Reality Straight Up!

Thoughts & Observations of a Free Range Astrophysicist

Schools in the Time of COVID

The Decision Will Ultimately Make Itself

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. Yes, schools are desperately important to kids. No, COVID-19 doesn’t care, and COVID is making the rules right now. Attempts to open schools this fall will fail of their own accord. The relevant question is how to meet the needs of children, families and the community in the face of that reality.


 

Some decisions make themselves. Opening schools in the fall is one of those.

As those who follow my musings are aware I have been watching COVID-19 very closely from the outset. Not surprisingly given my long history as an advocate for public education, the impact of COVID-19 on schools has been a particular focus.

Right now the nation is struggling with the question of whether to open schools in the fall. As correctly pointed out by organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and a recent report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, schools are profoundly important to childhood development. That is especially true for the most at-risk kids.

But COVID-19 doesn’t care about such things, and right now whether we like it or not, COVID-19 is calling the shots.

As new science comes in the results do not bode well.

I put together a video intended for school boards, superintendents and other decision makers summarizing the current (and rapidly evolving) state of play of relevant science, and offered some perspectives on what it means. Among recent developments:

  • The most comprehensive study yet of childhood transmission of COVID-19 reached the conclusion that children over ten are as likely to transmit the virus as adults. And while younger children are in one sense about half as likely to transmit the virus in individual encounters, their gregarious behavior may make up for that difference.

 

  • Adding to a good deal of recent anecdotal evidence from classrooms and child care centers, recent analysis strongly concludes that the opening of schools was a principle driving force behind the resurgence of COVID-19 in Israel.

 

  • Finally succumbing to a growing wealth of evidence, the World Health Organization acknowledged that COVID-19 is airborne in everyday situations, and that this is a significant contributor to the spread of the disease. The National Academy panel found that CDC guidelines for reopening were inadequate, and that safely reopening schools will require substantial (and expensive) improvements in a large fraction of schools.

 

  • Our ignorance of the effects of COVID-19 outweighs our reliable knowledge of the disease, especially when it comes to long-term effects. But it is becoming increasingly clear that one of the primary effects of COVID-19 is an increase in clotting in arteries both large and small. This clotting is seen in organs throughout the body, including the presence of large numbers of microclots in the brain. These have the potential to lead to long-term cognitive effects, even in asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic individuals, possibly including children.

 

  • Comparison of the situation in the U.S. as compared with most of the rest of the world, successes reopening schools in some parts of Europe are completely irrelevant to the question of what is possible in the U.S.

 

  • Not mentioned in the video, the American Academy of Pediatrics backed away from its earlier statement, emphasizing that opening schools only makes sense after public health issues have been addressed.

The right question is how to make the most of the reality we face.

We all want schools to reopen with face to face learning, and acknowledge the importance of that. But we’re not going to. And most of those who try are in for a lot of hurt. The correct question for the moment is how to do the best job possible in the face of that reality. That includes not only delivering curriculum, but also providing support for students, families and educators.

Let’s face it. The cries of “schools are important” are often coming from those who hardly have a track record of supporting public education. And in the face of the growing challenges they face, it is past time for schools to rethink their approach to their mission. COVID-19 is without doubt a devastating crisis, but it also presents an opportunity to experiment with novel approaches that will reshape the educational landscape long after COVID-19 is past.

There are many paths to explore; I will write more about that later. But one that I find especially promising and strangely not that widely discussed, is building virtual cohorts of students and parents. Such cohorts could provide structures within which families and kids support each other while working with teachers, social workers, university students and others who are able and willing to provide guidance and knowledge.

Let’s stop trying to grasp onto a “normal” that will never return and be on with the business of inventing the future of schools.

 

Here are a few other videos that did not make it into blog posts.

I’ve been talking about this quite a lot lately, including making presentations to groups around the country. Here are a few videos that I have posted. The earliest of these went viral, with over 32,000 views to date.
 
 

Schools in the Time of COVID ^ The Decision Will Ultimately Make Itself  © Dr. Jeff Hester
Content may not be copied to other sites. All Rights Reserved.

Reality Straight Up!

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  • Schools in the Time of COVID
    The Decision Will Ultimately Make Itself

    You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. Yes, schools are desperately important to kids. No, COVID-19 doesn’t care, and COVID is making the rules right now. Attempts to open schools this fall will fail of their own accord. The relevant question is how to meet the needs of children, families and the community in the face of that reality.

    Read Article

  • COVID-19 Arrives
    The Humanitarian Disaster is Here

    Currently new cases of COVID-19 in Arizona are doubling every 7 days. ICU beds in the state are already full. The rest of the country isn’t that far behind us. You do the math.

    Read Article

  • Correctly Predicting Failure
    It’s time for scientists to get loud

    Now is not the time for scientists to be circumspect and silent. We are on the short end of a battle over whether truth even matters. If scientists do not stand up for what is real, who will?

    Read Article

  • Typhoid Mary on Two Wheels
    Spreading COVID one lap at a time

    The morning cyclist in my neighborhood may not be standing in the Michigan Statehouse carrying a gun and demanding her right to spread contagion far and wide, but she may as well be.

    Read Article

  • Pine Boxes
    Invest now, the numbers are going up

    You know those nice charts and graphs that make it look like we are over the hump of COVID-19 and that things are about to get better? Those predictions are dead wrong, with an unfortunate emphasis on “dead.”

    Read Article

  • Scientists Stuck Inside
    Curiosity in the Time of COVID

    Imagine three gregarious scientists, each with the gift of the gab, all coping with stay-at-home orders. Of course we started a livestream/podcast talk show! What else would we do? Welcome to the kickoff episode of Scientists Stuck Inside.

    Read Article

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    No getting back to normal

    Even after COVID-19 kills hundreds of thousands in the U.S. over the coming weeks, we will still be almost as vulnerable to the pandemic as we are today. We’d all love to “get back to normal” after that, but the price could be a second wave, worse than the first. Some see us facing either economic Depression or allowing vast numbers of preventable deaths, but that is a fool’s choice. There are better options if we have the will to find them.

    Read Article

  • COVID-19
    Cutting through the confusion

    There is a lot of information about COVID-19 out there, much of it misleading. When looking at the future, start with what the science really says.

    Read Article

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    Explanation or Theory? Therein lies the rub.

    If someone can’t tell you how they would know that they are wrong, they don’t have a clue whether they are right.

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    Being certain is a primrose path

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    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

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Click on thumbnail to select post:

  • Schools in the Time of COVID  The Decision Will Ultimately Make ItselfPosted in Thoughts
  • COVID-19 Arrives  The Humanitarian Disaster is HerePosted in Thoughts
  • Correctly Predicting Failure  It’s time for scientists to get loudPosted in Thoughts
  • Typhoid Mary on Two Wheels  Spreading COVID one lap at a timePosted in Thoughts
  • Pine Boxes  Invest now, the numbers are going upPosted in Success & FailureThoughts
  • Scientists Stuck Inside  Curiosity in the Time of COVIDPosted in For Your ConsiderationThoughts
  • After COVID’s First Wave  No getting back to normalPosted in Success & FailureThoughts
  • COVID-19  Cutting through the confusionPosted in Success & FailureThoughts
  • Great Deceiverism 101  Explanation or Theory? Therein lies the rub.Posted in For Your ConsiderationUnreasonable Faith
  • One Step at a Time  The  not-so-mysterious origin of lifePosted in For Your ConsiderationUnreasonable Faith
  • The Mind’s Siren Call  Being certain is a primrose pathPosted in For Your ConsiderationUnreasonable Faith
  • Constrained Hallucinations  How the brain uses science to perceive the worldPosted in For Your ConsiderationUnreasonable Faith
  • You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. Yes, schools are desperately important to kids. No, COVID-19 doesn’t care, and COVID is making the rules right now. Attempts to open schools this fall will fail of their own accord. The relevant question is how to meet the needs of children, families and the community in the face of that reality.

  • Currently new cases of COVID-19 in Arizona are doubling every 7 days. ICU beds in the state are already full. The rest of the country isn’t that far behind us. You do the math.

  • Now is not the time for scientists to be circumspect and silent. We are on the short end of a battle over whether truth even matters. If scientists do not stand up for what is real, who will?

  • The morning cyclist in my neighborhood may not be standing in the Michigan Statehouse carrying a gun and demanding her right to spread contagion far and wide, but she may as well be.

  • You know those nice charts and graphs that make it look like we are over the hump of COVID-19 and that things are about to get better? Those predictions are dead wrong, with an unfortunate emphasis on “dead.”

  • Imagine three gregarious scientists, each with the gift of the gab, all coping with stay-at-home orders. Of course we started a livestream/podcast talk show! What else would we do? Welcome to the kickoff episode of Scientists Stuck Inside.

  • Even after COVID-19 kills hundreds of thousands in the U.S. over the coming weeks, we will still be almost as vulnerable to the pandemic as we are today. We’d all love to “get back to normal” after that, but the price could be a second wave, worse than the first. Some see us facing either economic Depression or allowing vast numbers of preventable deaths, but that is a fool’s choice. There are better options if we have the will to find them.

  • There is a lot of information about COVID-19 out there, much of it misleading. When looking at the future, start with what the science really says.

  • If someone can’t tell you how they would know that they are wrong, they don’t have a clue whether they are right.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Once seemingly incomprehensible, the origin of life no longer seems such a mystery. Most of what once appeared as roadblocks are turning out to be superhighways.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Being certain lights up our brains like a junkie’s next hit. Literally. Unfortunately, being certain and being right are two very, very different things.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • The unique worlds we each consciously inhabit – the only worlds we will ever experience – are constrained hallucinations, products of hypothesis testing by our predictive brains.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

Over his 30 year career as an internationally known astrophysicist, Dr. Jeff Hester was a key member of the team that repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. With one foot always on the frontiers of knowledge, he has been mentor, coach, team leader, award-winning teacher, administrator and speaker, to name a few of the hats he has worn. His Hubble image, the Pillars of Creation, was chosen by Time Magazine as among the 100 most influential photographs in history.
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