March 3, 2021

Reopening Theater, Assessment Reality

By Bellwether

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The Secretary of Education and the First Lady are out touting school reopening today. The administration is in an awkward spot on this issue. They sort of have to do it because the President is what a poker player might call pot stuck on this reopening issue.* He’s committed, regardless of the wisdom of future bets.

The President doesn’t have a lot of control over whether schools are open or not short of a national emergency but Biden set a goal of getting them open within 100 days (a goal that since has been something of a moving target and seemed like an early unforced error). So the President can focus on all sorts of related issues – vaccine access for educators, guidance, PPE, funding, political cover – but can’t just flick a switch.

The politics are also a little weird. Elite opinion types are clamoring for schools to open. The rest of the country is more all over the place on that question but there are some signs patience is starting to wane. And, of course, a lot of schools have been open since August. Meanwhile the CDC and most experts say that with mitigation strategies and some common sense reopening can be done. None of that matters now though as much as the 100 days sword of Damocles now hanging over Washington.

That’s why on day one for Miguel Cardona you have reopening theater and then also the behind the scenes pressure on testing policy and an appetite to test waiver flexibility among some states. Waivers are something Biden basically controls.

Related to all this, today at noon John Bailey and I are hosting a room on school reopening policy and politics on Clubhouse.

*In the interest of full disclosure my kids are in school a few days each week and playing sports, my wife is back teaching in a classroom live with kids and some joining remote five days a week.

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