Emily Oster wants a ‘pandemic amnesty’? Sorry, not until she stops pushing a dangerous agenda

Emily Oster wants a ‘pandemic amnesty’? Sorry, not until she stops pushing a dangerous agenda

Emily Oster wants a pandemic amnesty. We should all forgive each other for the mistaken positions we’ve taken about how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, writes the Brown University economist who used her considerable platform to churn out teacher-blaming hot takes funded by the likes of Peter Thiel and the Walton Family Foundation. Pardon me if I won’t be offering amnesty for people who promoted themselves and shat on those with less power, with support from far-right billionaires.

I especially will not be offering amnesty while Osterian takes on the pandemic’s effects on education continue to dominate headlines despite lots of evidence to the contrary, and in total refusal to grapple with the pandemic’s traumas and losses and consider what effect those might have had on children. In fact, Oster’s “pandemic amnesty” is in large part her creating another opportunity to focus on so-called “learning loss” from schools being closed for too long. That schools were closed for too long is an “emerging (if not universal) consensus,” Oster writes, having spent the past two years aggressively trying to create that consensus with funding from right-wing school privatizers, and then goes on to tie it directly to declines in test scores.

RELATED STORY: COVID-19 know-it-alls want to revisit the 2020-21 school year? Fine. Let’s

But yet again, Oster’s presentation of the data is seriously flawed. As a number of people pointed out when the first round of National Assessment for Educational Progress test scores came out in September, there wasn’t a clear correlation between longer closures and bigger drops in test scores. No one is going to argue that remote school was better for kids’ learning, but the states that went back earlier don’t have reliably smaller test score drops.

Now, as another round of NAEP data comes out, David Wallace-Wells considers it in his New York Times newsletter. Score decreases are real and concerning, he writes, but “the declines, all told, strike me as relatively small, given the context: a brutal pandemic that terrified the country and killed more than a million of its citizens, upending nearly every aspect of our lives along the way.” The thing is: The Osters of the world don’t want us to consider that context. They don’t want us to understand that things outside of school can have effects inside of school—even though anyone with a passing familiarity with statistics should be able to see, not just during a pandemic but over decades, that test scores are overwhelmingly driven by factors outside of school.

Wallace-Wells’ major contribution, though, is to put the U.S. test scores in an international perspective. “In England, schools closed in the spring of 2020, opening again in some places in early summer and across the country in the fall (with an Omicron interruption of about a month that winter of 2021),” he writes. “In retrospect, that would have been a plausible but relatively aggressive school reopening approach in the United States, where many schools stayed remote well into the 2020-2021 school year. It also resulted in a drop of six percentage points in proficiency scores, roughly comparable to the American experience. In other words, in England, with a close-to-optimal school reopening, they fared no better.”

It’s not just England. The Netherlands had somewhat fewer closures, and a 3 percentage point drop in test scores, about half what England and the U.S. did. But unless you believe that the large differences between school schedule disruptions between the U.K. and the U.S. made virtually no difference in test scores while the relatively small differences in school disruption between the U.K. and the Netherlands halved the test score decline, it looks like there might be some other factors here. (For what it’s worth, the death rate per million in the U.S. and the U.K. was fairly similar—3,163 to 3,098, while the death rate per million in the Netherlands was 1,303. This might have some effect on the overall effect the pandemic had on children’s lives. Just a thought.)

Wallace-Wells notes that Sweden did not close schools at all and that there have been claims that it did not experience test score declines. However, “the country also suspended its testing program, which means the data on which such claims might be based is pretty shaky.” That’s one way to put it.

Mind you, test scores should not be our first concern for children in a pandemic in which more than 1,800 children under 18 have died of COVID-19. That’s a number that tends to be used to argue that there’s no serious concern for children—but for context, the 2019-2020 flu season tied a record for the most pediatric flu deaths. The number was 188. RSV, another dangerous virus, leads to 100 to 300 pediatric deaths annually. But the trauma isn’t mostly measured in the number of children to get sick. More than 250,000 children in the U.S. lost a parent or primary caregiver and many more saw a parent or primary caregiver become seriously ill. We don’t know the number who lost a loved one other than a primary caregiver. More still experienced serious economic disruption. Food insecurity worsened, especially in families with children

All of these things affect how children learn, yet the Osters of the world—so graciously extending amnesty to people who dare disagree with them about the importance of school closures—ignore this entirely to further their single-minded focus on school closures and test scores. Emily Oster may have innocently gotten a few things wrong. But her billionaire-funded crusade against teachers and in favor of reducing children’s lives to test scores is anything but innocent. 

Republicans have accelerated their attacks on our democracy in advance of the 2022 election. Help defend democracy by chipping in $5 to progressive grassroots orgs in battleground states.

The midterm elections are only SEVEN days away, and there are MANY ways you can get out the Democratic vote. Check them all out at our Daily Kos GOTV page, and plug into the activity that matches your preferences & skillset.

Powered by WPeMatico

Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: