DC Area Schools Not Opening

The lousy hybrid option has been scrapped in favor of a worthless virtual one.

In a stunning reversal to an already-inadequate plan, the local schools are likely going virtual-only for the fall, which will cripple working families and forever stunt the development of young children.

WaPo (“Fairfax, Loudoun, Montgomery call for all-virtual start to school year, scrapping earlier plans“):

In a major reversal, the superintendents of three large public school systems in Virginia and Maryland are calling for an all-virtual start to the fall semester, scrapping earlier plans to offer a mix of in-person and distance learning.

The superintendents of Fairfax County Public Schools and Loudoun County Public Schools, both in Northern Virginia, argued for an online-only start in meetings with their school boards Tuesday. The superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland announced the switch in an email late Tuesday afternoon to parents, students and staffers.All three districts are among the largest and most highly regarded public school systems in the Washington area.

They are all defying intense pressure from the Trump administration, which has urged schools nationwide to reopen their doors five days a week come fall.

In explaining his decision, Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the United States has failed to contain the novel coronavirus. “The covid-19 pandemic looks much different than it did even three weeks ago,” Brabrand told board members during the meeting. “Now we are experiencing a surge of covid-19 across the country, and it will impact us here in Fairfax County. The numbers do not lie.”

The Fairfax County School Board debated the superintendent’s recommendation late into the night Tuesday, in a heated meeting that lasted more than seven hours and at times devolved into a shouting match. Close to 9 p.m., the board took an informal poll at the superintendent’s request, and a majority — nine of 12 members — said they supported the all-virtual option. This consensus agreement, although not a formal vote, allows Brabrand to move forward with planning.


The three announcements, which tumbled out rapid-fire one after the other, left thousands reeling throughout both states. Many residents of Virginia and Maryland — including some members of the Fairfax County School Board — said they felt blindsided by the last-minute recommendations, which came weeks before school is slated to start.

The switches also came days after Fairfax, which enrolls 189,000, and Loudoun, which enrolls 83,000, had formally asked parents to choose between two enrollment options for the fall, an all-virtual plan or a hybrid one. That choice revealed a split: A clear majority of Fairfax parents, 60 percent, chose in-person learning, while a slight majority of Loudoun parents, roughly 51 percent, did. Those who did not respond were counted as selecting in-person learning.

The virus is largely under control locally. The real issue is powerful teachers unions:

Teachers in particular responded with frustration last week as union leaders presented details of what the hybrid approach could involve. In recent days, Montgomery teachers had sent hundreds of emails calling for remote learning for the fall semester — and similar scenes had played out in Fairfax and Loudoun. Surveys in both districts showed teacher support for the online-only option: 52 percent of Fairfax educators indicated a preference for such teaching, and 46 percent of Loudoun teachers.

In part citing these surveys, the superintendents in both Fairfax and Loudoun said in-person schooling would be impractical this fall because too few teachers indicated they would be willing to step back in the classroom. In Fairfax, roughly 10 percent of teachers requested health exemptions under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Brabrand said, and requests for leaves of absence doubled from last year. In Loudoun, Williams said, so many teachers asked for child-care-related leave, requested leaves or resigned from their posts — saying they do not feel confident in the planned safety precautions — that it would be impossible to offer in-person instruction for every student whose family requested it.

Fairfax’s Brabrand asked a handful of principals, whom he had invited to the videoconference, to explain their personnel predicaments. “The bottom line is, without additional staffing — actually having significantly more teachers — we cannot make this work,” said Amy Goodloe, principal of Rocky Run Middle School.

Educator reactions such as these, coupled with concerns about rising coronavirus infection rates, have already persuaded large school systems throughout the country to opt for an online-only start to next school year. Although the science around reopening is inconclusive and it remains unclear how easily children spread the virus to adults, school systems in Los Angeles, San Diego and Atlanta have already picked the all-virtual path.

We had an awful experience with online learning, so I’m angry at this development. Fairfax County is among the richest in the country but the local schools failed us miserably. Despite shutting down for an entire month to plan, they laid an egg. They delayed yet another week and then came back with sporadic instruction for a couple hours a day, with constant connectivity failures. And my then-fifth grader’s teacher relocated to her beach house, which she claims had poor Internet service, and disappeared for days on end.

Still, one sympathizes with the teachers who want to do their jobs but fear for their safety. While young kids seem to be virtually immune from the virus, teachers tend to be older and many are immunocompromised or share a household with someone who is. Further, under the hybrid option, they’re in the same boat as the other parents: having to figure out how to both do their jobs and teach their own kids when they’re not in school.

Private schools, who exist in precisely the same epidemiological environment but who get funded only if they actually provide service, are opening.

When I saw the NYT headline “In the Same Towns, Private Schools Are Reopening While Public Schools Are Not” the other day, my reaction was cynical. But the piece points out that, aside from the financial incentives, they have some decided advantages:

Public schools plan to open not at all or just a few days a week, while many neighboring private schools are opening full time.

Private schools may reverse course if there are outbreaks in their communities, and governors could still shut down all schools if they determine that local infection rates call for it. Some families and teachers won’t feel comfortable returning. But the ways in which private schools are reopening show it can be done with creative ideas — and the money to carry them out.

Public schools, which serve roughly 90 percent of American children, tend to have less money, larger class sizes and less flexibility to make changes to things like the curriculum, facilities or work force.

“The virus is this huge stress test on our education system,” said Robert Pianta, dean of the school of education at the University of Virginia. “It has exposed a great deal of inequity, and we are going to see this only exacerbated in the coming months, not years. Certain kids in certain systems, depending on the resources, are going to get much closer to what looks like a typical high-quality education than others.”

Gretchen Hoff Varner, a lawyer in Alameda, Calif., and the mother of two elementary schoolers who will go to school part time this fall, said public school educators had done a heroic job with what they have. But the fact that they cannot fully open while independent schools can, she said, represents “a failure of political will and resources.”

Locally, at least, the public schools have been far from “heroic.” They’ve been an abject failure. And this is rather silly:

“If we were a country interested in saving schools the same way we’ve saved airlines and banks, then this is a problem we could solve,” said Ms. Hoff Varner, who was the P.T.A. president at her children’s school last year.

Obviously, schools are a much bigger enterprise than airlines. And, presuming she’s referring to the 2008 economic crisis, banks didn’t need to radically restructure their operations; they just needed short-term loans.

Still, public and private schools are often apples and oranges:

Private schools were able to offer much more robust online learning last spring, and research suggests that school closures have widened achievement gaps. Now, as private schools move forward with reopening plans, it’s the children who most need to attend in-person school — those lacking the necessary technology for online learning, or with parents unequipped to oversee it — who will tend to be the least likely to do so.

The biggest challenge for schools is how to maintain physical distance, as required by guidelines from state governments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most countries where schools have opened after reducing infection levels and imposing distancing measures have not had outbreaks.

It generally means capping classes at around a dozen. Public school buildings in the United States are often old, with small classrooms, cramped hallways and outdated ventilation systems. Independent schools (private schools not run by a for-profit company or religious organization) are more likely to have smaller class sizes to begin with, and money to hire additional teachers.

Additionally, there are some serious disparities in how schools are funded:

Public schools faced a funding crisis even before the pandemic. K-12 schools received $13.5 billion from the federal coronavirus relief package in March (though Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has required that it be shared with private schools). School officials and education policy researchers say that the money was not nearly enough, and that because states are facing budget shortfalls because of lockdowns, schools would need a huge federal infusion of cash to reopen for all students. An average district with 3,700 students and eight buildings would need to spend an additional $1.8 million on health and safety measures, a report estimated.

“There’s a giant hole in state and local tax revenue due to not bringing in money over the past months,” said Sarah Cohodes, an associate professor of economics and education at Teachers College at Columbia. “Schools need more money. The money needs to come tomorrow. There’s no way anything can happen without the money.”

In Fairfax County, schools are mostly funded with property taxes, which are only going up. (According to their budget documents, 71.3 percent of their budget is funded by the county, 23.3 percent by the state, 1.5 percent by the federal government, and 3.4 percent from “other sources.”) Presumably, that doesn’t include the $5.2 million grant under the CARES Act to fund additional nurses, cleaning, etc. (the need for which is not obvious if they’re not open).

I’m more than a little bit frustrated at how poorly this has been managed and remain shocked that Scott Braband has not been fired for his rank incompetence. But, of course, his ineptitude has been exceeded by orders of magnitude by President Trump and his administration, who blew it every way possible in responding to the pandemic.

Most obviously, we’ve failed to contain the virus. Or even get testing in place. Indeed, we’re falling further behind.

As to the schools themselves:

We blew schools. Congress allocated $150 billion for state and local governments as part of the CARES Act, but that was aimed at maintaining status services in the face of plummeting tax revenue.

*There was no money earmarked for schools to buy new safety equipment, nor to hire additional teachers who might be needed to staff smaller class sizes and hybrid learning days.

*U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was not among the 27 officials included in the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and rarely appeared at Task Force press conferences.

*The administration insists that schools should reopen this fall because kids are less likely to get very sick from the virus, but it has not yet offered detailed plans to protect older teachers, at-risk family members, or students with pre-existing respiratory or immune conditions.

*Silicon Valley provided some free services to schools, but there was no coordinated effort to create a streamlined virtual learning platform. There also continue to be millions of schoolkids without access to broadband and/or Internet-connected devices.

Granting that Betsy DeVos’ presence would have been anything but helpful, it’s clear the administration simultaneously understood the political necessity of getting schools back open while doing nothing to facilitate it.

Parents are rightly outraged that we’re still in this situation months into the crisis and with no end in sight. There’s plenty of blame to go around but it all starts at the top.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Scott says:

    One, schools are, by and large, a local function and responsibility. The public spends too much time listening the Trump and DeVos, when realistically, they have very little say or little knowledge. Each school district has to find its own way. Rural districts will be different than urban which will be different than suburban. Wealthy different than poor. Some districts provide high amount of services while others are lacking.

    Also, like it or not, the public school systems is a lot more than education. It is also a vital part the economy in terms of child care. People depend on the schools to fulfill that function.

    There is no one plan that can work and there will be a lot of trial and error and turbulence as various district try things that work and thing that won’t. Part of that turbulence will be personnel turnover. I happen to live in a neighborhood with a lot of teachers (including my wife who is now a school counselor). Our next door neighbor just told us yesterday that she is taking early retirement (she’s 55) rather than go back. This is just 12 days before teachers were to be back in the buildings. I think the rate of turnover will be high.

    Unfortunately, people have gotten use to view education as a consumer transaction. It is not. In reality, we use the schools to help raise our children.

  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    The virus is largely under control locally.

    The State of Connecticut would disagree. Virginia is one of 31 states that fall into our travel advisory.

    Executive Order Regarding Travel: Pursuant to Governor Lamont’s Executive Order No. 7III, anyone traveling into Connecticut from a state that has a new daily positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or a state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average to self-quarantine for a 14-day period from the time of last contact within the identified state.

    You are correct about one thing. The Trump Plague has been mismanaged from the very top.

  3. Tyrell says:

    Then the taxpayers are due a big tax cut since the schools are shut down.
    The middle and low income parents who want to put their children in private schools with real teaching going on should be given some sort of vouchers. The rich people have the money.

  4. Jen says:

    “The virus is under control locally.”

    This isn’t how viruses work, and I know you realize that. “Locally” doesn’t mean anything if it’s still a problem elsewhere in the state, which it is. One person deciding to go visit a family member on the other side of the state is all it takes.

    There is no good answer for this. None. NH is reopening schools, with NO statewide mask mandate. That’s left completely up to local school districts. So far, the Manchester school district has opted to delay opening by a week and is implementing a mask mandate for the students in Manchester schools.

    Rural communities think they are in the clear, which is probably going to be a problem at some point. One school district has reported enrollment levels three times higher than normal–apparently, people who decamped to their summer homes have decided to wait out the virus in NH. Teachers and schools have no idea what they are going to do–faced with the need to physically distance students, they now have a booming and unexpectedly high numbers of students.

    It’s only a matter of time before someone decides to head home and pick up a few things, stops and sees a few friends in the meantime, and then pops back up to NH, causing an outbreak. Or someone goes and visits family out of state.

    People are already starting to get sloppy here. My guess is that we’ll see a rolling number of schools opening and shutting to address outbreaks, causing all kinds of havoc–particularly for parents.

    This assumes that we’re even able to open. We already had a school bus driver shortage and it’s getting worse. We already had a substitute teacher shortage, and that too, is getting worse. Older teachers are considering retiring.

    There are no good options.

  5. Scott says:

    @Tyrell: I don’t know about North Carolina but where I sit, the schools are not shut down. Here in our 60k student school district (San Antonio, TX, a COVID-19 hot spot), the school administrative staff reported on Monday as scheduled, additional staff return 3 Aug, teachers 10 Aug, and classes start 17 Aug. The plan is adjusted regularly depending on state guidance. First three weeks will be remote. Meals will still be delivered, staff paid, A/C and lights on, bond debt repaid. And I’ll say it again. Education is not a consumer good.

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    The measure of hypocrisy around this topic:
    Rick Scott (R-FL) wants Florida Schools opened.
    But not for HIS grandchildren.

    “My daughters are going to be more focused on, you know, distance learning right now to make sure their children are safe.

    We are now 6 months into this. Had there been leadership from the top – specifically the White House – we would have this largely under control by now…and be bracing for the oncoming flu season.
    What NY and CT have done is not that complicated. I live in CT and I can tell you that it has not ruined my life or taken away my freedom.
    There is no reason it could not have been done nationwide.
    Unfortunately Republicans, at some point, became universally dumb.
    Now the price for that duncification is paying paid for by thousands of deaths due to the Trump Plague.

  7. Kathy says:

    While young kids seem to be virtually immune from the virus,

    I understand your frustration, but this is imply not so. Children can get infected, they can transmit the virus, some get sick, and some have died.

    Yes, they seem to fall ill and die at far, far lower rates than adults, but they can still bring the virus home to their adult parents, and in some cases a more extended family

    The truth is there are no safe options, no easy answers, and very little support, guidance, or leadership from the government.

  8. SKI says:

    The virus is largely under control locally.

    No, it isn’t. I work at a large DC health care entity. We are seeing spikes in positivity rates, confirmed positives and the R0 is over 1.0 again. The lead physician in charge of our testing tent announced yesterday morning that she spent the weekend calling positive patients in numbers not seen since March and April.

    As the father of three high school kids, one of whom is a rising senior and doing college tours virtually and may not be able to actually take the SATs, I assure you I understand how much this freaking sucks. But it is also the correct decision.

    My oldest, who is in a non-public placement for autism, is missing most of his services and we are very concerned. But even his school, Kennedy Krieger High School, which is owned, managed and funded by John Hopkins and has all the resources in the world, in terms of technology, health care and public safety, made the decision to go virtual only for the first semester. It is the only responsible and appropriate decision.

  9. SKI says:


    Then the taxpayers are due a big tax cut since the schools are shut down.

    They aren’t “shut down”. They are providing education remotely. That is likely as, if not more, expensive given the investments in technology that are required. Our local school district is buying an additional 45,000 chromebooks to try to make sure everyone has access.

  10. Moosebreath says:

    I watched with my daughter going into 10th grade last night a 4 hour school board meeting on Youtube on this issue, largely to explain their proposal and get parent comments, for our district in the Philly suburbs. The actual voting will be Thursday night.

    They are proposing that the parents determine for each child whether they will have a 2 day in school, 3 day remote learning hybrid (with 2 groups of kids in school 2 days a week each, plus a day for deep cleaning once per week) or a fully remote learning plan. My daughter had a Skype chat with her besties afterwards, then sent a list of questions to the school principal, but is leaning towards going fully remote.

  11. Tyrell says:

    @SKI: Our county has had four infections, those were back in March. No deaths. The car wreck fatalities have been higher this year for some reason. I am more concerned about that. I have been run off the road a few times by people on their phones, and some near misses with the deer.

  12. Gromitt Gunn says:

    My barber told me the other day (yes, we were both masked) that they want to take the local online-only option for their two kids, but that they can only do it if his wife is able to work from home in the Fall so she can supervise the kids’ homeschooling while she works.

    The reason that his wife doesn’t know if she will be able to work from home? She’s a teacher.

    Which then led to the discussion of how ridiculous this whole round-robin is going to be. If one of their kids has to quarantine, then she’ll have to use her sick time to stay home as well. So now her class will need a long-term substitute.

    If she’s the one who has to quarantine, then she’ll have to switch their kids to online-only and then switch them back. And presumably the same will be true for all of her students, who will have had the same exposure event that she does.

    Their son will roll with the punches either way, but their daughter needs routine in order to stay focused. And what are her students’ parents going to do if they don’t know from week to week whether or not they will have to find arrangements for their kids to be home.

    Etc. Etc. Etc.

    Many school districts in Texas have nurses, librarians, counselors, reading specialists, OTs, PTs, diagnosticians, who travel from school to school. As do subs. One exposure will lead to a giant ripple throughout the district.

    The whole thing is ridiculous and avoidable. The only realistic and workable solution is to have 100% online learning through the end of 2020, at minimum, and subsidize (again, at minimum) one caregiver per household to take point.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I keep reading of parents saying, “No, I am not sending my child to school under these present conditions.” Everyone I know with school aged children and the ability are keeping them out. The ones who don’t have the ability are screaming mad that the situation is so F’d up that they feel like they are playing Russian roulette.

    We all know that sooner or later the hammer falls on a loaded chamber.

  14. SKI says:

    @Tyrell: Congratulations. You apparently live in an area with very few people, little travel – and almost no testing.

    James doesn’t.

  15. SKI says:

    Something to keep in mind: Israel had their outbreak completely under control. Then they reopened schools. Within two weeks, those schools became hotspots.

  16. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    Within two weeks, those schools became hotspots.

    Of course they did. Schools can’t control head lice. How are they going to control a virulent virus?

  17. Jen says:


    Within two weeks, those schools became hotspots.

    And, if I’m remembering correctly, fully half of the infections in the entire country in the weeks following could be traced back to a school. Notably, they were able to determine this because they have contact tracing.

  18. Gustopher says:

    James, I am sorry that you are unable to force people to care for many children without adequate safety precautions during an outbreak of an incredibly contagious disease. Particularly the vulnerable people — the over 50 teachers and staff, and the ones with pre-existing conditions.

    Seriously, I get that you’re frustrated, but that’s what you’re asking people to do.

    Europe and Canada are in a better spot to attempt to reopen because they took the virus seriously and shut down hard, and now can handle it with testing and contact tracing. And it still might blow up in their faces.

    We tried to take the easy way out, except it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t a way out. We half-assed it. And these are the consequences.

    We don’t have hard borders internally — virus can and will spread with people. And having it under control locally means little in that scenario. It means something, but not really enough.

    And, children over 10 spread the disease as well as adults do, they just aren’t symptomatic as often. So, we would be mixing the trust circles of every family that enrolls their kids in classes, and checking for fevers won’t be good enough. And we don’t have virus testing where it needs to be.

    Teachers get basically every illness that spreads through schools. This is a deadly and debilitating illness. I can see why the teachers might object. And their powerful teachers union.

    Thinking that we can open schools right now and not then shut them down less than a month later after infecting a whole bunch of people is just magical thinking.

  19. ptfe says:

    James, I live in Fairfax Co too, and we were all expecting this. Unless you were willing to treat this virus as “just the sniffles”, there was no way you could think your kids were going to have a realistic in-person school option.

    Consider what FCPS presented:

    1. Schools open 4 days a week, students go only 2 of those days.

    Now the scenario: One kid wakes up Monday morning with COVID symptoms. They get tested, miss Tuesday class (now missing 1/2 of all classes that week), don’t get results back until Thursday (have now missed a week of class). Meanwhile, what’s the class doing? They’ve all been around this kid, so…are they quarantined? Just the neighboring kids? Do they contact trace that kid and quarantine all the kids s/he interacted with? You probably at least have to test several students. So maybe you test them on Tuesday, they get results back on Friday (all those kids will have missed the whole week of class).

    The worst scenario is that the sick kid comes back positive along with several others in the class and a teacher. Now you’ve got a full-on outbreak and you have to shut down that teacher’s classes for the next two weeks (kids are now out 3 weeks of class, maybe a month if the timing is bad). So those kids are virtual at this point.

    2. Virtual-only. Buy a bunch of Chromebooks. Cut out the contact tracing and the quarantining and all that decision-making. Spend the next 2 months getting the details worked out. Get as many extracurricular programs up and active as you can.

    I dunno, seems like (2) is the only viable option here.

    But, you know, I’m rich enough to be able to afford to get my kids (also rising 6th, plus a rising 3rd) the supplies they need and make sure they can make something of the year in spite of having limited resources – unfortunately it’s because my wife and I both work, which means we have to share a space with attention-needy children, which makes me work longer hours overall.

    The other wrench in the works is special needs children whose parents can’t afford (financially, professionally, or otherwise) to give them the kind of attention and care they require at home to minimally service their educational needs, and who will not be able to realistically participate in online classes. They’re hung out to dry. I honestly expected FCPS to come back with a plan to open schools only for special education and those with specific in-person service needs (some of those “special education” kids are those with run-of-the mill learning or behavioral disorders that might be managed remotely; some of those not tagged for “special education” might have otherwise unaccounted-for issues that make remote learning difficult/impossible), with expanded payroll to accommodate just those groups.

    I’m just glad it’s not my responsibility to sort all this out. The situation is ugly, and it’s not going to get better for several months.

  20. ptfe says:

    Addendum: I think parents sending their kids to private schools – and the private schools themselves – are going to be facing a bigger problem that they’re willing to admit the first time one of the kids shows COVID symptoms.

  21. inhumans99 says:


    Well, the GOP has been pushing vouchers that can help send poor-middle class students to private/charter schools for quite some time.

    Here’s the thing, if they went for that as a solution than there goes that ideal class room size of no more than 12 students in one room. This is where the wealthy have an advantage as the majority of schools are tasked to accommodate as many students as possible and many teachers are dealing with classrooms filled with 20-35+ students. The private schools can cap the class room size and right now do not have to take on a new flood of students. If they did they might have the money to lease some new property to house the students and funds to hire more teachers but even that has its limits.

    I come from a family of educators, you are an educator…seeing DeVos and Trump lecture everyone about how the schools must open but doing nothing to help the schools adjust to the new normal should be galling to you.

    Washington needs to get off its butt and do something, at the very least throwing a lot of money at this problem would help (but again, the money needs to be wisely spent…hire new teachers, lease new space needed to house the students from classrooms that are required to cut their size by half or more, etc.).

    Instead McConnell wants to focus on payroll tax cuts, and insulating firms from being sued during the pandemic…he is so out of touch with reality that I would not be surprised if even die-hard members of the GOP base start to notice.

  22. JKB says:

    Well, obviously the transmissionism that is the failed basis of our modern schooling works even less online. To that end, this “school helplessness” has to be broken if we hope to save any kids at all

    But, if you just listen to the lecture, you probably don’t walk away with all that much, except perhaps excitement, emotion, things like that. And that’s because lectures, like books–as I was describing before–are sort of founded on this transmissionism notion: the notion is that ‘I as the teacher can get up there and say a bunch of words; then you’ll know stuff.’
    –‘Andy Matuschak on Books and Learning’, Econtalk podcast, August 2019

    In spite of the fact that schools exist for the sake of education, there is many a school whose pupils show a peculiar “school helplessness”; that is, they are capable of less initiative in connection with their school tasks than they commonly exhibit in the accomplishment of other tasks.

    –‘How to Study and Teaching How to Study’ (1909) by F. M. McMurry, Professor of Elementary Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

    To that end, McMurry’s book is an excellent resource. The one thing the schooling system will not teach students…is how to do their job, i.e., study. Students are admonished to study, but given no skills on how to process a book or lecture so that the knowledge might become part of their knowledge. Kids are naturally learners, but without training, they slowly over the years dwindle away through frustration at trying to keep up using “muscular study” methods. And coupled with the perverse incentive of schooling toward good grades instead of real knowledge, the good students simply learn to game the system better than the “bad” students, who fall behind because they’ve reached the limit of their ability to “hack” the tests or simply survive schooling in boredom while pursuing real knowledge in areas of interest.

    Even though I was a diligent student, almost all the work I did in school was aimed at getting a good grade on something.

    To many people, it would seem strange that the preceding sentence has a “though” in it. Aren’t I merely stating a tautology? Isn’t that what a diligent student is, a straight-A student? That’s how deeply the conflation of learning with grades has infused our culture.

    Is it so bad if learning is conflated with grades? Yes, it is bad. And it wasn’t till decades after college, when I was running Y Combinator, that I realized how bad it is.

    I knew of course when I was a student that studying for a test is far from identical with actual learning. At the very least, you don’t retain knowledge you cram into your head the night before an exam. But the problem is worse than that. The real problem is that most tests don’t come close to measuring what they’re supposed to.

    If tests truly were tests of learning, things wouldn’t be so bad. Getting good grades and learning would converge, just a little late. The problem is that nearly all tests given to students are terribly hackable. Most people who’ve gotten good grades know this, and know it so well they’ve ceased even to question it. You’ll see when you realize how naive it sounds to act otherwise.
    –‘The Lesson to Unlearn’, essays, PaulGraham.com, December 2019

    Helping kids learn how to learn will let them continue their education even while their schooling system is in disarray. It does have the danger that once awoken to real learning the kids won’t easily go back into helplessness and dependence pushed by the education cartel.

    When I was in school staring at a book trying to study, I wondered at how one learned. I wrongly assumed, no one knew. If you look at the “study advice” at even the elite colleges and prep schools, you get the same “quiet place, no interruptions, etc” so that you’d think no one knew. But then I found ‘How to Study and Teaching How to Study’, a well cited book prior to the 1920s, which made me wonder, why did the education cartel “lose” this knowledge so that it isn’t taught to students. I developed a variation on my own, did well in school, but not every student will reinvent the wheel and shouldn’t have to since they could be taught.

  23. Mikey says:


    James, I am sorry that you are unable to force people to care for many children without adequate safety precautions during an outbreak of an incredibly contagious disease. Particularly the vulnerable people — the over 50 teachers and staff, and the ones with pre-existing conditions.

    Seriously, I get that you’re frustrated, but that’s what you’re asking people to do.

    A Googolplex times this.

    I have a wife and several close friends who work for FCPS. NONE of them were in favor of in-person instruction. There is no fucking way they would be adequately protected. It’s impossible given how badly America has handled this virus.

    And that choice will cost my family money, because unemployment won’t make up for my wife’s lost wages. But we’d rather that than her or me dying, you know?

  24. MarkedMan says:

    @Scott: I wish Texas all the luck in the world but four weeks ago Texas was averaging about 25 C19 deaths a day. Three weeks ago: 35. Two weeks ago, 85. Last week, 125. You are asking Teachers, minimum wage janitors, cafeteria workers, and administrators to literally trust their lives and the lives of their loved ones to the same government that can’t bring themselves to enact a mandatory mask policy. Why should they trust a single word Texas state officials utter? My god, the Lt. Governor is on record advocating that those in their 70’s accept their deaths as inevitable. Why should teachers risk it all?

  25. MarkedMan says:

    @Tyrell: You have deer that use phones there? Where exactly do you live!?

  26. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    The one thing the schooling system will not teach students…is how to do their job, i.e., study. Students are admonished to study, but given no skills on how to process a book or lecture so that the knowledge might become part of their knowledge.

    For decades you Republicanists have pigeonholed the education profession into teaching “the test.” Now you are using the success of that campaign to denigrate the education profession.
    You reep what you sow, bubba.

  27. DrDaveT says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    The State of Connecticut would disagree. Virginia is one of 31 states that fall into our travel advisory.

    Both Maryland and Virginia were added to NY state’s mandatory self-quarantine list this past week, on the basis of new case growth above the threshold that had been set.

  28. raoul says:

    “… [F]orever stunt the development of young children”. Because before the 20th century (when compulsory schooling become the standard) all children were forever stunted. Now I know why it took so long for modernity to arrive.

  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tyrell: Your county is very lucky. Where I live, we didn’t even START our Covid-19 epidemic until after the state opened back up. We currently have roughly 400% more active cases than we had total cases on Memorial Day and are on pace to have an infection rate of just under 4% annually if we keep the pace we are currently on.

    Of course, the garden supplies/hardware store that decided to have a massive Memorial Day sale on his first day of business, post Covid and the “concerned citizen” who was determined to have a Fourth of July festival at the biggest city park probably didn’t help any. But “stupid is as stupid does,” so my advice is to be thankful that you’ve been dodging the bullet so far and to not press your forking luck.

  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @raoul: Yeah, a wee bit over the top there.

  31. Scott says:

    @MarkedMan: Yeah, I know. My wife and I were thinking about risk mitigation strategies if she has to physically work in her elementary school. As a school counselor to small children (in a low socioeconomic school no less), she will be in contact with all kinds of COVID vectors. Right now, besides being ultra careful on campus, we’re talking about coming in through the garage, immediately disrobing and throwing the clothes in the washer, and crossing the hall to the shower. Every day.

  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:
  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Well as a friend of mine noted earlier, the peons must work. How else will our lives continue uninterrupted?


    Thinking that we can open schools right now and not then shut them down less than a month later after infecting a whole bunch of people is just magical thinking.

    Respectfully, I disagree; it’s not merely magical thinking, it’s also stupid.

  34. Just nu-tha ignint cracker says:

    @raoul: Indeed!
    @OzarkHillbilly: Just a skosh

  35. Schools, sports and anything else that involves a lot of people who are not in tight highly correlated social interaction units (families, pods etc) interacting with each other indoors is problematic until we get one of three things accomplished:

    1) Stomping community transmission by hyper aggressive testing-tracing-isolating that can keep local clusters from becoming community hot-spots. We can’t do this right now as we don’t have the testing, we don’t have the isolation capacity and we have way too many people who cry FREEDUMB when asked to wear masks in public. We can’t do this as we have prioritized opening bars rather than opening schools.

    New York, New Jersey, and New England are getting real close to suppressing community spread as they as a collective entity had their asses kicked in April and are reacting accordingly and have the public/political support to make hard choices and suppress the virus.

    2) Wait for effective vaccines for 60-85% of the population

    3) Put up with 50,000 to 100,000 new infections per day with 1,000-2,500 excess deaths per day until 60% to 85% of the surviving population has immunity and a significant percentage of the population has new chronic conditions and after effects.

    #1 and #2 can be a combined strategy. #2 and #3 can be a combined strategy.

    Right now the implied federal policy is mostly #3 while waiting for #2. The first million doses of a vaccine might be available Q4 2020. The first 100,000,000 doses won’t be available until mid-2021.

    As PTFE notes above, how the hell is a school supposed to handle unexpected quarantines. Individuals who are in close contact with infected individuals are supposed to quarantine for 14 days. If my 7th grader was to be infected during a period that involved in-school/in-person instruction while she was still infectious, a school that is following current CDC guidelines is highly likely going to need to quarantine six classes per day. Given that she is part of a cluster of kids who take the same electives, this is “only” 50 to 75 kids and 6 teachers and 3 teaching assistants who in the absence of significant social distancing would need to be quarantined. Now with social distancing and 50% capacity, maybe only 20 kids and 6 teachers would need to be quarantined. Where are the replacement teachers coming from?

    We only get schools (and most other things) when we either accept hundreds of thousands of additional deaths OR get fucking serious about suppressing community spread by using a proven public health playbook.

  36. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: @Mikey: I fully understand why teachers would be reluctant to return to the classroom—but the vast majority of the workforce has in fact managed to return to work at this point. While circumstances may still force us to go remote, we’re fully planning on teaching mostly in-person a month from now. Our youngest faculty members are in their early 40s and most of the civilian PhDs are in their 50s, with a couple in their 60s and at least one well into his 70s. And our students are much more likely to get and transmit the disease than are grade schoolers.

  37. James Joyner says:

    @raoul: @OzarkHillbilly: @Just nu-tha ignint cracker: It’s probably not a huge deal for those in the senior grades. But those in elementary school are basically missing a year of school they’ll never catch up on. The pediatricians are adamant on that point.

    We’re living in a whole different cognitive universe than was the case in the 1800s.

  38. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    I fully understand why teachers would be reluctant to return to the classroom—but the vast majority of the workforce has in fact managed to return to work at this point.

    This isn’t remotely close to true in our area if you take “return to work” to be in person.

    I’m literally sitting in Foggy Bottom right now (trying to decide how much longer it will take me to go pick up my son given the storm and therefore how much earlier I will need to leave). I don’t think 10% of the workforce here in DC is downtown. No food trucks, less than half of the restaurants are open and the ones that are are empty and running with almost no staff. Of my team of 8 in compliance, we average less than one person a day actually in the office. None of the legal department has been in in months.

    I get you are frustrated but c’mon, be honest about what is happening here and what isn’t.

  39. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @James Joyner:

    but the vast majority of the workforce has in fact managed to return to work at this point.

    But the majority of the workforce doesn’t go to work in a petri dish.

  40. inhumans99 says:

    Apologies, another post on this subject folks. I have been thinking about this, pre-covid many school districts were struggling and this is when tax revenues were not greatly reduced due to such high unemployment numbers but now revenues are reduced, many teachers have decided that now is a convenient time to retire, and Covid is still raging across the U.S. and we are screaming at them to open up but do it safely, reduce the number of students in each classroom, have them social distance, and we are good to go.

    At this moment schools need tons of money to expand classroom capacity (lease new buildings etc., as I noted earlier up thread) and we are just not working to get them the money they need.

    I think it is just beyond the pale that McConnell is not making safe school re-openings a priority and instead I can practically picture him drooling with anticipation over the thought of being able to install another Supreme on the bench in the possibly very near future. He is so fixated on this possibility that he is ignoring the storm raging around him.

    Those anti abortion folks he loves to please, well…I bet they would love it if schools could take their precious ankle-biters off their hands for 6-8 hours of their day but that is not going to happen if schools do not get the resources they need. Get schools up and running McConnell, then go back to salivating at the thought of being able to install another Supreme Court Justice.

    Seriously, it is a bit odd that Red State citizens are not pushing their local Politicians much harder to get schools up and running safely so the parents can get some freedom from being cooped up with their kids for an entire day.

  41. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: You’d be surprised at what kids can adapt to and how resilient they are. I am not saying there won’t be long term effects, there will be, just that in the long term I doubt they will be all that bad.

    At least not as bad as the long term effects of a covid infection, which some young children do get (Kawasaki syndrome anyone?). And not as bad as bringing it home and infecting their parents and possibly becoming an orphan. And certainly not as bad as death.

    The truth is James, we are just beginning to learn about covid and so far we have barely scratched the surface. The one thing we do know about Covid is that we are no where near having this outbreak under control.

  42. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: but the vast majority of the workforce has in fact managed to return to work at this point.

    I finally found where I read something a little more precise than “the vast majority.”

    For several weeks, real-time data has suggested that the economic recovery could be stalling in the United States. But new data from the Census Bureau on Wednesday reveals that employment has taken a significant hit and the economy could be declining again.

    The New York Times reported Wednesday, that new data from the Census Bureau showed that the number of employed people fell by more than 4 million last week — marking the fourth consecutive week of decline. The Times reported that the data, if taken literally, may indicate that job gains that were once touted by President Donal Trump may have been lost since mid-May, when new coronavirus cases surged in parts of the country.

    Just under 52 percent of American adults were employed last week, according the survey, down from 54 percent in June.

    I don’t know what percentage of adults were working back in December or January, so I have no idea of what context to put that 52% in. About the Pulse Survey:

    The data comes from the bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey, an experimental effort to track the pandemic’s economic impact. The survey’s track record, although brief, has been solid. It correctly signaled, for example, the significant rise in employment in the jobs report for June, the Times said.

    We’ll see how it holds up.

  43. Tyrell says:

    @inhumans99: The big trend in education for the past two decades has been co-operative learning and partner learning. Students sit and work in groups. It will be hard for them and the teachers to suddenly switch to an entirely different style of teaching and classroom arrangement with students spread way apart.
    The teachers are allocated by membership numbers. If they have too low membership, the school loses teachers. Classrooms of thirty students are common, even teachers are expected to individualize. Smaller class sizes have been teachers’ dreams.
    I don’t see how the state’s public schools will meet their requirements of attendance and the all important instructional time. Back in March a lot of students got their Chromebooks and did not check in. Many students were on their own, alone. Many children want to be in school. Parents who have been at home with kids since March are ready for them to be back in school. A few will home school, especially parents who know how to teach math.
    Three big problems in today’s schools: parental involvement, top-down management from administrators who have little or no real classroom experience, and heavy reliance on standardized tests. “If it’s not on the test don’t teach it”

  44. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner: There are few workplaces that can compare to schools in terms of close and lengthy contact, and those workplaces are often drivers of COVID-19 spread.

    The biggest sticking point among FCPS teachers and staff was the obvious inability of the district to minimize risk to an acceptable level. And that’s certainly not a slam on the district, because no school district in America will be able to do that when returning to in-person instruction. At this point, it’s impossible. There is simply no way to structure the environment–especially among younger kids who are less likely to comply–in a way that won’t result in hugely disruptive (and too often deadly) outbreaks. We lack the necessary infrastructures of testing and tracing and we can’t even outfit medical staff with sufficient PPE, let alone enormous school districts with tens of thousands of employees and hundreds of thousands of students.

    Had America displayed the levels of leadership and competence we brag about, if we actually were The Greatest Nation On Earth!!!, we could join the other nations that have succeeded in even partially returning students to classrooms. Sadly, at this point there is simply no way to do so safely. FCPS and the other DC-area districts that have chosen to start the schoolyear fully distance learning made the right decision for teachers, staff, and students.

    And again, I say this as someone who’s likely going to take a big hit to the pocketbook unless they somehow decide to pay staff their contracted hours to stay home. Yes, it will be rough for a while, but I’d rather be a bit poorer and a lot more alive.

  45. An Interested Party says:

    Sadly, one of the most important lessons of all of this mess, that elections have consequences, won’t be learned by all the people who need to learn that lesson…yes, many people will not vote for the disaster in the White House again, but many will…forget a return to normalcy, it would be nice to have a return to competence…

  46. Michael Reynolds says:

    We lived in Tuscany for seven months when our kids were like 7 and 5. We attempted home-schooling. It didn’t work.

    I cannot condemn any parent for starting to lose their shit with kids at home all the time and everything outside the home in lockdown. When we moved back to the States we sent them to private schools, then to excellent Marin County high schools where, as far as I can tell, one learned to outthink, outlast and outplay the system, and other learned to throw pots.

    Schools are 80% babysitting, 20% education. It wasn’t the home-schooling that was a problem for my kids, it was the schools. As it had been for me. I don’t see how anyone of spirit can stand the places. Sit in a specified place for a specified time and shift your brain from the poetry you weren’t learning in the previous class to the algebra you won’t learn in this class. It’s an absurd system in theory, soul-crushing and mind-numbing in practice.

    School is a highway where the speed limit is 50, but a third of the class can only manage 25 and another third stall out when they drop under 100, and maybe 10% have even the slightest interest in, or talent for, the subject being taught.

    Maybe we should take advantage of this crisis to ask ourselves why we conflate education and childcare, and whether school is about the kids or about the parents just needing someone to watch the kids.

  47. Gustopher says:


    Seriously, it is a bit odd that Red State citizens are not pushing their local Politicians much harder to get schools up and running safely so the parents can get some freedom from being cooped up with their kids for an entire day.

    Skip the word “safely” and there is that pressure. You’re seeing it here from our fine host, who ought to know better but is frustrated and angry because the news is coming 6 weeks before the start of the year.

    @James Joyner:

    Our youngest faculty members are in their early 40s and most of the civilian PhDs are in their 50s, with a couple in their 60s and at least one well into his 70s. And our students are much more likely to get and transmit the disease than are grade schoolers.

    Israel is the first country that tried to reopen schools, and it didn’t go well.

    And you folks teach adults, right? Fairly disciplined adults? Adults who are going to follow instructions on masks and the like?

    That’s not 6th graders. Over 10 years old, so the best evidence says that they spread like an adult (less likely to get severe symptoms) and with underdeveloped self control. Teachers routinely get every cold and flu that comes to school.

    What works for one age group won’t work for others.

    Yes, there is absolutely harm in keeping kids home this long. That means we need to have a real plan, and not be winging it after half-assing all our other responses.

    Do you know what else harms children? Losing parents and loved ones because they carried a disease home. Also, covid, but we don’t know how much aside from the worst cases.

  48. Jen says:

    @Gustopher: I was reading the experience of some teachers, I believe in Asia. They said that younger children generally did as directed, and teens in high school were mature enough to understand the risks* so those two groups were generally compliant about wearing masks. The tweens/middle schoolers though…forget it.

    * Even this, I found interesting, because here in the US it’s generally accepted that NO kids, at any age, will follow instructions. While I generally admire spunk and pluck, I don’t wonder but what our fascination with independence is really biting us in the collective @ss here in America.

  49. Teve says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    School is a highway where the speed limit is 50, but a third of the class can only manage 25 and another third stall out when they drop under 100, and maybe 10% have even the slightest interest in, or talent for, the subject being taught.

    I agree with that approximately. What is a good goal though is to have everyone possible have a basic education because you don’t want a society of nimrods. The big problem with dealing with the fact you mentioned is that school has become a credentialing system that impacts every walk of life now.

  50. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    But those in elementary school are basically missing a year of school they’ll never catch up on. The pediatricians are adamant on that point.


    These are the same elementary school kids who are now, on average, a full year older than my classes were when I was that age, because their parents have held them back to be more mature at each grade level (and more mature than any kids who weren’t held back) than before. None of them think they are permanently disadvantaging their kids by doing that… and they are right.

  51. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: The other half of the problem is that we are only interested in the fates/futures of the students who aspire/have the wherewithal to move on to higher education. The others are mostly being warehoused. Sadly, I don’t know how to fix that in a system where the purpose of education is credentializing a population in which we’ve decided to gut working class wages as much as we can.

  52. Teve says:

    I take what the pediatricians said about the young children seriously, but there’s also this from an NPR story about the AAP:

    However, these guidelines don’t necessarily address the health concerns of America’s teachers or their willingness to return to in-person teaching. Federal data show nearly a third of teachers are over 50, putting them in a higher risk category when it comes to the disease.

    Seems like the pediatricians report said when safe, it’s very important to get the kids back to school. The report didn’t say do it at all costs.

  53. James Joyner says:


    I don’t think 10% of the workforce here in DC is downtown. No food trucks, less than half of the restaurants are open and the ones that are are empty and running with almost no staff. Of my team of 8 in compliance, we average less than one person a day actually in the office. None of the legal department has been in in months.

    Virginia is in Phase 3. Virtually every business has been open for the past month:

    Restaurants and beverage services may operate with at least six feet of spacing between tables.
    Farmers markets may operate with six feet of physical distance maintained between patrons (including between tables and persons on public sidewalks).
    Non-essential retail may operate with six feet of physical distance maintained between patrons.
    Personal care and personal grooming services may operate with six feet of separation between stations and clients.
    Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, and indoor exercise facilities may operate at up to 75% occupancy load with at least 10 feet of spacing between individuals.
    Indoor and outdoor swimming pools may operate at up to 75% occupancy load with at least 10 feet of physical distance between individuals not from the same household.
    Private campgrounds may operate while limiting on-site social gatherings to less than 250.
    Performing arts venues, concert venues, movie theaters, drive-in entertainment, sports venues, botanical gardens, zoos, fairs, carnivals, amusement parks, museums, aquariums, historic horse racing facilities, bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, carnivals, arts and craft facilities, escape rooms, trampoline parks, public and private social clubs, and all other entertainment centers and places of public amusement may operate at the lesser of 50% of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy, if applicable, or 1000 patrons.
    Horse and livestock shows may operate at up to 50% occupancy load or 250 persons, with six feet of physical distance maintained between persons not from the same household.

    We’re open for business but delayed the academic year’s start by a month. But the students in our follow-on course and their faculty are back at it. Or new faculty have been getting up-to-speed in house since last week. The rest of us report back full time a week from today. We’ll have a full house of students a month from now.

  54. Moosebreath says:

    CNN analysis: Most schools are not reopening for the fall.

    “This might be the most obvious thing in the world, but parents need to come to grips with the fact that their kids probably aren’t going to be in classrooms this fall.

    There will be exceptions, sure, in places where schools do open for normal hours or something close to it. There will be kids who go part-time (this is becoming known as the “hybrid” option). But it’s becoming clear that a large portion of the country’s kids won’t be in class and parents need to start planning for that if they haven’t already. “

  55. Nightcrawler says:

    Just because someone is back at work doesn’t mean they’re back in an office space full-time. None of my clients have shut down due to COVID-19, but none of them are going back to their physical offices until at least next year.

    One client really got screwed; they moved into brandy-new, much larger digs last fall — all that money and hype, and god knows when it will be safe to move back in.

    Granted, that’s an exceedingly tiny sample size. If anyone has statistics on the percentage of remote workers who have returned to the office full-time, I’d love to see them. I can use those numbers for work. =)