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Bill Gates Know as Much About Public Health as He Knows About Public Schools

April 9, 2020 Leave a comment

I was dismayed a few days ago when the media gave credence to Commerce Secretary Navarro’s assertions about when and how the quarantine on Coronavirus should end. I feel equally dismayed that Business Insider is giving Bill Gates’ forecast about schools opening in fall the same level of credibility. In a medical crisis we should rely solely on the expertise of epidemiologists. Period.

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Punished Profiteers Qualify for Stimulus Funds

April 9, 2020 Leave a comment

As reported in this Market Watch blog post, at least 23 previously punished for profit schools will be receiving millions from the 2+ trillion dollar CARES act designed to keep small businesses and institutions afloat. This article offers an even-handed description of the issue, noting that for profit schools led the way in virtual learning and also noting that the previous stimulus plan had provisions that effectively launched many of the schools that ultimately became “bad actors” by helping unqualified students secure loans for programs that could not provide the results promised by the college.

This just in: hastily crafted bills with no oversight provisions will yield bad results. It’s no surprise that these kinds of glitches occur when legislators act quickly. Indeed, I would not be surprised to learn that the section of CARES dealing with the allocation of funds for colleges and universities was written by the lobbyists for the profiteers.

Results of National On-Line Learning Experiment are Trickling In… and they are BAD

April 7, 2020 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes article by a team of reporters headlines one problem with universal on-line learning: the national “attendance rates” are plummeting. But a closer look at the data indicate that something even more devastating is occurring: the on-line “attendance rates” in affluent districts are sky high while those in economically challenged districts are extraordinarily low. This is so for several reasons:

  • Affluent parents can work from home and are, therefore, able to closely monitor their child’s school work. Working class parents, those “ fields like sanitation, health and food service” are not at home and given the lack of supervision their children are not spending as much time— if any— on school work. This quote from a Los Angeles HS English teacher explains the reality faced by the children of parents who go to work outside the home: “A lot of our students have siblings they have to take care of, and their parents are still going out and working. It makes it very difficult to log on at the same time as feeding breakfast to their siblings or helping with chores.
  • High school students in competitive high schools, i.e. self-motivated students, are spending time online while those who are indifferent to schooling and attending only out of compulsion are avoiding school altogether.
  • Students with NO access to high speed internet are completely incapable of learning and, consequently, are missing school altogether

But here’s what the article neglects to point out. ALL of these circumstances existed BEFORE the pandemic and ALL of these circumstances seemed to be acceptable.BEFORE the pandemic attendance was a problem. BEFORE the pandemic schools struggled to engage low income parents. BEFORE the pandemic schools struggled to engage students, particularly at the middle and high school levels. BEFORE the pandemic some children were expected to take care of younger siblings and do chores wile others burnished their resumes by participating in after school activities. BEFORE the pandemic tens of thousands of students could not access the internet, denying them of the same learning opportunities a their cohorts. All of these problems existed BEFORE the pandemic and we accepted them as a “given”. Maybe a gift of the pandemic will be the revelation that our system as it exists now is inherently inequitable and THAT problem needs to be addressed.

And how could that problem be addressed? Maybe some of the billions we are spending to subsidize banks, Big Oil, health insurance companies, and arms manufacturers could be directed to under resourced schools.

Pandemic Imperils Post-Secondary Education Across USA

April 7, 2020 Leave a comment

ABC News reports that ALL colleges and universities in the nation are suffering potentially crippling if not cataclysmic losses as a result of the pandemic. Here are the two paragraphs that summarize the impact:

Scores of colleges say they’re taking heavy hits as they refund money to students for housing, dining and parking after campuses closed last month. Many schools are losing millions more in ticket sales after athletic seasons were cut short, and some say huge shares of their reserves have been wiped out amid wild swings in the stock market.

Yet college leaders say that’s only the start of their troubles: Even if campuses reopen this fall, many worry large numbers of students won’t return. There’s widespread fear that an economic downturn will leave many Americans unable to afford tuition, and universities are forecasting steep drop-offs among international students who may think twice about studying abroad so soon after a pandemic.

The college and university presidents hoped that the stimulant package would help offset their losses, but they were deeply disappointed to find their request for money largely ignored. Instead of getting the 60 billion dollars requested they got only 14 billion. This means that they will need to use whatever endowment funds they have to cover lost revenue, losses that they expect to mount in the fall when students decide to sit out a year because they cannot pay the tuition. And schools with limited endowments? The ABC report doesn’t say so but they may well close taking thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of dreams with them.

In the end, though, it is possible that we may look back and determine that college was oversold. We may find that paying for more schooling to earn more money to buy more things was a fool’s errand.

Another Potential POSITIVE Covid 19 By Product: Broadband Deemed a Public Utility

April 6, 2020 Leave a comment

Jeremy Mohler’s recent post on the In The Public Interest blog includes this paragraph:

The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed what’s long been true: High-speed internet is a public good. It enables education, healthcare, public safety, civic participation, economic growth, and much more. It connects our communities, the nation, and beyond. And, in times like these, it keeps us close to friends and loved ones.

And yet our country charges the among the highest fees for this service in the world and because of that roughly 1/3 of our citizens don’t have access to broadband, a reality that especially impacts low-income, black, and Latino communities. There IS hope that high speed internet might be declared as national necessity. Both the Democratic party and the Republican party are seeking another stimulus, and both are talking about a stimulus to “improve infrastructure”. This COULD be an opportunity for those who see internet access as a civil rights issue to make our voices heard. One thing is certain: as the legislation is developed the telecom industry will do so.

NY Post Op Ed on Pass/Fail at Yale Conflates Grades with Merit

April 5, 2020 Leave a comment

Recent Yale graduate Esteban Elizondo’s op ed piece in the NYPost criticizes his alms mater’s decision to adopt pass/fail grades in response to an outcry by the Yale Student Senate. His argument is that grades are the best means of identifying “merit”, of determining who in a particular class is superior to everyone else. He concludes his distrust against the pass/fail paradigm with this:

“Meanwhile, don’t believe for a second that these Universal Pass demands are temporary. The real motives for easing standards have nothing to do with coronavirus at all. What students really want is to jettison grading permanently so they don’t have to work so hard. It’s nothing but laziness and virtue signaling disguised as activism.”

I am not going to support the main reason the Yale Senate put forth for supporting Pass/Fail but i strenuously object to the notion that Pass/Fail would lead to a world of laziness. I offer two examples of pass/fail testing that are part of our culture that we accept without question: driver’s tests and medical degrees. I have the same kind of driver’s license as someone who failed the exam five times… and the student with the lowest grades in medical school is called “doctor”: the same as the valedictorian. In both cases the “grades” have less to do with merit and more to do with mastery.

The Coronavirus is giving us a chance to examine the value of our grading system. We should use this opportunity to do so and not frame our thinking based on the existing system.

Location Data Says It All: Staying at Home During Coronavirus Is a Luxury – The New York Times

April 4, 2020 Leave a comment

As the virus continues to spread throughout the nation, an analysis of cellphone data shows that those in the wealthiest areas have been able to reduce their movements more than those in the poorest areas.
— Read on

What this article DIDN’T say: the affluent moms and dads who stayed home could support their kids who might need help with their school work. The hourly working parents… not so much. Oh… and as a further penalty, the kids of hourly workers will be exposed to the virus.