 11, and saying “we can take in the ones younger than this, because a) they’re less likely to become sick or carriers, b) they are too young to be home by themselves, c) they aren’t as likely to be able to do schoolwork at home, d) they are most in need of things like lunches, safe spaces, etc. Older kids will be given computers so they can work from home, and we’ll be able to expand into their classrooms with the younger ones so they can be more spread out.”

  20. bionichips says

    And what about when the parents/grandparents pick up their children? I have picked up my step-grandchildren and it is delightful controlled chaos. Even if the children are uninfected there are a LOT of potentially infected adults picking up their children in a very confined space.

  21. vucodlak says

    @ Ray Ceeya, #7

    I don’t know why we don’t keep schools running year round.

    1.) The single biggest reason is that we can’t afford to. In fact, most public schools in my state went to a 4-day week early last year.

    2.) Tradition. Tradition is a stupid reason to keep doing anything, but the momentum is undeniably there.

    These last two aren’t reasons why we do have summer break, but reasons why we should keep summer break:
    3.) Because there are important things that are not taught in the classroom, and a long break gives students a chance to learn them. I learned a lot of survival skills during the summer, for example. I learned to swim, learned to fish, learned to purify water, learned firsthand about plants and animals, etc. I wasn’t going to get any of that in school.

    4.) Because school is absolute hell for a lot of kids, and they need a long break.

  22. magistramarla says

    I laughed when I read the figure of 3,200 students in an average district. I taught in a huge district in Texas. We had over 3,200 students just in the high school where I taught, and when we opened in 2002, it was the 12th high school in the district. Two more high schools were opened during the 7 years that I taught there. I haven’t taught there since 2009, so I’m sure that there have been a few more high schools added since.
    Now, think about the fact that each of those high schools have 2 or 3 feeder junior highs and each of those junior highs have 2 or 3 feeder elementary schools. I simply can’t imagine that school district being able to establish these guidelines, let alone finding the funding to do it.
    Now, think about the fact that San Antonio has more than one of these huge school districts. Then, think about the fact that other cities in Texas, including Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Austin, El Paso and others also have huge school districts.
    Trying to reopen those schools would be a nightmare, on many levels.
    I was only talking about Texas schools, since those are the ones with which I’m most familiar, but I’m sure that this is what is playing out in the minds of educators and administrators all across the country.
    I’m so glad that I’m retired and now living in California!

  23. raven says

    Israel’s second coronavirus wave is threatening Netanyahu’s hold on power
    The public is losing faith in the prime minister’s ability to manage the pandemic and economic crisis.
    By Conor Murray@theconormurrayconor.murray@voxmedia.com Jul 15, 2020, 5:50pm EDT

    One especially controversial move was to reopen schools without restrictions — which led to new coronavirus outbreaks, infecting more than 1,300 students and 600 staff members, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journal also reported that there was little enforcement of rules requiring masks to be worn in public.

    Schools are now being directed to close if they face outbreaks. Since May, 125 schools and 258 kindergartens have temporarily shut their doors, the Wall Street Journal reported.

    When Israel reopened after their first Covid-19 wave, the schools soon were hit hard by the virus.

    Some observers are blaming school children for being the vectors for starting their second wave.

    Of course, we in the USA don’t have to worry about school children starting a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
    We are still in the first wave and it’s going to last a long time.

  24. whheydt says

    A note on schools, at least for those that haven’t dealt with them…recently or ever. School systems still seem to be built around the model of the nuclear family with one working parent, and the other stay-at-home. This despite that it isn’t true of the school staff and administration and hasn’t been true for some decades.

    Want to meet with parents? Schedule it during the day and the “stay-at-home” parent can show. Need volunteers to help do this or that? Just get the “stay-at-home” parent to “volunteer”. The list goes on and on.

    I was involved (as a contract programmer) with converting a school district to a new accounting and inventory system shortly after 2000. At that time, principles still each had a full time secretary. That practice disappeared in business, except at the “C Suite” level, at least 20 years earlier.

    The short description is that the schools are run in ways that reflect the general society conditions of 50 years ago and likely farther back than that. It’d be nice to get them well into the second half of the 20th century…

  25. Reginald Selkirk says

    I am surprised and disappointed that the NAS would weigh in on this. There is too much politics and social poiicy, and to the extent that it involves science, that falls more into the category of public health, and there are other bodies who would be more appropriate to consult on such questions.

  26. steve1 says

    There is another benefit for schools having a long summer break. You can get in the schools and do major renovations and maintenance. The company I work for does a lot of summer work on schools in the summer.

  27. bionichips says

    WRT summer – it gets freaking hot and most school don’t have air conditioning. Almost no learning can happen when the classroom is unbearably hot.

  28. elvenpiratefish says

    I’m going to preface this by saying I’m torn on this. There are two very good reasons to reopen schools:
    1) there is ample evidence that many kids, especially those from poor families or with special needs, are not finding the remote learning effective. For some kids losing 1 or more years of instruction, especially at early grades, could disadvantage them for the rest of their lives.
    2) the impact of keeping kids home is hitting women particularly hard, as homeschooling is falling on mothers more than fathers. Again foisting the cost onto people who already are disadvantaged in our economy.

    I’m not saying schools should open, but you have to understand these facts to understand why a lot of parents need them to.

  29. robert79 says

    I’m gonna agree with @29 elvenpiratefish here, while the purpose of schools is not to babysit, there is ample evidence that, certainly for under privileged kids, going to school is better than staying at home.

    I’ve heard too many horror stories nowadays from teachers “losing” their students. They don’t know if:
    – Students simply don’t have a functional internet connection and are unable to follow online classes
    – They’re simply not interested in following these classes.
    – They’re actually following classes if they “sign up” online instead of just logging in and going back to sleep.
    Or in the worst case whether their students are in a potentially dangerous domestic abuse situation locked in with frustrated parents all day.

  30. whheydt says

    I think pretty much everyone agrees that re-opening the schools is desirable, especially for the poor and otherwise disadvantaged kids. The tough decision is: Is it safe to do so?

    In the mean time, what can be done to lessen the impact on kids that aren’t in school? What about the families without a network connection, without sufficient computing resources to make use of on-line tools and communications?

    Here https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/distributing-raspberry-pis-to-help-families-access-education/ is a description of what one educational non-profit (working with other such organizations) is doing in the UK. For those that are reluctant to follow links (and I don’t blame you), the Raspberry Pi Foundation is supplying full Pi kits with all needed hardware and software working with other non-profits that arrange for paid-for internet connections. Not a large number of kids being helped so far, but it sure beats sitting around complaining about the problem.

  31. DanDare says

    If they must be open:
    Schools could open for half their students on alternate days.
    Class days could be shorter allowing for better management of short attention spans and covid discipline.
    Kids can be asked to bring their own materials and not to share them. Scools have a supply to hand to kids that don’t have their own, and leave those materials with the kid.
    Teachers should not handle the kids or their materials.
    Outdoor classes should be encouraged.
    A flexible “at home” vs “come in” arrangement could also reduce density of in person presence.
    This sort of stuff is happening in Queensland but we have zero community cases now so its precautionary. We have seen the failures in resonse in NSW and the commercially induced outbreak devestating Victoria.

  32. unclefrogy says

    this is stupid.
    Why are the schools closed down in the first place?
    why are not the parents already at work?
    Without getting to the structural weaknesses of the economy why is the economy crashing?
    There is a novel devastating and deadly disease causing virus spreading through the world human population right now.
    There is no preventative vaccine available yet.
    There is also hardly any mitigating treatment let alone any cure for it.
    How can anything good happen without solving the root cause of this particular side issue of schools opening.
    All the pressure to reopen the schools is coming primarily from politicians, and politicians who do not actually care about anyone but themselves and their own political needs.
    They all seem to care not about facts but appearance and their skill is in manipulating appearances.
    I doubt reason will win out in many places and things will have to get much worse before it gets any better if there is enough left to get better.
    uncle frogy

  33. says

    Y’all may find this interesting (or not), but I work in several South Korean elementary schools and that list of recommendations in PZ’s original post are pretty much exactly what they do here. So America has basically volunteered to run a very unethical experiment, with lots of variables, and I suppose South Korea is like the control group…

  34. says

    These are good end sensible ideas and basically what we did when we reopened here in Germany. Only…

    Only that the circumstances are very different. we reopened schools at a level of 400 or so infections a day on 80 millions. That would mean less than 2000 a day in the USA, not 60.000
    And of course this didn’t meant the kids were “back in school”. It meant that kids were back in school for two days, 4 hours a week. These measly 8 hours of school a week meant a hell lot of work for us teachers. It also meant that my special ed kids got to see even less of me, because I wasn’t allowed to mix groups, there are certain lessons when it doesn’t make sense to take them out of the classroom, so at best each kid got to see me with their individual problems for 1 hour every two weeks. They did get my private phone number, though.
    One worry I can take away is “how will the kids react”. The kids were mostly great. From my own primary school kid to the kids I teach. They really mostly followed the rules of social distancing and masks were no problem.
    Of course the whole concept crashes down as soon as you leave the school premises. I cannot sit kid A from group 7.1.1 and kid B from group 7.1.2 together, but they take the same bus home.
    I#m worried about the full opening after the holidays. We’re having slightly climbing numbers right not. Not dramatically. 20 cases a week instead of 10, but when you see how people are behaving on their holidays, I am really worried.

  35. says

    @#33, unclefrogy

    All the pressure to reopen the schools is coming primarily from politicians, and politicians who do not actually care about anyone but themselves and their own political needs.

    This is the US. Everything after the comma is basically implicit in the word “politicians” before it. We had an opportunity to support somebody who suspended campaigning to raise money for coronavirus relief. The party instead united behind a guy who encouraged his supporters to go out and vote in person after the CDC was recommending everybody stay home. And now they’re telling us he’s going to be a huge improvement over Trump because he’ll listen to scientists. Uh-huh. Everybody bow your heads and moo, like the cattle we apparently are.

  36. unclefrogy says

    sure vicer, we’ll all go and vote for the guy we got now he’s no worse then the other guy it wont make any difference they are all the same any way maybe we should just stay home and not vote at all.
    uncle frogy

  37. unclefrogy says

    it is going to be one of them which one would you rather because that’s the choice. you don’t get none of the above in november.
    uncle frogy

  38. says

    I wished people would just stop replying to The Vicar’s rants. There’s nothing to be gained from the discussion.

  39. Saad says

    Beautifully American (link contains auto-playing video)

    Utah County Commission Chair, Tanner Ainge, had to shut down an overcrowded meeting when the crowd erupted into an anti-mask protest after the discussion turned to face mask mandates in schools.

    Why would a country who is fine with their children being gunned down in their schools be worried about them catching a virus?

  40. publicola says

    @40: Good point. As far as school funding goes, it should be the responsibility of the states, not local school districts. The state is better able to fund education, and money could be distributed more or less equally while taking into account any special local needs.