MSNBC panel pummels ‘failure’ of remote learning, asks why ‘conventional wisdom’ took so long to agree

An MSNBC panel on Wednesday blistered the failures of remote learning in the coronavirus pandemic, with one host wondering why it had taken “so long for conventional wisdom” to come to that conclusion.

The discussion came amid Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest school district in the nation, canceling classes on Wednesday after its teachers union voted to not go into the classroom over protest of the city’s COVID-19 policies, infuriating parents. Meanwhile, recently inaugurated New York City Mayor Eric Adams, D., has been adamant that schools will stay open.

On “Morning Joe,” New York Times writer David Leonhardt laid out a “grim picture” of the consequences of extended school closings, citing data showing minority students falling increasingly behind in their studies, soaring mental health problem rates, an alarming rise in suicide attempts for adolescent girls, and increased behavioral issues.

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“Remote learning has been a failure. Kids do not learn very much remotely,” he said. “It creates social isolation, disruption in kids’ lives. {New York City mayor Eric] Adams is right. The research does suggest school is the safest place for kids. If omicron leads more schools to close, we know, with a high degree of confidence, it will damage kids greatly. So the only question becomes do we decide as a society that by keeping schools closed we prevent less damage than we know we are going to do to kids by closing schools further. My reading of the evidence is no, we’re going to do more damage by closing schools. The only question is, how do we do less damage?”

Co-host Willie Geist turned to Emily Oster, a Brown University economics professor, and wondered why it had taken such a long time for there to be broad agreement on the harm to students of prolonged remote learning. 

“The great frustration for a lot of people in this country and a lot of parents who watched the impact of remote learning two years ago now, they say, ‘yes, of course we all knew this was true because we watched it happen to our kids, we watched it happen to our kids’ friends,’” Geist said. “Why has it taken so long for sort of conventional wisdom to get to this point that, oh yeah, remote learning is bad and kids need to be in school?”

Fulton County Public Schools 8th grader Ceani Williams helps her 5th grade brother, Kareem Williams, with his classwork during a virtual learning day at their residence in Milton, Georgia, U.S., January 4, 2022, after students have gone remote for a week as cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant continue to surge.

Fulton County Public Schools 8th grader Ceani Williams helps her 5th grade brother, Kareem Williams, with his classwork during a virtual learning day at their residence in Milton, Georgia, U.S., January 4, 2022, after students have gone remote for a week as cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant continue to surge.
(REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer)

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“I think it’s one thing to say, hey, this doesn’t feel like it’s working and it’s another thing to say this is a generational moment in terms of how much kids are losing. I think it’s just taken time for the on the ground data to catch up to what almost all parents who had kids kind of understood,” she said.

Millions of parents across the country have expressed frustration and despair throughout the pandemic at remote learning and its harm on their children. Last year, media outlets like the New York Times and Politico framed the debate over school reopening in partisan terms, accusing Republicans of pouncing on it as a political wedge issue.

While children aged five and up are eligible for coronavirus vaccines, those four and under are still too young, leading Oster to call for limiting quarantines for those youngsters exposed to the coronavirus. Already at very low risk for serious illness, preliminary data of the contagious omicron variant has shown it’s even less likely to send very young children to the hospital.

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“We need to provide a way for them to stay in school both for them and their parents and for the general family structure,” she said.

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