Monday, 27 Sep 2021

When Schools Close, Moms Fill Gaps

This is the Coronavirus Schools Briefing, a guide to the seismic changes in U.S. education that are taking place during the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

We mostly focus on students in this newsletter, but today we’re looking at the working moms who bear a disproportionate share of the remote-learning burden.

Across the country, and across the world, women have made enormous personal and professional sacrifices to help their children keep learning and their families stay afloat during the pandemic. That’s not new, but it bears repeating and further examination.

“When the pandemic hit, it was largely mothers who took on the additional child care duties; became remote teachers; and, in large numbers, quit their jobs,” our colleague Claire Cain Miller wrote.

This fall, there are about 1.6 million fewer mothers in the labor force than would be expected without school closures, according to an analysis of employment data. And a third of working women 25 to 44 years old who are unemployed pointed to child care demand as the reason, compared to only 12 percent of unemployed men, according to the Census Bureau.

That exodus of mothers from the work force is, in no small part, because of closed classrooms. Eight in 10 mothers said they managed remote schooling in their families, according to a survey in the spring.

“For millions of working women, the coronavirus pandemic has delivered a rare and ruinous one-two-three punch,” our colleague Patricia Cohen wrote.

The economic effects of the pandemic hit sectors where women make up a majority of the work force, like restaurants, retail and health care. Then came cuts in government jobs, where women are overrepresented. And finally, the knockout blow of remote learning.

Compared with their fathers and grandfathers, this generation of men is much more involved at home. Still, mothers are much more likely than fathers to make a professional sacrifice, research suggests.

One telling survey found that men working from home were more likely to have a separate office, while women were more likely to work at the kitchen table, where they could be interrupted at any moment.

“Other countries have social safety nets; the U.S. has women,” Jessica Calarco, a sociologist at Indiana University, told the journalist Anne Helen Petersen in a recent interview for her excellent newsletter, Culture Study.

The pandemic has also exposed other inequities, as the burdens of the pandemic-induced recession have fallen most heavily on low-income and minority women and single mothers.

“The sudden return to 1950s-style households wasn’t an aberration,” Claire wrote. “Rather, it revealed a truth: In the United States, mothers remain the fallback plan.”

An N.C.A.A. bubble?

During the season, the entire N.B.A. quarantined itself at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. It cost a great deal of money and raised eyebrows across the country, as food bank lines grew and Americans struggled to get tests.

Now, the men’s college basketball tournament will attempt its own version of a closed system. Officials hope that limiting travel will reduce the risk of players, coaches and staff getting infected.

The location of the tournament bubble will perhaps be Indianapolis, which may pose difficulties: Over the last seven days, Indiana’s health department has reported a 12 percent positivity rate for virus tests.

New tenants for college dorms

Cash-strapped universities may sell dorms to real estate developers to make up budget shortfalls during the pandemic.

The trend predates the pandemic. Yeshiva University, in New York, started selling off student housing after its endowment shrank by $90 million in 2015. A developer flipped the dorms, selling the building for almost double the purchase price.

Schools During Coronavirus ›

Back to School

Updated Nov. 18, 2020

The latest on how the pandemic is reshaping education.

    • Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist named to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.s coronavirus task force, says “the priority is to try to keep schools open.”
    • How risky are indoor youth sports like basketball and hockey? Parents are agonizing over whether to enroll their kids.
    • To combat the virus, sports leagues, large employers and colleges are turning to devices that could usher in more invasive forms of surveillance.
    • Real estate developers are seeking opportunities to buy student housing from strapped universities and convert them into apartments for white-collar workers.

    During the pandemic, enrollment has plummeted and an estimated 30 percent of American universities are running a deficit.

    “It is absolutely a perfect storm,” said Michael Jerbich, the president of B. Riley Real Estate Solutions. “The only thing they can do is turn to real estate or other hard assets.”

    Around the country

    College update

    In response to financial struggles caused by the pandemic, Grinnell College will give students grants instead of loans.

    New Mexico State University will temporarily move its men’s basketball program to Arizona to sidestep sports-specific state restrictions in the state. The women’s team plans to cross state lines, too.

    Stanford University distanced itself from Dr. Scott Atlas, a prominent adviser on President Trump’s coronavirus team, after he suggested that people in Michigan should “rise up” against restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

    A video of maskless fans of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln football team prompted sharp criticism from the school.

    An interesting idea: Rice University has mostly turned its enforcement of coronavirus violations over to a student-run court.

    K-12 update

    Chicago plans to bring students back to classrooms in February as part of a phased reopening, starting with the youngest students.

    In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker said mask-wearing children in schools were “a lot more mature than many of the adults I know.”

    In Youngstown, Ohio, the state university and the city school district have both increased mental health resources for students as the pandemic continues.

    Two opinions: “Our priorities are misplaced,” Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, wrote in The Los Angeles Times. “Malls simply shouldn’t be a higher priority for reopening than public schools.” (Aaron E. Carroll echoed that sentiment in an Op-Ed for The Times: “Are We Seriously Talking About Closing Schools Again?”)

    A good read: The Biden administration is strongly considering two prominent labor leaders for education secretary, Lauren Camera reports in U.S. News and World Report.

    Testimonials from the sixth grade

    In quarantine, sixth graders at Aspen Country Day School worked together to make a newspaper. They wrote tips on how to be productive during quarantine, offered testimonials from weeks at home and gave advice on how to draw a bird.

    Theo, 11, told readers to “start by lightly sketching out a simple shape like this.”

    CoCo, also 11, offered some advice. “You must never give up because no matter how dark the sky may seem, there is always a little piece of sun that will eventually take over the entire sky. You just have to keep walking the rocky road.”

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