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Why Oh Why Isn’t the NYTimes Looking at Different Models for Schooling?

June 30, 2020 Leave a comment

NYTimes op ed columnist Michelle Goldberg can usually be counted on to come up with creative solutions or at least insightful perspectives on persistent and complicated problems. Her column today, “Remote School Is a Nightmare. Few in Power Care“, falls short of her standard. Instead of proposing a new direction for schools, a broadening of their mission, or a change in the model we currently follow, Ms. Goldberg’s only alternative solution is offered by Brown economist Emily Oster who suggested

…hiring college-aged people — who are disproportionately unemployed — as something like camp counselors. Kids, kept in pods, would attend schools for part of the day, then move to a space where counselors could oversee online learning or recess.

Where would that surplus space be found? Closed Macy’s stores, perhaps… but space will be a challenge if the 6 foot distancing is enforced. Ms. Goldberg also draws on insights from union president Randy Weingarten, who notes that “(t)o open safely, schools are going to need much more money to buy protective equipment like gloves and masks, retrofit buildings and hire more teachers and nurses” while also noting that adding costs while cutting budgets is an impossibility. The solution Ms. Weingarten sees is passing the HEROES funding… not making any substantive changes to schooling. Here’s comment I left:

This is a golden opportunity for schools to change the way they operate. Open them in a traditional format for Pre-K-early adolescence and keep them open for child care from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM for that age group. Offer a hybrid format for all others while offering alternatives to the traditional high school format, one that many students find disengaging. Alas, instead of looking at new models for schooling we are using the 1920s framework as the basis for the future.

Ms. Goldberg ends her column with this plaintive observation:

Airlines got a bailout. Parents are on their own.

Airlines, though, are going to adapt…. will schools?

Parents Wealth Matters More than Parents Income or Education

June 30, 2020 Leave a comment

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As this Axios article indicates, one of the hugest obstacles upwardly mobile Black families face is their lack of wealth compared to their White counterparts and wealth, unlike education or high income, often takes generations to accumulate. My grandparents, for example, came of age at the turn of the 20th century and were able to acquire homes in “good neighborhoods” and, because of their education, able to obtain jobs that compensated them well. That set the stage for the accumulation of modest but solid wealth for my parents generation and for mine as well. Blacks who came of age in the early Twentieth Century, though, did not have the same educational and work opportunity and, consequently could not hope to acquire a decent home or get a good job. Consequently they were closed off from accumulating wealth that they could pass to younger generations.

The most interesting finding reported in this column, though, was the one that Black families stretch themselves more than their White counterparts when it comes to supporting their children’s education. But because they lack the wealth of Whites their absolute contribution is less! This absolute difference is conflated with a difference in ambition for their children which is clearly NOT the case.

All of this makes the case for reparations strong since the ultimate roots of this wealth disparity can be traced to the Jim Crow era. Food for thought as we engage in this debate.

USA Today Article Describes Alice-in-Wonderland Reality of Remote Learning

June 29, 2020 Leave a comment

Given the mainstream media’s overriding narrative that public education is “failing” children, I am not surprised to see articles like the one Erin Richards wrote for USA Today beginning to emerge. The article describes the “hell” parents went through in the Spring when schools closed due to the COVID 19 outbreak and schools instituted remote learning. Had the article stuck to the heroic efforts parents made in response to the pandemic, it would have been fine. But the article seemed to insinuate that somehow this situation was the teachers’ fault and that they should be expected to ramp up their online skills so that parents can go back to their lives. The jabs are subtle put persistent.

After noting in one of the opening paragraphs that despite the best efforts of teachers, virtual learning didn’t work”, Ms Richards goes on to state that even though some kind of remote learning is likely to take place next year, teachers are not getting ready for it:

Many reopening plans rely on hybrid learning schedules, where students attend school on alternating days or weeks and learn from home on the other days, on a computer where feasible.

Yet America’s educators know little about how to improve the online learning experience – and they’re spending almost no time or energy trying to figure it out before the fall term starts.

This is a cheap shot at the teachers, most of whom were as weary as parents at the conclusion of the school year and many of whom had their own children to teach at home as well. Moreover, as Ms. Richards goes on to explain, the TEACHERS know little because research on virtual learning is virtually non-existent. And despite the fact that they have failed mightily, Ms. Richards looks to online charter schools for guidance on how to educate children remotely because, despite their abysmal track record, their business is booming!

Still, business is up at virtual charters since the pandemic began, said company leaders at Connections Academy and K12 Inc., which power a majority of virtual charters in America.

They attributed low achievement and graduation rates over the years to low-achieving students transferring in from traditional schools.

“Less than 20% of students who come to us are learning at the grade level they entered,” said Nate Davis, CEO of K12.

So if the charters on doing poorly because they can’t educate unmotivated students, why should we assume that they will do any better when they are educating ALL students? Well… the charter school leaders have the answer to that question:

For other students, particularly those with a committed parent in the home, virtual schooling can be highly tailored and effective, said Mickey Revenaugh, co-founder of Connections.

“There’s a critical role the family plays,”she said. “When kids are little you need that adult presence. And they need to be communicating with that child’s teacher on a regular basis.”

So we’ve come full circle: the parents wish they didn’t have to teach would do more; the media wishes the teachers would do more and look to charters; the charters claim they will work if parents are engaged. Somewhere there is a rabbit with a close who is late for a very important date!

After describing all of the personal and personnel challenges districts face with remote learning, which include the renegotiation of contracts and overworked administrators struggling with logistical issues, Ms. Richards describes another Alice-in-Wonderland reality: computer and internet access.

Even if teachers could be trained to do it better, virtual learning would still have a glaring accessibility problem. The households least likely to have the two things necessary for quality virtual learning to take place — a computer and high-speed internet — are low-income households. And those households are the places where children fell behind the most in spring 2020.

At least 15 million out of America’s more than 50 million schoolchildren live in homes without access to a computer, or without access to high-speed internet, according to a new national report released today that tries to quantify the extent of the so-called “homework gap.”

And about 300,000 to 400,000 teachers also lacked access to computers or high-speed Internet, the study estimated.

I couldn’t begin to describe the byzantine world of internet provision in a short paragraph… but suffice it to say I do not have access to high speed internet because the only cable company’s feed stops .4 miles from my home and I’ve been trying for eight years to get it connected and learned that the problems have to do with ownership of poles, the Public Utilities Board, and the lack of residences along the stretch of road I live on. I was heartened at the outset of the pandemic to see a truck from a cable provider moving methodically down our road only to learn that the last stretch of the connection was impossible because of the height of a pole owned by the electric company… or was it the phone company? To make a long story short, the electric company is now installing higher poles in strategic locations which MIGHT make it possible for me to gain access to high speed internet from a single provider. I haven’t been able to get a handle on the cost because the line isn’t installed yet. I offer this convoluted personal experience to illustrate that even IF Congress passed a bill to provide the estimated $6,000,000,000 needed for high speed internet it wouldn’t come our way any time soon. And while the current internet service providers and anti-government libertarians might cringe to read this, I think that the government might have been able to provide the service a lot faster and a lot cheaper.