To What Extent Does In-Person Schooling Contribute to the Spread of COVID-19? Evidence from Michigan and Washington
The decision about how and when to open schools to in-person instruction has been a key question for policymakers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The instructional modality of schools (in-person, hybrid, or remote instruction) has implications not only for the health and safety of students and staff, but also student learning and the degree to which parents can engage in job activities.
In this working paper, we consider the role of instructional modality in disease spread among the wider community. Using a variety of regression modeling strategies to address unobserved heterogeneity, we find that simple correlations show in-person modalities are correlated with increased COVID cases, but accounting for both pre-existing cases and a richer set of covariates brings estimates close to zero on average. In Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) specifications, in-person modality options are not associated with increased spread of COVID at low levels of pre-existing COVID cases, but cases do increase at moderate to high pre-existing COVID rates. A bounding exercise suggests that the OLS findings for in-person modality are likely to represent an upper bound on the true relationship.
These findings are robust to the inclusion of county and district fixed effects in terms of the insignificance of the findings, but the models with fixed effects are also somewhat imprecisely estimated.