Reason Roundup

More Mudslinging in the Debate Over School Reopening

Plus: World population could peak sooner than expected, data cast doubt on vaping and lung cancer link, massive Twitter hack had inside help, and more...


Efforts to help homeschooling parents draw criticism, because everything is partisan these days. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is saying it's "not acceptable for schools not to reopen" classrooms this fall. It would be nice if federal authorities rejected a one-size-fits-all approach to reopening schools and instead let states and municipalities decide for themselves what's best for local students.

Still, much of the current anger at DeVos and the Department of Education's plans for pandemic-era schooling is woefully misplaced.

For instance, sociologist Jessica Calarco complains in a New York Times piece aimed at DeVos that the CARES Act only provides $13.5 billion to help schools make safety changes, not the $245 billion that the Council of Chief State School Officers requested. "Instead, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is pressuring schools to open and threatening to cut off funds to public schools that don't fully open in the fall," writes Calarco. "She has suggested that those federal funds could be diverted to families to help pay for private or religious education. She has already put in place 'micro-grants' for families that want to home-school their children this fall."

But DeVos had no control of the CARES Act or how it allocates funding; that was Congress. And aside from that complaint, what exactly is Calarco upset about—that homeschooling families might get some help? That people who have immuno-compromised kids or otherwise have good reason to keep them out of physical schools may still have some options? That federal money set aside for schools that are now not opening might be reallocated to schools that are? What strange complaints.

Sure, the usual caveats apply here about the federal government overspending and usurping local decision-making through targeted funds conditioned on political demands. Still, it doesn't seem like such a bad idea to withhold funds designated to improve school safety from schools that aren't planning to reopen and offer it instead to programs that could make a difference for students and their struggling parents.

And it's simply silly to pretend (as Calarco does) that providing grants to support homeschooling, private schooling, and charter schooling is somehow likely to increase "inequality in education."

Calarco laments that "families with more resources and more flexibility will presumably be the ones most able to keep their children out of unsafe schools," since "wealthy families may hire private tutors or send their children to private schools that can afford to minimize risk." Yet that's exactly what DeVos' efforts at funding school choice options are meant to offset!

Ultimately, the department's emphasis on school choice at a time like this is refreshing, even if DeVos' rhetoric doesn't fully match her department's efforts. With so much uncertainty, different families facing widely varying risks and economic circumstances, and such huge stakes across the board, it only makes sense to try and meet people where they are rather than trying to force all families and educators back into the same pre-pandemic patterns. Restructuring federal education priorities to give families across a range of socioeconomic brackets greater choice is a great step.

Alas, many commentators seem so primed to believe the worst about DeVos and the Trump-era Department of Education that any good they are doing is getting lost in partisan mudslinging and internet conspiracy theories.

Last week, for instance, a meme went around that falsely quoted DeVos as saying "only" 0.02 percent of U.S. students, or about 14,740 kids, would die as a consequence of reopening schools. There's no public record of DeVos saying that, however. DeVos spokesperson Angela Morabito told USA Today that "the Secretary has never and would never say such a thing. This is a total lie. She would not be working to get kids back in school if it were unsafe."


A new study on vaping and lung disease finds earlier links were due to vapers who are also current or former cigarette smokers. "Previously documented associations between e-cigarette use and lung disease are driven by users who are also smokers. Applied econometric methods are needed to identify causal effects, from Donald S. Kenkel, Alan D. Mathios, and Hua Wang," tweeted the National Bureau of Economic Research in summary.


World population to peak earlier than expected, say scientists. It's strange to think how not very long ago, overpopulation was such a huge concern. Now, we're rapidly nearing a period of population decline, scientists say.

"United Nations demographers have been anticipating since last year that the world's population may stop growing by 2100 as fertility rates decline, projecting a peak of 10.9 billion people by century's end, compared with roughly 7.8 billion now," reports The New York Times. And that estimate may be too conservative:

… a study published on Tuesday in The Lancet, the medical journal, has challenged that forecast, with major economic and political implications. The study asserted that the global population could peak at 9.7 billion by 2064—nearly four decades earlier—and decline to 8.8 billion by 2100.

Moreover, the study concluded, the elderly will make up a bigger chunk of the total than foreseen in the U.N. forecast, and the populations of at least 23 countries, including Japan, Thailand, Italy and Spain, could shrink by more than 50 percent. The study also projected significant declines in the working-age populations of China and India, the two most populous countries, portending a weakening in their global economic power.

The study's projections, if borne out, also carry significant consequences for the United States, whose economy is expected to trail China's in size by 2035. As China's working-age population declines in the second half of the century, the study said, the United States could reclaim the top spot economically by 2098 — if immigration continues to replenish the American work force.


• A massive Twitter hack yesterday that led to an array of celebrities and public figures—including Barack Obama and Elon Musk—tweeting out a bitcoin scam was reportedly aided by a Twitter employee.

• Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is using an executive order to override mask mandates passed in 15 Georgia municipalities.

• Berkley's city council approves police reforms:

After hours of emotional public testimony, councilmembers in the northern California city approved a reform measure that calls for a committee tasked with police reforms. They include removing the police department from responding to calls involving people experiencing homelessness or mental illness and finding ways to eventually cut the police budget by half. The vote also called for the creation of a separate city department to handle the enforcement of parking and traffic laws.

• A new study provides more evidence that masks protect health care workers:

• As we learn more about how varying viral loads affect COVID-19 transmission and the severity of COVID-19 symptoms, it's becoming clearer that masks protects the wearer, not just those around them. "That's the argument Dr. Monica Gandhi, UC San Francisco professor of medicine and medical director of the HIV Clinic at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, is making about why—if you do become infected with the virus—masking can still protect you from more severe disease," notes the Los Angeles Times.

• "One of America's favorite advice books of the moment," White Fragility, "is actually a racist tract," writes John McWhorter. "Despite the sincere intentions of its author, the book diminishes Black people in the name of dignifying us.…Few books about race have more openly infantilized Black people than this supposedly authoritative tome."

• Parler, the Twitter-alternative currently trendy among Republican politicians, is "facing the same evolution that bigger social media companies have confronted for years—balancing free expression with creating safe and inviting online communities."

• Biden now beats Trump by 15 points in a national poll:

• A new lawsuit alleges that "with weapons drawn, Louisville Metro Police SWAT officers raided a home last July to serve a warrant on an alleged drug suspect, but instead, they handcuffed a man hired to paint the vacant house, his girlfriend and her 10-year-old daughter," according to WDRB.

• The governor of Oklahoma has COVID-19.

• A defamation case against MSNBC host Joy Reid has been revived: