Politics, Not Science, is Driving School Reopening Decisions to a 'Really Dangerous' Degree, Research Suggests
October 22, 2020
Over seven months after much of society shut down in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no uniform policy guiding school districts through the return of tens of millions of students to in-person education. In most jurisdictions, officials have spent the last few months balancing risks and responsibilities, resulting in millions of American students returning to the classroom even as millions of their peers still spend their days in front of a screen.
According to a growing number of education commentators, one major factor determining school reopenings is politics. In comparing how districts chose to either continue with virtual learning or welcome students back to their buildings, several academic and independent researchers have found that policymakers are guided more by the voting preferences of their neighbors than coronavirus case numbers.
The latest evidence, released this month as a working paper through Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, indicates that partisanship — as exhibited by the share of voters in a given county who supported Donald Trump in 2016, as well as the strength of local teachers’ unions — drove reopening plans “far more” than public health conditions.