On March 24th, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos penned an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune entitled “As schools reopen, it’s time to emerge better than where we started.”
She starts with the story of a bright young high school student’s suicide. It is tragic under any circumstances.
My heart broke reading about Kooper Davis, a New Mexico high school student and promising quarterback prospect who slowly felt like his life was being taken away from him piece by piece, until he decided there was nothing left but to take his own life.
She then makes this claim:
Kooper’s story is all too common. In the Clark County, Nevada, district alone, 18 students took their own lives since the start of pandemic-related shutdowns. Suicide rates during the pandemic have nearly doubled, according to data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
That data she is referring to (or at least what the link takes a reader to) does not prove that claim.
It says a “rise in suicidal behaviors.” In a localized area in Texas. In “some months” in 2020.
Rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts were higher in some months in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a study of 11- to 21-year-olds in a major metropolitan area of Texas.
Significantly higher rates of suicide-related behaviors appear to have corresponded with times when COVID-19 stressors and community responses (e.g., stay-at-home orders and school closures) were heightened, indicating that youth experienced elevated distress during these periods, according to “Suicide Ideation and Attempts in a Pediatric Emergency Department Before and During COVID-19” (Hill RM, et al. Pediatrics. Dec. 16, 2020).
It is a study about suicide risks not actual suicide data.
It is also a localized study in one state. And it is from when DeVos was the Secretary of Education.
Here is a study from my state, North Carolina from North Carolina Health News.
And here are some of the highlights as reported by Hannah Critchfield:
“North Carolina currently lacks data for deaths by suicide in young people in 2020. The state doesn’t have a comprehensive electronic death registry – meaning it has a slower system for reporting deaths than all but two other states.”
“Children in North Carolina were hospitalized for self-harm injuries, including suicide attempts, slightly less last year than in 2019, according to data obtained by information request from the state Department of Health and Human Services.“
“Existing studies that have analyzed suicide during the pandemic have not found evidence that deaths by suicide are increasing overall.”
“Suicide is complex,” said Cubbage. “This narrative that suicide is increasing due to the pandemic is not only unsupported by the data at this time, it also completely ignores the disparities impacting minority groups before the pandemic — and the impacts of the racial and political landscape in our country over the past year.”
DeVos took the tragic death of a student during a pandemic that the administration of which she was a part failed to confront head on and framed it within a study that does not conclusively prove what she claims.
She then goes into an “argument” in her op-ed that we as a nation cannot continue with the “status quo.”
Returning to the pre-lockdown status quo in education shouldn’t be deemed a success by anyone. The fact is America’s education system wasn’t very successful before COVID-19. We must do better.
What DeVos and other business model reformers considered the “status quo” in education is intrinsically linked to a final product, measured by standardized testing and other mercurial measurements. However, the real “status quo” is not really linked to that final product. It is more a reflection of the constant infusion of reform models that have altered the process by which public schools have been able to teach our children. The truth is that the existing state of public education is always being subjected to scrutiny, modification, alteration, and change from outside forces for political or profit-minded reasons.
The real “status quo” is the commitment to flux and change to the variables that measure student achievement and school success by people outside of the actual education process. And in that regard, I do agree that the status quo should change.
However, what really seems to be the central unintended argument that DeVos is really pushing is that every public school should have a nurse, a social worker, and be free from billionaire business tycoons who think they know more about public education than the very people who actually work in our schools.
But DeVos would never openly argue for that. It goes against her ignorant nature.