Diving into Education Policy Expert John Bailey’s Insights About COVID, Omicron and Schools

As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc in schools and put pressure on students, parents and teachers, questions and controversies persist about vaccines, masks, what “science” says and more.

John Bailey, Education Policy Expert and writer of the Nightly COVID-19 Policy Update on Substack, joins Dean Tavener on our latest episode of Class Disrupt to talk about the current state of COVID and schools, vaccinations, testing, and more. In this post, I wanted to highlight just three of the points he made in the episode (listen here!) about vaccine frequency, vaccine mandates, the nature of scientific findings and how policymakers talk about them.

First, regarding vaccine frequency – note that the new data shows it’s significantly safe for teens, but “our biggest problem there’s no safety, it’s answering parents’ questions.” He noted that we haven’t seen “any kind of campaign led by philanthropy, or the federal government, just to honestly engage parents in a conversation about their concerns, what their questions are, and get answers to them.”

How might a campaign to deal with parental concerns unfold? Bailey said this should not fall to school regulations. Instead, connecting parents with their doctors to answer their real questions and talk about their stress is crucial.

Bailey’s point struck a chord. It also raised the question of what the campaign should look like.

Thinking about what Adam Grant wrote in his book think again About the “vaccine whisperer” – the individuals who persuade people opposed to vaccines to reconsider their point of view – these whisperers don’t do their job by preaching Advantages of vaccines or claim Those who have an alternative view.

Instead, Whisperers listen carefully to the objections. It also means showing that they really understand what the person is saying. They point to areas of nuance in people’s thinking—which help these individuals become more open to alternative viewpoints.

This breaks down into a second perspective offered by John when I asked him about pediatric vaccination mandates. I admit I was of the opinion that delegations shouldn’t be such a big problem after all. After all, we have mandates for all kinds of other viruses in schools. But John’s point of view echoed.

“Personally, I fall into the camp because it’s too early for vaccines to be given to either age group, frankly,” he said. “Partly, because we didn’t try to reach out to parents and answer questions. Again, it’s shocking to me how little communication has been. And so, to suddenly jump into it, I honestly think it stimulates a lot of opposition.”

This speaks to the value of not preaching or politics but listening and sharing.

And John added, “And also, it’s not really clear about the benefits, from your point of view, I think it’s still an open question about how many children are transmitting COVID. And there you also have to put a kind of question mark, because it’s not just COVID, it’s Alpha and Delta And Omicron.Does Omicron children spread a little faster than Delta?

“And it doesn’t seem like it, but again, vaccinate children to protect adults. You have to have a really overwhelming kind of indisputable evidence that this is the case, to justify the mandate, from the moral grounds and ethics of medicine, and just from the foundations of public health. Nor I think we’ve gotten there so far, and I still think that if we create more space for parents and clinicians to have a conversation, we’ll make more progress on some of these vaccines and booster conversations than we have.”

Chris Kresser, a functional medicine expert who has written about the benefits of vaccines, offered a similar if stronger perspective than John’s that I encourage you to read here. Meanwhile, on the Education Gadfly Podcast, Checker Finn presented an entirely different view in favor of mandates. I encourage you to deal with both.

Finally, John spoke about the nature of science and our evolving understanding of COVID itself.

“The COVID policy update that I do every night, almost there is at least one other study coming out, that contributes to our understanding of the severity of the virus, the different types of treatment or what it means for schools,” John said. “And it struck me that we don’t have a great system for compiling those individual studies, and in the hands of parents, but also school leaders. You don’t see them summarized at all in the US Department of Education, they are rarely shown in the National Institutes of Health, and almost never at the CDC.” What you see is the type of CDC choosing which studies they use to base their decisions on.

“And so, I think we have this information invalid. We should have a better way of saying, ‘This is a whole series of studies.’ Because what’s happening right now is people are coming out with a lot of confirmation bias. They’re skeptical about masks, and they’re going to find five studies that say that Masks aren’t effective. And if they think masks are the most protective thing, they’ll find five studies that say that. And the thing is, you have to look at the body of evidence and treat it with skepticism, meaning it’s questioning the data, but not in a cynical way, not in a way that you’re kind of trying to confirm Our introductions are already. So, here it is.”

John’s comments show the value of treating this world as a scientist. This means not saying things like “science says” or “science is stable”… when in fact “science” is the process of making hypotheses and constantly collecting evidence to disprove the hypothesis or understand the circumstances in which it does not. t apply. Instead, it would be better to say things like “existing evidence suggests” or “data weighted implicitly” and view “science” as an evolutionary process where all studies contribute to our understanding of the underlying phenomenon and understanding of cause and effect.

To this end, John added another idea.

“The second thing I’d like to see our federal government start with is allocating a level of trust that they have to certain outcomes,” John said. By the way, the UK does this. They’ll say, I’m making this up a bit, but for illustrative purposes, that “the Omicron variant is milder”, and they’ll give it a medium level of confidence. And I think there’s something about setting confidence high, medium and low, that kind of helps people with digestion but also balances information. Here we have turned “science” into this kind of everything… With such an air of certainty, this inevitably erodes in credibility when the science changes. Because that’s what science does. Science is a process. And as other studies emerge, when our understanding emerges, or when another variable emerges that works quite differently, our understanding changes. And so, I think we need a little more humility in how we talk about this, and I think I’d like to start seeing that high, medium and low confidence, based on the research group, not just one or two studies. “

This group of ideas relates to another concept that Grant wrote about in his book Think repeatedly. Acknowledging nuance and uncertainty rather than undermining the idea or revealing weakness actually increases credibility and can strengthen the argument, especially for those who bring a skeptical mindset to a topic.

As Diane added, taking this approach would also provide “an opportunity to teach real science, and to really get people to understand that science is… a process. The point is that we are constantly learning more, updating our knowledge, improving, and using it in different ways along the way.”

Not only is this something that can inform us about how we are communicating with schools during the pandemic, but it can also inform how teachers and students are working and learning during this evolving time.

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