The state of Massachusetts gives us a tale of two school systems: the public-school system, which is operating only at partial capacity because of its response to COVID, and the Catholic school system, which is chugging almost normally.
In what the Wall Street Journal calls “something rare in the coronavirus debate: common sense,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has cited the Catholic schools as indicators that schools could safely resume operations. The Wall Street Journal quotes Governor Baker:
“The kids in schools are not spreaders of Covid,” he said. “I mean, there’s no better example of that right now than the parochial schools in Massachusetts. They have 28,000 kids and 4,000 employees who have been back in-person learning since the middle of August, and they have a handful of cases.”
Mr. Baker added that hundreds of thousands of public school students have also returned to the classroom under the hybrid model—and there have been only 150 to 160 Covid cases. In short, “real life experience and the research” shows that classrooms “are not a major source of transmission,” he said.
Apparently, schools don’t do a good job with the transmission of learning and skills either. The National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores came on the heels of the Governor’s Comments. According to the assessment, only 37% of high school seniors are proficient or above in reading and only 24% in math. These scores have been pretty consistent for the last five years. The Wall Street Journal invites us to contemplate what the scores will be next year, as our schools remain partially closed.
But schools will remain closed:
The reason for this is an education system in which teachers unions can block or veto the big decisions. “Look at the unspent stimulus funds and state funds that are going to empty buildings,” says Jeanne Allen, CEO of the Center for Education Reform. “They could be used to give families more alternatives to help make a difficult situation better for their kids.”
As Gov. Baker suggests, the positive experience of the parochial schools in handling Covid-19 while reopening their classrooms clearly shows the unions have been wrong to fight school re-openings. But they get away with it because the public schools answer mostly to them and not to the families they are supposed to serve. More school choice is as much a public-health fix as it is an education reform.
If you watch news programs in D.C., you can’t help but be aware that there is a ballot measure in Maryland to spend more money on public education ($38 million for new construction and improvements is requested).
I don’t know much about the needs of the public schools in Maryland and would not comment on this ballot measure without more information.
However, I would be more inclined to spend more money on education only if teachers were rushing back to their existing buildings to eagerly instruct the young.
I imagine, however, the measure will pass handily, as most people have a reluctance to vote “no” on education funding, even when teachers unions are keeping school closed and teachers refuse to set foot in their classroom.