Archive for September, 2020

NYTimes Reveals What Many Suspected: Political Pressure Was Applied to CDC to Present Positive Data to Support School Reopening

September 29, 2020 Comments off

While I have always favored the use of “an abundance of caution” in making decisions about school openings, the POTUS and his politically motivated Coronavirus Task Force wanted schools open at all costs and pushed the formerly apolitical CDC to issue charts that “proved” that schools needed to open. Over the summer, all of these machinations led one principled scientist from the Task Force to resign and blow the whistle on what was going on:

One member of Mr. Pence’s staff said she was repeatedly asked by Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, to get the C.D.C. to produce more reports and charts showing a decline in coronavirus cases among young people.

The staff member, Olivia Troye, one of Mr. Pence’s top aides on the task force, said she regretted being “complicit” in the effort. But she said she tried as much as possible to shield the C.D.C. from the White House pressure, which she saw as driven by the president’s determination to have schools open by the time voters cast ballots.

“You’re impacting people’s lives for whatever political agenda. You’re exchanging votes for lives, and I have a serious problem with that,”said Ms. Troye, who left the White House in August and has begun speaking out publicly against Mr. Trump.

According to Ms. Troye, Mr. Short dispatched other members of the vice president’s staff to circumvent the C.D.C. in search of data he thought might better support the White House’s position.

“I was appalled when I found out that Marc Short was tasking more junior staff in the office of the vice president to develop charts” for White House briefings, she said.

And, as the Times writers Mark Mazzetti,  Noah Weiland, and Sharon LaFraniere report, Mr. Short and other White House operatives did more than develop misleading charts. They found someone in an government agency– the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration– to offer a bona fide and credible report on the impact of remote learning on the mental health of children and played up the findings of THAT report as the basis for advocating the reopening of schools.

The Times article describes the behind the scenes bureaucratic struggle between the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and concludes with this chilling finding:

On July 23, with hours to go before the new guidance was to be published, the White House staff secretary further stunned C.D.C. officials by emailing the guidance to a long list of top White House officials, asking for any “critical edits” by 1 p.m. The list included Mark Meadows, the chief of staff; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser; Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council; and Stephen Miller, a White House policy adviser.

By the time it was published, it contained information that C.D.C. officials had objected to earlier in the week,suggesting in particular that the coronavirus was less deadly to children than the seasonal flu.

What the Times article DIDN’T mention is that while all of this pressure to reopen schools based on the impact of mental health was going on, the administration was doing absolutely nothing to provide schools or communities with the funds needed to address the problems the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration flagged as part of their report, the funds needed to test children and staff members so that any kind of reopening would be safe, or the funds needed to keep school employees who were out of work afloat when their unemployment supplements expired.

The administration’s stance of COVID-19 is clear: Children and workers be damned… the DJA needs to go up!

Miami Dade Superintendent Issues $15,000,000 No-Bid Contract to For Profit Software Company: What Could Go Wrong?

September 28, 2020 Comments off

Wired writer Sandra Upson’s recent article on the $15,000,000 no-bid contract offered to the profiteers at K-12 describes everything that could go wrong when ad hoc technology decisions are made under intense time frames… and it’s quite a list!

First, K-12 was unable to scale up to meet the needs of the 4th largest school district in the nation… unsurprising since it had only operated on a small scale before it put in for the contract.

Second, K-12’s training program was horrible:

The teachers received demo logins to try out the platform, but they didn’t work, and even the trainers struggled to access it, West says. From 8 am until 3:30 pm each day, teachers took notes without once trying the software themselves. “The training was make-believe, it was so, so complex,” says one teacher. “Even our techie teachers were lost.”

Third, it was slow to upload AND incompatible with common hardware:

Once the school year began in earnest, technical challenges persisted. Some students struggled to log in. Uploads could be excruciatingly slow. A particular sore point was the platform’s unreliable built-in video conferencing tool, called NewRow. It had issues with sound and screen-sharing. After about 15 minutes, the video quality started to degrade. It didn’t work on iPads or iPhones.

Fourth, the canned K-12 curriculum was horrible:

When some Miami-Dade teachers examined K12’s materials, they were horrified by what they found. One teacher came across a quiz for second graders with one question: “Did you enjoy this course?” Clicking “yes” allowed the student to ace the test. Several classes relied on K12’s paper workbooks, which the students didn’t receive. “One thing our educators complained about was, the rigor was not there. It was a very watered-down curriculum,” Hernandez-Mats says.

Finally, the K-12 platform was painfully easy to compromise… leading to a teenage prankster bringing the schools to its knees:

ON THE MORNING of August 31, the first day of school, the 345,000 students in Miami-Dade County’s public schools fired up their computers expecting to see the faces of their teachers and classmates. Instead a scruffy little dog in banana-print pajamas appeared on their screens, alongside an error message. “Oh bananas!” read one message from the district’s online learning platform. “Too many people are online right now.”

A rudimentary cyberattack had crippled the servers of the nation’s fourth-largest school district, preventing its 392 schools from starting the year online. But even once the district had quelled the distributed denial-of-service attackand a local teen had been arrested for the crime, “Banana Dog” didn’t go away. If anything, the security breach merely obscured for a few days the crippling weaknesses in the district’s plan to move every aspect of its schooling—including a revamped curriculum—onto a platform that had only ever supported half as many students (and never all at once).

The entire escapade brought to mind a Ted Sizer aphorism I often used in presentations about change.

How do you change schools? Slowly, Carefully, and All At Once

The quick fixes for the pandemic, like the one tried in Miami-Dade drove this home… and I hope that those who want to apply the quick fixes used in the private sector are thinking twice about fast change involving technology.

The POTUS Projects HIS Desire for Thought Control Onto “Liberals”

September 26, 2020 Comments off

I’ve written several times about the POTUS’ latest diversionary ploy of attacking the supposedly national movement toward adopting social study texts that are designed to indoctrinate school children to “hate America”. As noted in my posts and countless articles on this issue, Trump’s are wrong in many ways.

  • First and foremost, there is no national social studies curriculum. Texts are adopted in most cases by States and in many cases States leave that decision to local districts
  • The “textbooks” he cites, notably Howard Zinn’s, People’s History of the United States- are not on ANY State approved lists. Moreover, Zinn’s books are not history books, they are trade books assigned by some teachers to offer a counter-narrative to the mythological stories that passed for factual history prior in public schools at the beginning of the 20th Century. Like the biographies and in depth books that dig deeply into individuals or time periods, the books that the President fears are ones that force students to probe into the root causes of an individual’s actions or the temper of the times.
  • More chillingly, many of the curricular materials he critiques, notably the NYTimes 1619 Project, are free and on-line not printed material. They are often intentionally biased and, when assigned, are done so by responsible teachers in that context. Why? Because contrary to Mr. Trump’s belief history is not a compendium of unarguable and proven facts. It is an interpretation of a sequence of unarguable and proven events based on the thinking at the time they are being examined or the thinking of the author who is analyzing them.

In the NBC report reference in the above link, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, associate professor of history at The New School in New York City, writes: .

we must never lose sight of the fact that as Trump rages about “left-wing indoctrination,” he strives only to implement groupthink of his own.And unlike all but the most extreme of his right-wing predecessors, he not only seeks to impoverish our approach to understanding the past. He now seeks to undermine the institutions where, for nearly two centuries, we assumed we could weather the latest classroom war, and even seek to understand it better, together.

Like so many of his assertions about the left, the POTUS accuses them of doing exactly what he wants and hopes his supporters will do. He WANTS to see students indoctrinated into RIGHT-WING thinking and wants to see his supporters take to the streets to support his anti-government ideology… to protest in favor of close-mindedness the same way his opponents protest in favor of open-mindedness. He is projecting what he and the GOP want to see– a close-minded adherence to a singular ideology– onto the “liberals” who seek only open-minded inquiry, who want to question authority, who want to see students ask “are you sure” when they are presented with ideas. THAT kind of inquiry, not the rigid adherence to doctrine, is the basis of scientific and technological advancement. When we abandon different perspectives, different approaches to teaching and learning, and different ways of thinking we abandon freedom in its purest sense. Presumably those libertarians who strive for freedom to carry guns and end government regulation will speak out in favor of allowing the freedom of thought in the classroom.