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500,000 Jobs Gone in April… But the Worst is Yet to Come

June 4, 2020 Leave a comment

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Chalkbeat writer Matt Barnum reports that public schools lost 500,000 jobs in April, jobs that constituted “only” 6% of the workforce and jobs that were mostly linked to the closure of schools as opposed to the delivery of instruction. Indeed, Barnum notes that very few teachers were laid off when schools closed. Most of the cuts were to janitorial staff, instructional assistants who provided support services to teachers, and some counselors who were presumably unable to provide services online.

But his article is full of ominous economic forecasts that see a marked decline in revenue going forward, a decline that will require layoffs of even more staff and that, in turn, will result in a decline in student performance.

A total of 300,000 public education jobs had disappeared years after the onset of the last recession. Research found students saw declines in test scores as a result of school funding cuts over that period as well.

Economists are also concerned that job losses could further drag down the economy.

“Without sufficient staffing, we cannot safely reopen schools and get parents back to work — which will in turn hamper economic recovery,” Gould said.

From my perspective the best way forward is to overhaul schools as I described in my op ed that I posted here recently: offer face-to-face daily instruction to K-6 students, hybrid instruction on site for 7-10 students, and periodic seminars thereafter. This COULD save money if the schools were closed on Friday for K-6 students and fewer teachers were assigned to secondary students… and while such a change would be daunting if it could be done INTENTIONALLY it could result in even better results for children, parents and our culture.

School Shootings Led to SROs… Police Brutality Leading to their Demise

June 3, 2020 Leave a comment

The public’s love affair with “good guys with guns” might be coming to an end. Last evening, in response to the horrific murder of an innocent black man at the hands of the Minneapolis police, the Minneapolis school Board voted to terminate its relationship with them. As reported by Lois Beckett of the Guardian:

The city’s public school board unanimously approved a resolution on Tuesday night that will end the district’s contract with the Minneapolis police department to use officers to provide school security. The Minneapolis superintendent said he would begin work on an alternative plan to keep the district’s more than 35,000 students safe in the coming school year.

“We cannot continue to be in partnership with an organization that has the culture of violence and racism that the Minneapolis police department has historically demonstrated,” Nelson Inz, one of the school board members, said. “We have to stand in solidarity with our black students.”

While the vote does not bring justice for Floyd, “it will show that meaningful change is possible,” Nathaniel Genene, the school board’s student representative, said.

I have written several blog posts and a couple of op ed pieces questioning the need for “good guys with guns” in public schools and the millions of dollars schools have spent on “hardening”. Schools can partner with police and have productive relationships with local low enforcement without having them inside the building. Moreover, as Ms. Beckett writes, while the school shootings that captured national headlines were typically done by “young white men” it is the African-American community that has suffered from the placement of police officers in schools:

For decades, school shootings, typically carried out by young white men, have prompted the American government to invest hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in putting armed law enforcement officers inside schools.

But studies have shown that more students enter the criminal justice system when more police officers are in schools, sparking concern from some advocates that the attempt to protect American children from mass shootings had unintentionally fueled a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately harms students of color.

And because the introduction of police in schools leads to a pipeline to prison, and because of the action by the Minneapolis School Board in the wake of police brutality, and because school districts will be increasingly strapped for cash, I expect more school boards will take a deeper look at their contracts with local police… and as Ms. Beckett reports, that involves a LOT of school districts:

More than 70% of public secondary schools and 30% of primary schools in the United States have sworn law enforcement officers who routinely carry firearms, according to 2015-2016 data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

“In San Francisco, we’ve had 10-year-olds that have had the police called on them. Kindergarteners. Fifth-graders,” said Neva Walker, the executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, a non-profit group that focuses on creating more equitable public schools.

“We have to get past the idea that police are the means to protect our children, especially for black and brown students,”she said.

Let’s hope the one meaningful change that happens as a result of George Floyd’s murder is a community dialogue in each of the 70% of public schools that has an SRO.

 

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A Litany of Failure Resulting from Remote Learning… But More to Come

June 3, 2020 Leave a comment

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As this Reuter’s article describes with statistical information and personal experiences of parents and students, distance learning has been devastating for public schools. But AASA’s leader Dan Domenech sees that more and more districts are going to continue using it in lieu of face-to-face instruction because of financial and logistical challenges:

Three options are being considered for the fall, he said: fully reopening schools as they were prior to the pandemic; a hybrid model in which some students attend school in-person and some continue with remote learning; and continuing with complete remote learning.

The hybrid option, Domenech said, appears to have the most support. But staying entirely remote, he added, is “beginning to get some traction because the cost of opening schools and following the guidance the CDC has offered is going to be cost prohibitive.” The added costs include more buses to maintain social distancing, protective equipment for students and staff and the daily cleaning of each school.

I am saddened and frustrated that school districts and State boards are not seizing this opportunity to change the existing model and fear that if they don’t a better and less costly model advocated by privatizers will emerge.

In Times of Extreme Distress, Look for the Helpers

June 2, 2020 Leave a comment

Many of our cities are ablaze and most citizens in our country are heartbroken over the events of the past few weeks. Racism is alive and well nearly three generations after the Supreme Court struck down the “separate-but-equal” standards as evidenced by the murder of an innocent black jogger by two white men in Atlanta, the police killing an innocent black woman in her own apartment in Louisville; a white woman in NYC’s Central Park threatening to call the police and tell them she is being physically intimidated by “an African American male”; and finally and most alarmingly the cold-blooded killing of a black man by white police in Minneapolis.

I am feeling the same sense of anger, grief and helplessness that I felt in the sixties when riots broke out after the assassinations of fierce advocates for racial and economic justice followed by riots at the Democrat convention. I am doubly angered, grieved and bereft by the response of our President, who seems to think that the best way to push back against protests of police brutality is to double down on the brutality.  In times of turmoil, we shouldn’t be adding to the turmoil. We should be seeking out peacekeepers. We should be heeding the words of Fred Rogers

The helpers are everywhere. Somewhere in Chicago there is a protege of Barak Obama’s working as a community organizer. Somewhere in Atlanta there is a minister who reveres Martin Luther King Junior. Somewhere in every community where there is discord over race there are groups of individuals who want to bridge the divide. Helpers are everywhere. We need to seek them out, honor them, and honor their work NOW.

Categories: Uncategorized

An Op Ed Article I Wrote on Re-Opening as an Opportunity for Change

May 31, 2020 Leave a comment

The debate on reopening of public schools promises to be far more difficult and complicated than the one we are having now about re-opening the economy. Absent federal guidelines on the issue, it appears that each state will make decisions on reopening its schools and set the guidelines that will apply. In making those decisions, each state will need to balance its budget realities and the advice of its health officials against the desire of many residents to “return to normal” as quickly as possible.

The revenue picture for public education is bleak.

Both Vermont and New Hampshire state governments are facing revenue shortfalls for the current fiscal year, which ends soon, and next year’s revenue forecasts look far worse than the ones used to develop budgets for 2020-21. Town governments are facing similar revenue problems. In addition to facing shortfalls in the next few months, municipalities in both Vermont and New Hampshire are eying potential revenue losses down the road because of the non-payment of property taxes and the closing of small businesses. New Hampshire towns also face the loss of meals and lodging taxes.

All of these shortfalls will inevitably force school districts to cut budgets, if not in the current fiscal year, most certainly for 2020-21.

At the same time, school districts will face higher costs and daunting logistical challenges should they reopen in September. State health officials have already issued protocols for social distancing in the reopening of businesses. If these same protocols are applied to public schools, it would be impossible to house children in the current classroom spaces, transport them using existing bus routes, and feed them using the current lunch schedules and cafeterias.

The medical protocols state health officials are recommending for businesses would also require increased spending when applied to schools. Mandates that school districts require children and school personnel to wear masks, to take the temperature of students and staff as they enter school, to quarantine children who run a fever, and to have students wash their hands more frequently will all cost money — money that is not in current operating budgets.

And, as we’ve witnessed, replacing classroom instruction with online learning requires increased public spending for internet infrastructure and computers in order to provide an equitable opportunity for all children.

Moreover, extended online learning for elementary students will require some kind of child care if parents are required to return to their workplaces.

As complex as the budget and logistical challenges are, they pale in comparison to the political challenges states will face in the reopening schools.

The demonstrations calling for an end to the “shelter-in-place” mandates show that some members of the public are willing to pay whatever price is necessary to “return to normal.” and the president’s recent declaration that “schools will be open in September” adds even more political pressure. States, however, cannot base their decision to reopen on political sentiment. They need to heed the advice of public health officials, most of whom caution against reopening schools fearing that older employees and students with underlying medical conditions will be at particular risk if they are exposed to asymptomatic children and colleagues. States and school districts also will need to answer to parents, who need to be completely confident that their children’s school buildings are clean and that every adult and child in the school is healthy.

Despite the desire of those who want schools to “return to normal,” a survey conducted in late April by the National Parents Union indicates that only 32% of parents want schools to “revert to the way things were before the pandemic began” while 61% said schools “should focus on rethinking how to educate students and should come up with new teaching methods.” Given these survey results, and the complications described above, I offer three possible approaches schools might want to consider this fall:

Offer daily education only to those students in grades K-6. In order to conform to the social distancing currently recommended by health officials while optimizing the use of space for instruction and minimizing the child care complications for working parents, schools could require daily attendance of only the youngest children.

Provide blended learning to students in grades 7-12. Since older children are more capable of independent learning, districts could limit on-site schooling for secondary-level students to two or three days a week and require online instruction for the other days. Such a format complements the personalized learning approaches launched in Vermont and New Hampshire, approaches that use technology to individualize instruction and encourage students to become self-directed learners.

Expand alternative learning opportunities for juniors and seniors. Both Vermont and New Hampshire champion the idea of 11th- and 12th-grade students earning college credits, designing their own independent study programs, or both. In some cases, these self-directed programs do not require students to attend public school. Instead, they attend community college classes or work in apprenticeships.

A recent article of the Axios news website, which included the survey results cited above, concluded with a cautionary note: “Despite the stated desire or parents to rethink schooling, there will be a strong pull toward the status quo because people are longing for a return to pre-pandemic life.” That said, those craving pre-pandemic “normalcy” might want to consider that the pre-pandemic design for public schooling was put in place in the 1920s, before the widespread use of radio, before the invention of TV and before the cornucopia of online instruction available on the internet.

With no fast, cheap and easy way to “return to normal,” now might be an opportune time to determine how we want public schools to operate in the future.

Categories: Uncategorized

DeVos Undercuts Title IX, Withholding Funds Based on HER Definition

May 30, 2020 Leave a comment

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Yesterday we learned that Betsy DeVos was disregarding Title One by giving parochial schools serving affluent children the same allocation as public schools serving children raised in poverty— the children who were supposed to receive that aid. Today Ms. DeVos is withholding Title IX funds from Connecticut unless they deny transgender students the right to participate in sports based on their chosen gender, a choice Title IX entitles them to. Tomorrow? I’m looking for the federal government to funds education savings accounts for parochial school parents to use to enroll their children. That’s against the will of the State legislature you say? Against settled court cases? Betsy doesn’t care. She has the POTUS and maybe the SCOTUS on her side.

First Sue the Colleges… Then Go after K-12

May 29, 2020 Leave a comment

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If anyone wants to believe that a group of parents will not sue the public schools for an inferior education and want a tax rebate.. I have a bridge to sell you.

Categories: Uncategorized