More evidence that remote learning is failing

The Washington Post has reported on the serious adverse academic impact that online learning is having on students in Fairfax County, Virginia. I discussed that reporting here.

Now, the Post has a similar article about what’s happening in Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live. Even more than the report on Fairfax County did, this article focuses on the calamitous effects online education is having on “low-income students” and “English learners.”

I welcome this slant. If there’s anything that can trump the liberal impulse to shut things down willy-nilly during the pandemic, it’s evidence that minority group members are suffering disproportionately.

In Montgomery County schools, this seems to be the case. Indeed, the figures the Post cites are striking:

Failure rates in math and English jumped as much as sixfold for some of the most vulnerable students in Maryland’s largest school system, according to data released as the pandemic’s toll becomes increasingly visible in schools across the country.

In but one stark example, more than 36 percent of ninth-graders from low-income families failed the first marking period in English. That compares with fewer than 6 percent last year, when the same students took English in eighth grade. . . .

Nearly 45 percent of those with limited English proficiency failed the first marking period in ninth-grade math, for instance — a stunning figure given that only 8 percent of the same students failed math in the first marking period [i.e., pre-pandemic] last fall.

White and Asians are making out okay, according to the Post:

Last year, less than 1 percent of that group failed the first marking period [pre-pandemic], and this year it was slightly more than 1 percent.

What will the school system do in response to the high failure rates among certain groups? According to the Post, it will “mak[e] changes to grading practices, student supports and instructional guidance — adding flexibility with due dates, for example, and reducing the number of recommended assignments that are graded.”

In other words, it will lower standards. Reading and math skills will continue to suffer, but the evidence will be obscured by grade inflation.

Is the County considering letting students return to school? There’s no indication of this in the Post’s article, even though the evidence from Europe fails to support fears that in-class learning carries appreciable health risks.

One interesting question is why the performance of low-income students and English learners has declined so sharply, while that of White and Asian students seems to be holding nearly steady. The Post attributes this to kids in the former groups lacking “oversight and support” from parents who “work jobs outside the home.”

Could be. But in the affluent mostly White and Asian area of Montgomery County where I live, both parents in the families I know work very hard at their jobs, and not necessarily at home.

The key may be that there are two parents. The Post’s article doesn’t consider the possibility that a lower incidence of two-parent families among the groups in which students are suffering most from online learning might be the explanation.

Apparently, this question is considered out of bounds.

But, while the question is an interesting one, the key point is that online learning isn’t working. It’s a failed and unnecessary experiment that has harmed students, especially the ones who can least afford the setback.

Mask Jacobinism Runs Rampant

I have seen no evidence that mask mandates have any discernible impact on the rate of spread of the coronavirus, let alone on its ultimate impact, which is a completely different question. Nevertheless, mask wearing has been adopted by a large segment of our society as the ultimate moral marker. Those who don’t wear masks, many allege, are endangering public safety. And informal Committees of Public Safety are all around us.

A case in point is the gala organized by the Young Republicans of New York, which took place last night. It originally was scheduled for a venue in New York, but moved to an undisclosed location in New Jersey due to threats of violence from a fascist group, Antifa. The gathering was of modest size, apparently somewhat more than 100. This was the invitation:

It seems to have been a good party. A number of participants posted photos on social media, for example:

When word got out, the reaction from the Left was insane. OMG!! No masks!! New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy did this over-the-top Facebook post:

The comments by liberals on Murphy’s post fall just short of demanding guillotines:

They need to go to jail for endangering the health and welfare of all of us.
Real classy GOP – endangering the lives of New Jerseyans. Thank you Governor for calling them out.
It is beyond the pale that anyone would willingly endanger people — anywhere! Arrest and charge every single person who was there.
Matt Gaetz looks and sounds like an entitled frat bro. I hope the organizers are arrested. Our virus numbers are higher than ever. So irresponsible.

There is no evidence that anyone at the gala had COVID, or if so, that anyone contracted it there. Given that COVID transmission is rampant all across the country, regardless of mask mandates and shutdowns, and that Democratic Party politicians disregard their own mask mandates on a daily basis, it is hard to understand the vituperation being directed against this particular party. From a quick review, it isn’t even clear to me whether the gala violated any “law” in New Jersey, which permits political events up to 150 people.

But that is a relatively minor point. The totalitarian impulse has been loosed, and a dismaying number of Americans are on board with it. Californians are now ordered to wear masks in their homes and cars, which is stupid on any interpretation of the data. They also are forbidden to leave their homes to, for example, walk their dogs. On the other hand, there are lots of exceptions. For a “critical” activity–like participating in a podcast–you can go out. In other words, peons stay home.

I grew up in a time when everyone took it for granted that America was a liberty-loving country. If one kid tried to boss around another kid on a playground, the standard reply was: “It’s a free country!” I doubt that our children say that anymore. We are divided 50/50: half of us want America to be a free country, and half of us don’t. How we can manage to coexist is an open question.

Race: Asking the Right Questions, Avoiding the “Wrong” Answers

Robert Putnam, the Harvard political scientist who became famous 20 years ago for his “bowling alone” hypothesis about the erosion of social capital in the U.S., is out with a new co-authored book (with Shaylyn Romney Garrett) on racial disparities, The Upswing. Although a liberal, Putnam has not shrunk in the past from reporting data findings uncongenial to liberals, such as his careful work concluding that “diversity” and high rates of immigration actually lead to the erosion of social trust.

A long excerpt from the book appears today in the New York Times under the title “Why Did Racial Progress Stall?“, and it does not shrink from observing some uncongenial facts about racial progress (and the lack of it in recent decades):

In terms of material well-being, Black Americans were moving toward parity with white Americans well before the victories of the civil rights era. What’s more, after the passage of civil rights legislation, those trends toward racial parity slowed, stopped and even reversed. . . In measure after measure, positive change for Black Americans was actually faster in the decades before the civil rights revolution than in the decades after.

Some examples:

  • The Black/white ratio of high school completion improved dramatically between the 1940s and the early 1970s, after which it slowed, never reaching parity. College completion followed the same trajectory until 1970, then sharply reversed.

These data reveal a too-slow but unmistakable climb toward racial parity throughout most of the century that begins to flatline around 1970 — a picture quite unlike the hockey stick of historical shorthand.

Social scientists such as the recently deceased Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Charles Murray, and others have pointed out these facts for decades now, and have been asking whether the Great Society social programs backfired. This hypothesis remains forbidden to liberals still—it is an answer so “wrong” that you aren’t even allowed to ask it in polite liberal company, and sure enough, Putnam and his co-author propose that the cause of the halting of black progress after the mid-1960s is attributable to two possible causes far removed from any effects of the welfare state.

The first is “white backlash,” which is hardly new, though strangely neither Putnam nor the legions of other thinkers who make this charge ever demonstrate any significant contraction in social welfare programs, civil rights enforcement, or “affirmative action” efforts to assist blacks and other minorities. Nor do the proponents of “white backlash” ever entertain reasons why whites might have thought the Great Society made a cascade of mistakes.

The second explanation runs toward the bizarre. Putnam and Garrett say the reversal of black progress owes to what they call “a single meta-trend that we have come to call the “I-we-I” curve: An inverted U charting America’s gradual climb from self-centeredness to a sense of shared values, followed by a steep descent back into egoism over the next half century.”

I thought I’d heard of everything, but I’ve never heard of the “I-we-I” curve, though upon further exploration it appears to be nothing more original that another familiar idea usually applied more generally—namely, that modern times have over-encouraged hyper-individualism (and hence selfishness). You can find a conservative version of this argument in Patrick Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed.

I guess I’ll have to read the whole book as the Times excerpt doesn’t make much of a case that we can attribute the halt in black progress to increasing individualism. There is something strange about the idea that black progress flourished relatively in the face of harsh legal barriers, socially sanctioned racism, and a meager share of public resources, but faltered when all three of those factors were finally and decisively changed. And yet liberals accuse conservatives of “epistemic closure.”

The Higher Ed Meltdown Accelerates

In my Geek in Pictures post a couple days back I included this chart showing that the financial impact of COVID on colleges and universities has led to serious job cuts—back to the level last seen in 2008, right before the last major economic crisis. (Strangely, as you can see from the chart, the financial crisis in 2008-09 barely slowed the overall rise of university employment levels at all, unlike the current scene.)

Yesterday brought news of deepening cuts starting to take place among core faculty in the liberal arts. I was alerted to drastic cuts just announced in several liberal arts departments at the University of Colorado at Boulder by this tweet:

You can read the interim dean’s long explanation of the move here if you want.

At the University of Vermont, meanwhile, the cuts look to go well beyond mere faculty positions. Whole departments will be eliminated:

The University of Vermont announced proposed cuts Wednesday to 12 majors and 11 minors in the College of Arts and Sciences. University officials say the college has seen a 17% reduction in enrollment in liberal arts classes from 2010 to 2016. Low enrollment is defined as 25 or fewer students or fewer than 5 graduates per year.

The university plans to eliminate geology, religion and classics departments. Twelve out of 56 majors will go by the boards, including regional studies, romance languages and cultures, Latin, Greek, German, Russian and Italian.

You’ll notice that the cuts are all coming from the liberal arts. Gee, I wonder why liberal arts enrollment is declining? It’s a complete mystery. . .

To be fair, it’s not as though the sciences are exempt from the political madness afflicting our universities. Try out this article from the current issue of The Lancet, a formerly respected medical journal that has apparently been taken over by the Babylon Bee:

Neoliberal economics, planetary health, and the COVID-19 pandemic: a Marxist ecofeminist analysis

Simon Mair, PhD


Planetary health sees neoliberal capitalism as a key mediator of socioecological crises, a position that is echoed in much COVID-19 commentary. In this Personal View, I set out an economic theory that emphasises some of the ways in which neoliberal capitalism’s conceptualisation of value has mediated responses to COVID-19. Using the intersection of ecological, feminist, and Marxist economics, I develop an analysis of neoliberal capitalism as a specific historical form of the economy. I identify the accumulation of exchange value as a central tendency of neoliberal capitalism and argue that this tendency creates barriers to the production of other forms of value. I then analyse the implications of this tendency in the context of responses to COVID-19. I argue that resources and labour flow to the production of exchange value, at the expense of production of other value forms. Consequently, the global capitalist economy has unprecedented productive capacity but uses little . . .

There’s more, but by now I expect most sensible people have stopped reading. I am glad, though, they they got intersectionality in the abstract, because I was concerned when it was not included in the article title.

How Brexit will help Britain get vaccinated

I believe the UK is the first Western nation to approve a vaccine against the Wuhan coronavirus. Apparently, it is also leading other European nations when it comes to efficiently purchasing that vaccine.

Why? John Fund suggests that the answer is Brexit.

Regarding purchasing of the vaccine, Fund quotes Hugo Fry, the British managing director of Sanofi, the world’s fifth-biggest drug maker. According to Fry, the UK’s decoupling from the EU’s regulatory and purchasing bureaucracy enabled the “nimble buying” of hundreds of millions of doses. Thanks to Brexit, “the UK was able to do [the purchasing] in a single deal [that] meant that it got its deal done before France and before Germany.”

Regarding approval of the vaccine, Fund quotes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:

The EU lacks anything like the UK’s Regulation 174 enabling fast-track action to fight pandemics, or chemical and nuclear attacks. Bureaucracy and legalistic inertia will give the virus one last chance to cause maximum devastation on the Continent, and this slippage of several weeks will have serious consequences for a clutch of eurozone economies already in trouble.

A German health minister says that EU countries decided not to pursue emergency approval of a vaccine. Why? Apparently, to maintain the solidarity of the EU system bloc.

How many lives will be lost in the name of EU “solidarity”? A great many probably, but none in the UK.

A Georgia state of mind revisited

The site Lead Stories has fact checked Jacki Pick’s account of the doings at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena on election night. As I noted in my “Georgia state of mind” post, a Democratic state senator disputed the accuracy of Pick’s account at the conclusion of the full video of Pick’s testimony. In light of the video of Pick’s testimony, I want to be sure readers take into account the Lead Story post Video From Georgia Does NOT Show Suitcases Filled With Ballots Suspiciously Pulled From Under A Table; Poll Watchers Were NOT Told To Leave.”

Biden’s Brezhnev vibes

Born in the Soviet Union, Katya Sedgwick now lives in the United States. She brings a valuable cross cultural-perspective to our perception of Joe Biden’s age-related mental impairment in the Spectator USA column “Biden’s Brezhnev vibes.” She discusses Brezhnev’s impaired physical condition and relates:

[W]atching news segments on TV, it was hard to avoid conclusion that the general secretary was unfit to rule. His speech was slurred, and his movements unsteady. His mispronunciations were notorious: ‘socialist countries’ came out his mouth as ‘sh-ty sausages’, and ‘systematically’ — as ‘booby boobs’. Towards the end of his life he required the help of an apparatchik to lift his arm to salute the troops at a parade.

Because the official Soviet sources released no medical information, rumors about Brezhnev’s health abounded. So did the jokes. For instance:

‘Brezhnev’s voice on the radio: “Comrades! Imperialist enemies are spreading false rumors that my speeches are played on a record…a record…a record…”’


‘Brezhnev asked his speech writer to write a 15-minute address to the Party Congress. The writer gave him the address, and Brezhnev went up on a podium to present it. It’s taking him 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 40, 45. When he’s finally done, he asked the writer “What did you do? I asked for a 15-minute speech!” The writer says: “I wrote you a 15 minute speech, and I gave you three copies of it.”’

This one can be easily retold about Biden who once read a chyron on live television.

Sedgwick continues: “That there is something wrong with Biden is dangerously close to becoming a subject of open discussion. A topic rarely brought up outside conservative media after the Democratic primary was touched upon by satirical site the Onion when it ran a piece titled: ‘Doctors Concerned As Hairline Fracture In Biden’s Foot Spreads Through Entire Skeleton.'”

We’ve been talking about it for a while. I contributed the motto I’ve got half a mind to be president during the campaign.

Our friends at the Spectator have kindly made Sedgwick’s column accessible for the time being at our request. Please check out the whole thing here now while you still can.