Does Anyone Care?

New York City lost 150,000 students this fall. They never showed up to school this September, and the Department of Education has no idea where those kids went.

150,000. That’s a big number. Everyday I get news about one cute girl who died in a Colorado dessert, but nobody cares about the 150,000 missing kids. In just one city. Imagine how big that number is across the country. I’m sure these kids aren’t dead, but they are educationally dead. They stopped caring about school. They’re working or watching little brothers and sisters, while the parents work. But they’re definitely not in homeroom at 8:00am. Without an education, those kids’ lives will be much more difficult.

Why isn’t this front page news? Why is the New York Post the only paper that covered this issue?

People cannot engage with serious news right now. The constant stream of bad news, stress, and panic from the Trump years and pandemic has ground everyone down. People are filtering everything out that is too serious, too real. They would rather read lies, as long as the lies are candy coated and up-beat. Real conversation has been exchanged for cringe-y Instagram stories by elected political leaders, who talk about their favorite brands of pens and lipstick shades.

TikTok dance videos for all!

Yes, most people avoid hard news, but I have never seen such nihilism and despair among the chattering class. They have written off big chunks of the population as losses, because the solutions are too expensive and too inconvenient.

Part of me wants to keep nudging people with reality. I can be the unpopular gadfly who pisses off everyone at school board meetings and on Twitter. I can write long treatises once a week in my newsletter. But another part wants to give up and just write Royal Family gossip stories.

Not sure how things will shake out.

PS. I love TikTok dance videos.

15 thoughts on “Does Anyone Care?

  1. I wonder how many of those kids have really left the city and are being educated elsewhere. It feels little like the BOE wants to say “where are the kids [shrug emoji]?”* instead of dealing with the fact that tons of them left town. I know I kept getting emails from my daughters NYC school teacher for the rest of the school year about her class, even though we moved out last December. And I filled out the paperwork to say we moved! Feels like at least 1/3 of the kids in both of my children’s classes are families that moved from the city during the pandemic. I am told that this is 2-3x what was typical pre-pandemic.

    *”Definitely we still need budget for them while we figure them out!”

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    1. I agree that’s a mistake to imagine that 150K students are just not going to school. But the inability to keep track of them is a problem, too. And, I agree with you that there’s an incentive to not find out that they are permanently gone from the district.

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    1. I thought I saw something there, but couldn’t find it when I wrote this post 30 minutes ago. I’ll look again. I want to compare the number of social media shares that that story got in the NYT and compare it to a story on the Met Gala.

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      1. I found a recent piece on Reason: https://reason.com/2021/10/08/new-york-city-is-hiding-its-k-12-enrollment-decline/

        That article links to this, about the changes from 2019-20 to 2020-2021: https://web.archive.org/web/20210807121000/https:/nces.ed.gov/blogs/nces/post/new-data-reveal-public-school-enrollment-decreased-3-percent-in-2020-21-school-year

        Public school enrollment decreased by 13 percent for prekindergarten and kindergarten and by 3 percent for grades 1–8. Public school enrollment increased by 0.4 percent for grades 9–12.

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  2. Not sure where the rant is coming from specifically (the met gala v education story might be interesting, except that the NY public school story is local while the celebrity/fashion met gala story is international). I’m a consumer, not a producer and so I don’t follow what other people read, mostly. I do get irritated when there are shallow articles (on education, or women leaving the work force, or . . . .). But, although there are shallow articles I’m not finding a dearth of deeper articles, so am not feeling a rant myself.

    The NY Times has an upshot article, for example, having a panel pick 1/4 of the Dem’s family policies: child credit, family leave, universal pre school, child care subsidy. I did not agree with the panelists on which one should be picked.

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  3. Also, the CDC has now compared schools w/ mask policies against ones without them:

    (summarized in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/24/health/schools-mask-mandate-outbreaks-cdc.html)

    “One study, conducted in Arizona, where children returned to school in July, found that schools that did not require staff and students to wear masks were 3.5 times as likely to have a virus outbreak as schools that required universal masking.” (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7039e1.htm?s_cid=mm7039e1_w)

    and, the second study, looking at county wide data:

    “Between the week before school started and the second week of school, the number of pediatric infections increased by 35 cases per 100,000 in counties without mask requirements, while the number increased by 16 cases per 100,000 population in counties with school mask requirements.” (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7039e3.htm?s_cid=mm7039e3_w)

    Though it seems that the anti-masking crowd has now moved to arguing that children getting infected in schools isn’t a problem, rather than saying there won’t be outbreaks.

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    1. I remember hearing about the Arizona study. Here’s a piece that Vinay Prasad (MD MPH) did back in September.

      https://vinayprasadmdmph.substack.com/p/two-new-cdc-studies-on-masking-in

      Some points:

      “Schools with masking requirements included younger kids (greater % elementary, fewer middle/ high), and had fewer students enrolled—also suggestive we may be comparing schools for younger kids vs. those for older kids.”

      “The endpoint of the study were not cases attributable to school spread, but rather the number of schools with 2 or more cases. This weighs equally a school with 4 cases vs. 400 cases.”

      “Second, there are many important variables the paper did not adjust for. Paper does not report the rate of testing/ including asymptomatic testing; It does not examine the rate of teacher’s being vaccinated. Does not report the rate of students >12 being vaccinated. Does not report the type of masks being used, and compliance.”

      “Strangely, the paper does not report the raw numbers of kids, teachers, and staff with covid19 infection thought attributable to school spread.”

      “Third, the reported OR of 3.5 in adjusted analysis seems large, given that the cluster RCT of Bangladesh showed no effect for cloth masks in primary analysis, and a modest effect size for surgical masks.”

      VP concludes, “Cluster RCTs needed.”

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      1. VP has comments on this CDC paper, too:

        https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7039e3.htm?s_cid=mm7039e3_w#contribAff

        The paper is entitled, “Pediatric COVID-19 Cases in Counties With and Without School Mask Requirements.”

        Some quotes from VP:

        “This analysis compares US counties where all schools had mask requirements vs. all schools do not require masks. Notably this is only 16.5% of all counties. I.e. most places (83.5%) in America excluded due to variable policies.”

        “After school began, authors note counties with consistent no mask requirements “experienced larger increases in pediatric COVID-19 case rates after the start of school compared with counties that had school mask requirements (p<0.001)”."

        "Study did not control for pediatric or adult vaccination rates in the county.
        Study included covid cases in children who did not attend school, or were too young for school.
        Study does not report raw number of cases, but percent change in cases."

        "Ultimately, cluster randomization needed, particularly in the USA where mask policies are a surrogate for political valence and other differences."

        VP concludes with the Spanish school masking chart, where masking was required starting at age 6, but what the chart shows is a close relationship between increasing age and increasing COVID transmission risk–with the unmasked preschoolers being the lowest risk group.

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    2. Yes there are possible confounds in the “naturally occurring” experiment, but they don’t negate the study unless they can be shown to be a bigger driver of the differences. Anyone can list a series of things that could be different in an epidemiological study than the one being examined, but to undermine the usefulness of the study, one needs to show, for example, that the comparison is between younger and older kids, rather than masking and not masking is driving the 3.5x difference. Unless such differences are uncovered, the study provides good evidence for continued masking, a low risk intervention.

      I wish that the school districts that don’t have masking would run the RCT — but those that see the issue of masking as a freedom issue, rather than a health issue, don’t have an incentive to run the RCT. And those of us who require masking, aren’t willing to take the risk the risk of increasing outbreaks (since I doubt anyone will argue that unmasking would *decrease* outbreaks).

      Our district, roughly the size of Plano ISD, has 87 HS cases a of today, compared to Plano’s 502 HS cases, which, correcting for the number of days of school, comes out cutely to 3.4X higher for Plano (we might also have higher vax rates, in addition to masking and Plano had a much maligned mask mandate August 23-September 24th which they did not extend). Would be very interested in seeing the effect of mask mandates in schools that implemented them for a period of time (though those maybe confounded by non-stationary rates of COVID in the community).

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  4. That lack of attention to the 150,000 student story was just one example of what I’m seeing as a great weariness about politics and anything that smells like bad news. I’m not seeing the great debates that I did a few years ago. There’s no enthusiasm to discuss ideas, even ideas that we disagreed with. Because the ideas that we disagreed with were still fairly normal. It wasn’t like we had to debate whether or not an election was stolen. [eyeroll] I’m not seeing much enthusiasm about Biden’s budget bill. I doubt that most people even know what’s in it.

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    1. There is of course a huge debate about what to in response to the ongoing attempt to steal the election and the people involved in it are very concerned about Biden’s budget. All the safety features that blocked Trump from stealing the election in Pennsylvania are under attack and the 2021 election (state supreme court) is less than a month away.

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      1. I’m sure. But this is all completely insane. Trump’s insanity has drained energy and thought power away from traditional policy debates. Politics as usual still hasn’t returned to normal. Journalism is just a reflection of the public’s interests in politics and life. And I think the public has completely tuned out of everything.

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