A little context please

As a school superintendent and since my retirement, I have criticized the state’s use of student test scores to evaluate schools, teachers, and principals. I have done so because any decent high school math student could do what the state’s “experts” do, which is to compile a list of numbers with little or no context.

I, probably mistakenly, expect more from the “experts.”

There are those who suggested while I was still working that my criticism resulted from a fear of accountability. I’m not sure what their explanation would be now that I am retired.

The problem with their argument, of course, is that research is on my side. We know that a multitude of factors, such as children’s economic status, home stability, parental education level, health, nutrition, and God-given abilities, to name just a few, influence their level of success.

Yet, every year, when test scores and school report cards are released, all of those factors are conveniently ignored. Districts’ test results are compared as if all kids have the same life experiences, opportunities, and skills, even though we know that is not true. News articles sharing the results are followed by the predictably inane conversations debating how good or bad specific schools are “based on the data.”

It is such hogwash.

Watching the state’s daily release of COVID-19 data has been, as Yogi Berra so famously stated, “Like deja vu all over again.” We are once again fed a bunch of numbers minus the important backstory. We are then expected to make informed decisions about our health and safety based on this contextless data.

The total number of infections and deaths we are provided daily don’t mean much unless we know the number and severity of illnesses and hospitalizations, as well as the deaths, mortality rates, and recoveries by age, sex, and race.

We need to know how many otherwise healthy people have become seriously ill or have died, how many have had one or more contributing health conditions, and what those other conditions were.

Based only on the numbers, one might think that one of the real dangers of COVID-19 is the number of asymptomatic people who are infected by the virus is if that is unique only to this disease. We are told we may be infecting others and not even know it. But, according to the Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal, as many as three-quarters of people infected with the seasonal flu are asymptomatic as well.

That sheds a little different light on the subject, doesn’t it?

As I write this, the media is doing its best to incite panic by emphasizing the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, but is the increase a by-product of more extensive testing, a result of states reopening for business, or a result of irresponsible human behavior, such as gathering in large groups while ignoring social distancing recommendations? Common sense tells us that more testing would result in more cases, but how much have these other factors contributed to the increase in reported cases?

Why don’t we know that?

And, why isn’t the manner in which COVID-19 deaths are reported well publicized? Why, for example, do you have to search to discover that people who die WITH the virus are counted as COVID-19 deaths even if the person didn’t die OF the virus?

That certainly skews the numbers.

If you are willing to dig, you can find that The New York Times has reported that more than 40% of COVID-19 deaths are linked to nursing homes, and the CDC has reported that 80% of deaths have been in people 65 and older. That’s valuable information, but, so too, would knowing how many of those had other serious health issues.

Additionally, at a time when we’re trying to determine how best to reopen schools, wouldn’t it be helpful to know what the data is telling us about how children are impacted by the disease and how they impact others?

Of course it would.

A May article in the Salt Lake Journal Tribune reported that in New York City of 4088 children who tested positive for Cornavirus, six had died, and all six had underlying health conditions. Studies from around the world have shown that children are much less likely to get infected than adults and much less likely to infect others.

In fact, Dr. Frank Esper, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s, has expressed surprise at how children have remained largely unaffected by this disease.

School superintendents should have this information if they are to make informed decisions, as should parents who want to do what is best for their children.

There are reputable physicians who believe that wearing masks is unnecessary and perhaps even counter-productive, quarantining healthy people is absurd, and shutting down our country has been a horrible mistake. Why are their perspectives rarely reported?

The fact is, simply throwing a bunch of numbers our way is not good enough. If we are to make informed decisions about our health and safety, we need ALL the information surrounding this virus.

Giving it to us would be the transparency our leaders say they believe in.