Within blue America, transparently irrational ideas like this were able to carry the day for a disturbingly long period of time. In recent days, Angie Schmitt and Rebecca Bodenheimer have both written essays recounting the disorienting and lonely experience they had watching their friends and putative political allies denounce them for supporting a return to in-person learning. Bodenheimer’s account is especially vivid:
“Parents who advocated for school reopening were repeatedly demonized on social media as racist and mischaracterized as Trump supporters. Members of the parent group I helped lead were consistently attacked on Twitter and Facebook by two Oakland moms with ties to the teachers union. They labeledadvocates’ calls for schools reopening “white supremacy,” called us “Karens,” and even bizarrely claimed we had allied ourselves with Marjorie Taylor Greene’s transphobic agenda.”
The fevered climate of opinion ruled out cost-benefit thinking and instead framed the question as a simple moral binary, with the well-being of public schoolchildren somehow excluded from the calculus. Social scientists like Emily Oster who spoke out about the evidence on schools and COVID became hate targets on the left, an intimidating spectacle for other social scientists who might have thought about speaking up.
The failed experiment finally came to an end in the fall of 2021. (A handful of districts have shut down during the Omicron wave, but this is mainly a temporary response to staff shortages rather than another effort to stop community spread.) The Chicago Teachers Union, one of the more radical unions, did stage a strike, but it was met with firm opposition from Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot and ended quickly.
But the source of the sentiment has not disappeared. The Democratic Party’s left-wing vanguard is continuing to flay critics of school closings as neoliberal ghouls carrying out the bidding of the billionaire class. Bernie Sanders aide Elizabeth Pancotti claims that “the loudest and most ardent supporters of keeping schools oepn [sic] (& those who dismiss legit concerns about teacher/child health risks) are largely those with remote work options/resources for alternative child care arrangements,” as if only some selfish motive could explain the desire of an American liberal to maintain public education. A story in Vice praises a student walkout in New York as a national model.
The ideas that produced the catastrophic school-closing era may have suffered a setback, but its strongest advocates hardly feel chastened. Whether educational achievement can or should be measured at all remains a very live debate within the left.
Most progressives aren’t insisting on refighting the school closing wars. They just want to quietly move on without anybody admitting anybody did anything wrong.
One of the grievances that critics of the Iraq War nursed after the debacle became clear was the failure of the political Establishment to draw any lessons broader than “don’t invade Iraq without an occupation plan.” Their anger was not unfounded. The catastrophe happened in part because the structure of the debate allowed too many uninformed hawkish voices and ignored too many informed dovish ones. (As a chastened Iraq War supporter myself, I’ve grown far more cautious about wading into foreign-policy debates for which I lack adequate understanding.)
Mandates, closed schools and Dane County Madison Public Health.
The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”
2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results
Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.
My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results
“An emphasis on adult employment”
Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]
WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators
Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results
Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.
When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?