Sunday, May 9, 2021

Should U.S. follow Europe, keep schools open?


Voxitatis has reported that many schools in Maryland and Illinois have decided to postpone any return to in-person learning as key metrics for the spread of Covid-19 spike.

The US has not instituted a nationwide lockdown, and President Donald Trump says he does not plan to order one during his administration. Many European nations, however, have done so to a greater or lesser extent.

In England, the BBC quoted a government scientific adviser as saying the next two weeks will be “absolutely crucial” if the lockdown is to end as planned in the early days of December.

Most of the economy in Ireland has been shut down, and citizens are limited to travel, including travel for exercise, to within 5 kilometers of their homes.

In France, the government has issued what amounts to a lockdown or stay-at-home order for four weeks beginning October 30. Citizens are prohibited from leaving their place of residence except for certain circumstances.

A survey of French citizens has estimated that more than half of them have broken the rules of the lockdown, according to a report on France 24.

K-12 schools in France, however, remain open for in-person learning. “Face masks are compulsory for all children above the age of 6,” the government writes on its Covid-19 page. Schools in many other European countries, including Germany, have also remained open during national lockdowns.

“When I see all the parents who are coming to pick up and drop off, they’re wearing masks,” NPR quoted a German mother of a first-grader as saying. “The teachers are always wearing masks. They’re doing their best to minimize risk. And as soon as something is detected, they are quarantining.”

And while many precautions are effective, including mask-wearing, they may not be enough, and some teachers and parents in Europe still worry.

“We say, yes keep schools open, and keep following the rules for the levels of infection,” The New York Times quoted Heinz-Peter Meidinger, president of the German Teachers Association, as saying. “But do not keep schools open at any price.”

Still, the loss of learning that occurs with remote learning is causing many parents around the world to favor in-person learning over a hybrid or e-learning model.

A considerable and now exponentially growing body of evidence suggests students do not learn as well in an online setting.

One study by Jessica Heppen and colleagues at the American Institutes for Research and the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research randomly assigned students in the Chicago Public Schools who had failed algebra to either a face-to-face or online credit recovery course. “Students in online credit recovery reported that the course was more difficult, were less likely to recover credit, and scored lower on an algebra posttest,” they found.

Other research in US schools suggests that e-learning widens achievement gaps between high-income white and minority or low-income students, mainly because all students fall behind where they would be if they had been attending in-person classes the whole time but minority and poor students tend to fall behind more.

The unacceptable nature of this falling behind from remote learning plans has been called out by several world leaders—not by the American president, but by several others who recognize the importance of social learning and in-person instruction for student learning.

“We cannot and will not allow our children and young people’s futures to be another victim of this disease,” the Times quoted Michael Martin, the Irish prime minister, as saying in a national address. “They need their education.”

In fact, a New York Times editorial advises New Yorkers to keep in-person learning going in America’s largest school district, sacrificing restaurants, bars, and gyms in order to keep the levels of community spread down as much as possible until the population can be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Across the US, teachers and school leaders alike have been noticing the detrimental effect universal e-learning has had. Students are falling more and more behind as the calendar marches on for the 2020-21 school year.

“I think we have this assumption that since they spend all their time on their devices, it’s no big deal for them to learn remotely,” The Wall Street Journal quoted Janella Hinds, a social studies teacher at the High School for Public Service in Brooklyn, as saying. “But being a digital consumer and a digital learner are two different things.”

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.


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