Second Wave of Bad Economic News for States and Schools is Inevitable

August 3, 2020 Leave a comment

NPR has aggregated information on state revenues for the second quarter of the year… at it isn’t a pretty picture! On average state revenues are down 29% and several states have already started to make cuts and announce layoffs in anticipation of even worse news in the future. Meanwhile Congress remains at an impasse with the GOP and the President dead set against “bailing out” the state and local governments while propping up private corporations who are losing revenue because of the pandemic.

Huge Gap in Reopening Decisions for the Rich vs Minorities

August 3, 2020 Leave a comment

I read two articles this morning that underscore the vast difference between the rich and minorities… and I feel a knot in my stomach even now as I write this analysis.

Hardy Murphy, a retired superintendent who now teaches at IUPUI, wrote an op ed for The National Interest describes the condition of the schools minority students will attend should their parents decide to send them… and it is unsurprisingly appalling. He writes:

Local, state and federal officials wrangle over how to make schools safe, with concern over how to sufficiently disinfect and ventilate schools. But for low-income students, their teachers and families, returning to school is a more risky proposition due to the age and condition of the buildings to which they would return.

In a 2018 report to Congress, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that “low income students and students of color are often relegated to low-quality school facilities” that lack “physical maintenance.” This can “negatively impact a student’s health,” the commission concluded.

Mr. Hardy describes why this is so, and his conclusions will be no surprise to readers of this blog: insufficient funding for school repairs; unequal distribution of those scarce funds with most going to school districts who can afford the local match required to complete construction projects; and the need to spend scarce dollars for public education in needy districts on staff and instructional supplies before spending it on buildings. He concludes his essay with this:

The Brown v. Board of Education ruling of 1954 sent Black children into hostile environments as the nation struggled with its moral compass. It appears that Black and low-income students of color might soon be sent into school buildings, some of which date from before that decision. This time, whether it is happening with their best interests in mind is at best debatable.

But for minority parents, the “debate” is limited to whether or not they should send their child to a dilapidated school or keep them home where there are limited if any educational resources at which point they may have to lose their employment.

An article by Alex Williams in today’s NYTimes describes the choices affluent “New York parents of means” are taking as they seek “...less congested classrooms near their second — third? — homes.” While these “parents of means” likely live within walking distance of the dilapidated schools described by Mr. Hardy in his article, they are weighing whether to send their children to schools in the districts where their second homes are located: the Hamptons and Upstate towns along the Hudson River. Or they might do like Nora Morales who:

…recently decided not to plunk down a small fortune for their children’s private school, Lycée Francais de New York, this fall.

Instead, they moved up to their weekend house on 176 rustic acres near Elizaville, N.Y. in the Hudson Valley and plan to home-school their children, using a portion of the money they saved on private school for a part-time private tutor to help out.

The discrepancy between the decisions minority and poverty stricken parents face as compared to those faced by “parents of means” is not lost on Mr. Williams:

The exodus of wealthy families from the city comes at a moment that is fraught socially and politically. The rich have access to multiple educational options, including at-home “pandemic pods”with private tutors, or in the case of Avenues, personal mentors and instruction in 50 languages, including Punjabi and Swahili. Children from low-income homes, meanwhile, sometimes lack laptops and internet access needed for remote learning, and may get less funding as the children of affluent parents abandon the public school system.

To pretend that we live in a nation where everyone gets an equal opportunity for success today is delusional. To believe that things will be better if states and local governments do not get more federal funding is even crazier. And to not use the opportunity presented by the pandemic funds to upgrade dilapidated schools is a monumental oversight.

Two NYTimes Articles Linked: “Pods” in Hastings-on-Hudson and On-line Colleges

August 2, 2020 Leave a comment

A week or so ago I wrote an op ed on the dilemma posed by the emergence of “pandemic pods”, a concept that has gotten widespread media coverage over the past few weeks. Today’s NYTimes is a case in point, featuring an article by David Zweig describing how the phenomenon is playing out in Hastings-on-Hudson, an upscale suburban NYC community.

Today’s NYTimes also featured an op ed piece by Frank Bruni describing Minerva University, an online enterprise that has no campus but instead houses students in communal housing arrangements in cities around the world. Here’s a brief description drawn from two paragraphs of the article:

(Natalie) Kanter and her roughly 105 classmates spent their first two semesters in San Francisco, where Minerva’s bare-bones administration is, before migrating for one semester each to Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Hyderabad (India), London and then San Francisco again. Minerva has a footprint — well, more a toe dimple — in each of those places plus Taipei, Taiwan.

It’s defined not by physical structures but by a proprietary, highly interactive digital platform that professors use for their seminars. The seminars are capped at 20 students (but are usually smaller) and emphasize participation to a point where the platform — a far cry from Zoom — shows a professor how long he or she has been droning on.

It isn’t hard to see how the emerging “pods” could accomplish the same thing… but instead of going from home-to-home in, say, Hastings-on-Hudson the pods could go from Hastings-on-Hudson to Yonkers, to the Bronx, and maybe even another state… or they could go from Hastings-on-Hudson to a small town in the Alabama, to Appalachia, and Albuquerque…. because multi-cultural experiences don’t require international travel… and maybe if more kids understood how their peers in other parts of the country live and think we could become the UNITED States of America.

The article is worth a read… but anyone who has spent any time reading about online learning can probably extrapolate the way the school works… and why experiential education is more valuable than the traditional college program on the traditional college campus.