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To the extent there was ever justification for closing schools, emerging research demonstrates it has been an extremely long time since any such justification evaporated. Research from Wharton shows the severe, lifelong cost of losing out on two or three semesters of education.

This is the fifth in a series of posts reminding us we have completed one year of “fifteen days to smooth the curve.” In California, we have started our second year of curve smoothing.

10/12/20 – Penn Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania, Budget Model website Covid: Trade-offs in School Reopening – Detailed economic analysis is thoroughly devastating to any argument there is any value in keeping schools closed and in fact there are substantive questions whether there was any value to closing any schools.


There will be permanent damage to the education level of most students with a serious adverse impact on lifetime earnings with a disproportionate impact on kids who are poor kids, disadvantaged kids, and persons of color.

Read the full article. Please.

Recap of the highlights

Cost per infection is calculated based on the sum of deaths (using quality adjusted years of life), hospitalization costs, and lost productivity. The cost per infection was $330,000 in 3/20 and had declined to $38,000 in 9/20.

Reductions in the quality of education is going to cost each student between 4% and 5% of their lifetime earnings. Converting this into monthly data indicates the lost schooling will cost somewhere between $12,000 and $15,000 in lifetime earnings.

The breakeven point for it making economic sense to close schools in October is 0.355 new infections per student.

Breakeven point

In other words it makes sense to close schools if you think that one out of every three children (0.355) is going to be become infected while sitting in class. Less than one out of three getting sick means classes should be conducted in person.

Let me rephrase that.

First, keep in mind infection rates and other health data is usually expressed in cases per 100,000 people

The study indicates the breakeven point is 0.355 expected infections per student. Using this study means the breakeven point is 35,500 total infections per 100,000 students.

The current infection rate in California is running about 10 per 100,000 people per day.

If students got sick as frequently as the general population, which is a completely invalid assumption by itself, the breakeven point is 3,550 days. At 180 day school per year it would take 19.7 years of infections for it to make sense to close schools. Including kindergarten, that would give five-year-olds enough time to complete high school, a four-year undergraduate college degree, a two-year masters degree, and half a year into doctoral studies before it would make sense to close schools tomorrow.

Adjust for the infection rate for school-aged children being a small fraction of the infection rate for anyone who is older than high school age and the breakeven point would stretch out to, oh, until the current generation of school children get to celebrate their grandchildren’s graduation from college.

I hope you can see from the study how staggeringly stupid it is to close schools. We are on the edge of this strategy being knowingly destructive. If schools continue being closed, we will be in the range of intentionally destructive.

The research results

if you want to drill down even further into the foolishness of closing schools, here is the “Monthly Covid Case Cost by Age Group” shown in table 24 for people aged 10 through 19:

  • $32,977 – 3/20 – average total case cost including quality adjusted years of life and medical care
  • $16,470 – 4/20 – monthly case cost, same age, same factors included
  • $5,435 – 6/20
  • $1,869 – 9/20

Study was completed in October and includes projections of schools staying closed through 6/21. If that happens the impact on most grades levels is to double the lifetime losses.

Table 3 indicates the projected lifetime losses are $15.5 trillion as of 10/20. I’m guessing we can double that if recent closest a close until 6/21.

For context, annualized U.S. GDP was $21.5 trillion in fourth quarter of 2020.

Study indicates that most teachers, most parents, and most researchers believe students are getting a lower quality of education with online classes. Study points out that most teachers do not understand the methodology of conducting online classes, which further lowers the quality.

Study points out the impact is falling disproportionately on disadvantaged students, particularly those from single-parent households, from low income families, or kids who are already low achieving.

Study indicates full expectation that this drop in quality education will have a permanent impact on level of learning. Reduced quality of education at elementary and high school levels is also an indicator of reduced participation in collegiate education.

The summary again: there will be permanent damage to the education level of most students with a serious adverse impact on lifetime earnings with a disproportionate impact on kids who are poor kids, disadvantaged kids, and persons of color.

Where is the justice in closing schools? By an measure you wish to imagine, where’s the justice?


Can anyone help me out here? Anyone?


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