What should parents do about the “lost year” of their children’s education that was disrupted by COVID?
Whatever you do, don’t get too worked up about it, says psychiatrist Scott Alexander in his latest Astral Codex Ten newsletter titled “Kids Can Recover From Missing Even Quite A Lot Of School.”
Some “frantic parents” are even “asking awful questions like ‘Should I accept the risk of sending my immunocompromised kid to school, or should I accept him falling behind and never amounting to anything?’” Alexander writes.
Alexander points to numerous studies showing that gaps in children’s formal education tend to set the kids back temporarily but don’t make much difference in the long run.
After Hurricane Katrina, lots of New Orleans students had missed a year or two of school (because their school had been destroyed, or they’d had to evacuate the city and live with relatives, etc). After the hurricane, New Orleans switched to a charter-school-based system and test scores went up, with New Orleans students generally outperforming their peers. There’s a lot of discussion about whether this does or doesn’t mean that charter schools are great, but either way doesn’t seem like missing a year or two of school hurt the New Orleanians very much.
Alexander also confronts the studies that say absenteeism is a huge problem and pretty roundly dismisses them:
What about everyone saying that “research shows” that being absent from school is terrible for children? There is “research” that “shows” this, but it is mostly terrible.
He cites a “typical example” which shows that “increased absences are heavily correlated with worse grades and test scores,” and promptly shreds it:
This would not pass a freshman experimental methods course. Obviously this is correlational rather than causal. Kids who are very poor, delinquent, have parents who don’t care enough to force them to go to school, etc – miss a lot more school than rich kids with helicopter parents. These kids are also at more risk of having reading problems. The alternative is to believe that (as these people apparently do) missing two weeks of school makes you 33% less likely to be able to read two years later. Come on!
Alexander’s bottom line is that “parents should be more relaxed about the risk of their child missing school, especially if it’s relatively early in their school career.”
Read the whole newsletter.