As the COVID-19 pandemic rages and many government officials and school administrators are making tough decisions about in-person schooling, some new summaries characterize the risk of COVID spread in schools, and new evidence on the early childhood care and education sector has emerged.
COVID Spread in Schools
Previous posts in this series have summarized evidence on COVID spread in schools. A recent research brief from the Association of American Medical Colleges draws on recent findings to report the current knowledge on in-person schooling. The piece highlights (1) the evidence that schools do not appear to be super-spreader sites, (2) recent research suggests that children may transmit COVID-19 less often than adults, and (3) perhaps surprisingly, children comply quite well with health and safety protocols with adult supervision. Other considerations, however, still present challenges for schools. Many children do not exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19 (more than one-third in a recent study from Duke University), and there are elements that are outside of schools’ control, but which could ultimately affect infection rates among those in school. These factors include difficulties with students’ behavior outside of close adult supervision (e.g., in a cafeteria, or among older children that socialize outside of school), and rising community infection rates across the nation that will likely challenge containment efforts within schools in the coming weeks.
As school leaders and policymakers navigate decisions about school building closures, understanding the most effective measures for preventing the spread of the virus will be critical. Writing in The Guardian last week, Jennifer Dowd, professor of demography and population health at the University of Oxford, highlights the efficacy of ventilation and wearing masks in simulations of virus spread.
Pandemic Effects on Early Learning
Given documented benefits of early childhood education, survey results from the National Institute for Early Education Research are concerning. The nationwide survey of parents with children ages three to five (n=945) finds that participation in preschool activities contracted from over 60% before the pandemic to just 8% reporting in-person participation during the pandemic. While survey results demonstrate that many families received remote supports (e.g., calls from teachers, worksheets, pre-recorded videos, etc.), the authors argue that do not replace in-person preschool activities. In part, this contrast is because of lower frequency of engagement with these supports (as little as once per week for many children), the lack of parental activities to replace traditional preschool learning, and the absence of unstructured, social activities that occur in the early childhood classroom. Ultimately, the authors estimate that the impacts of these preschool disruptions could be the size of “doubling of the typical summer learning loss,” and imply negative consequences for young children that will persist long term.
Early childhood care is essential to the functioning of many U.S. households in addition to supporting young children’s growth and development. Indeed, U.S. families spend nearly $42 billion each year in this sector, and approximately 15 million young children live in a home where all adults participate in the labor force. As with many other sectors, child care has faced significant challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This impact is documented in a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, which finds that COVID-19 has (1) increased the cost of providing childcare (largely due to the costs associated with following health and safety protocols), and (2) made preserving existing child care operators a better option for sustaining a long-run supply of child care for families who need it. Based upon these considerations, the authors urge policymakers to invest in relief funds for child care providers and to focus on supporting existing providers.