Research Overwhelmingly Supports Reopening Schools

A recent report from The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity is must reading for educators.  The report concludes that any fair assessment of the balance of risks overwhelmingly supports a return to in-person leaning this fall.  I encourage you to click on the link and read the whole report, but here are some of the key findings:

  1. School aged children are at much greater risk from flu than COVID-19.

“The good news is that children are at very low risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. Indeed, children aged 5–14 are seven times more likely to die of influenza than of COVID-19. Children aged 1–4 are 20 times more likely to die of influenza. Overall, Americans under the age of 25 represent 0.15 percent of all COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S.”

This conclusion is supported by data in Colorado.  According to Department of Public Health and Environment data, there have been only 3 deaths among the 1.4 million people under age 20 in Colorado.

  1. Child-to-adult transmission risk is low

“There also appears to be very low risk of transmission of COVID-19 from children to adults. As we detail below, population-wide studies in Europe have found little to no evidence of children-to-adult transmission; indeed, children have generally received the virus from adults.”

I would add that a study released just a few days ago provides additional support to this conclusion.  See German study finds no evidence coronavirus spreads in schools:

Prof Reinhard Berner, the head of pediatric medicine at Dresden University Hospital and leader of the study, said the results suggested the virus does not spread easily in schools.  “It is rather the opposite,” Prof Berner told a press conference. “Children act more as a brake on infection. Not every infection that reaches them is passed on.”

  1. While risks are low, harms are high

Health Risks

“While the risks of COVID-19 in children are low and manageable, the harms of prolonged school closures are high.”  The report quotes the following from a release from the American Academy of Pediatric:

“The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality.”

Achievement Gap Risks

“Children from lower-income families have fewer opportunities to learn outside of school. Researchers have found that differences in outside of school learning opportunities contribute to the academic achievement gap between rich and poor children. The current situation is likely exacerbating this opportunity gap, particularly since poor children are less likely to have internet access at home.”

The effect of school closures on the educational opportunity of inner city children is especially high.  A recent report from the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education looked at how 477 school districts nationwide have responded to the crisis.  The report found distance learning attendance was abysmal in the inner city. During the first two weeks of the shutdown, some 15,000 Los Angeles students failed to show up for classes or do any schoolwork at all.  The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that 10 weeks in, “the Philadelphia School District registers just 61% of students attending school on an average day.” The same week the Boston Globe reported that only “half of students are logging into online class or submitting assignments online on a typical day.”

Nutrition Risks

“Widespread school closures have other negative consequences for the nation’s children, and particularly those from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, American schools provide food to more than half of the school aged population. Nearly 30 million children receive free or reduced-price lunch through the National School Lunch Program. While most children will not go hungry without free or subsidized meals, children from the poorest families could be affected by the lack of regular access to these services. Schools and child care centers also play a critical role in state child welfare systems and supporting children’s health.”

  1. Other nations have reopened successfully

“But the likelihood that the pandemic will persist into — and perhaps well beyond — the 2020–21 school year requires policymakers to plan for the reopening of the nation’s schools. This is far from an outlandish idea. In May, several advanced nations reopened their schools with few problems, including Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore.”

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