A broad strategy for schools during the COVID-19 pandemic

Updated: May 19, 2020

This article originally appeared on the Brooking Institution Blog on March 27, 2020 by Douglas N. Harris.


The social and economic effects of COVID-19 will be severe and touch every corner of the country. But there is much that can be done to soften the blow and put ourselves in a better situation for the long term. Schools have a particularly important role to play.

To see what schools can do, it is useful to think about our broad social and economic needs. I argue we have four needs right now:

  • Protection. This means stopping the spread of the virus and reinforcing the safety net for everyone to prevent side effects. Everyone needs to be able to meet their most basic needs, such as food and housing.

  • Stability. While we need to reinforce the social safety net, it would be even better to prevent people from needing it to begin with. Maintain income and employment.

  • Stimulus. Even after the crisis subsides, people will be reluctant to spend money and businesses will be reluctant to bring workers back. The emergency relief package is aimed at this.

  • Preparation (for the long run). This means taking steps to prevent future pandemics and to facilitate better responses, and putting ourselves in a good long-term position to bounce back.

Preparation is the least urgent of these, but it turns out that there are many ideas out there, especially in education, that address multiple needs simultaneously. Policies that promote both stability and stimulus and preparation, for example, should be top priorities.

The emergency relief package currently being considered in Congress seems