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POTUS’ Passed the Buck to States and Soon States Will Pass it to School Boards

May 15, 2020 Comments off

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For weeks I have been deeply concerned about how the decision to open schools will be made and who will enforce those decisions. This Daily Beast article offers a scary insight into the answer to the first question: it looks like State legislators will have the ultimate say and that they intend to impose their decisions on local governments– which means that local school boards will ultimately be placed in the uncomfortable and potentially untenable position of having to decide for themselves. When our national leaders in the GOP conflate science with politics and somehow think they can negate the advice of epidemiologists on the way a disease spreads by voting against their advice or disallowing their advice to be used to establish guidelines, our entire population is put at risk. And By failing to impose NATIONAL standards and passing the responsibilities on to states the federal government is effectively setting an example for states to pass THEIR responsibilities on to local governments who, in turn, will likely pass THEIR decisions on to each local agency. This is what a lack of leadership looks like.

And here’s the REALLY tough question for schools: will parents who fear for the lives of their children based on the advice of their doctors be treated as truants? Will they be required to provide home schooling for their children? Will local school districts be required to enforce the laws of the states? Turbulent times lie ahead!

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Trouble Ahead: Coronavirus Costs Exceed Coronavirus Savings

May 13, 2020 Comments off

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A TV news story describes a storm warning for NC taxpayers and SHOULD be a warning to school districts and taxpayers across the country. It seems that despite savings realized as a result of school closings in Wake County NC the Superintendent is going to be seeking an additional $29 million dollars THIS fiscal year to offset additional spending needed to ensure that all students in the district would be able to get the online programs the district was offering. In the meantime the State and county I am certain are falling well short of the revenues they anticipated this year.

Unless massive funds are poured into every state government in the country this collision will occur in every district in America… and the 2020-21 budgets are going to be even tougher to balance.

Food Insecurity in Childhood Lingers… and With 40% of US Children Experiencing it we MUST Act Quickly

May 12, 2020 Comments off

I wrote a post yesterday suggesting that given the role schools play in providing food to needy children ,a priority needs to be placed on opening schools in high poverty areas first. A Washington Post editorial that is reprinted in today’s local newspaper includes this conclusion regarding food insecurity that underscores the need for prompt action:

Food insecurity affected an astonishing 40.9 percent of households of mothers with children age 12 and under. As the report notes: “It is clear that young children are experiencing food insecurity to an extent unprecedented in modern times.” The pernicious physical and psychological effects of child hunger may linger long after this crisis. Food insecurity in children can contribute to toxic stress, which can negatively impact brain development and increase the risk of depression, anxiety and substance abuse later in life.These effects are especially pronounced in the early years, though the effects of food insecurity are damaging at any age. Many of the traumas facing children across the country — shuttered schools and collapsing social routines — may be unavoidable in a pandemic. Hunger is avoidable.

Hunger IS avoidable… yet as the editorial notes, many states have still not provided the relatively SNAP benefits that were included in the huge stimulus package, SNAP benefits that did not extend beyond the end of the school year and benefits that did not match the levels provided after the Great Recession of 2008. Hunger IS avoidable… we need to take action to prevent the calamitous long term effects on 40% of today’s students.

Coronavirus COULD Thaw Frozen Mental Formations

May 12, 2020 Comments off

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This Forbes article by Tine Thygesan suggests that the Coronavirus could be thawing our frozen conceptions of the economy and of nature. The writer suggests that the extended period of time we are spending “doing with less” is making us realize that there is more to like than the accumulation of things, especially when coupled with the realization that such accumulation results in the destruction of nature. He also contends that people across the world are realizing that the notion that growth is a necessity for Capitalism to succeed is a mental model that can be changed.

While the article makes no mention of public schools, it is evident that the same kind of thawing of the mental formation of school-as-a-widget-sorting-assembly-line could be taking place. If the pandemic gets us to change our way of thinking about the mental models we are clinging to unconsciously it will be worth it to our children and grandchildren. We have enough and we are all good enough… those two messages should underpin our thinking if we ever hope to achieve peace and justice.

Reopening Schools in the Name of Addressing the Lowest Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

May 11, 2020 Comments off

Charles Blow’s column in today’s NYTimes, “The Hunger Pains of a Pandemic”  describes the potential impact of hunger on the well-being of 40% of American families and at least a similar percentage of families around the world. His column offered this astonishing set of statistics:

As a Brookings report last week detailed: “By the end of April, more than one in five households in the United States, and two in five households with mothers with children 12 and under, were food insecure. In almost one in five households of mothers with children age 12 and under, the children were experiencing food insecurity.

David A. Super, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, wrote last week for Talking Points Memo:

“In addition to the sudden disappearance of jobs, our other defenses against hunger are collapsing. Tens of millions of low-income children lost access to free and reduced-price breakfasts and lunches when their schools closed. Tens of millions more have lost access to subsidized meals in child care centers.The summer food programs that try to fill the gap when schools close will face formidable challenges this year.”

And Mr. Blow reminds readers that America families and children are not alone in this shortage of food:

The effect of this pandemic on the vulnerable isn’t limited to America. This is likely to be a world crisis of hunger and instability. As David M. Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, wrote last month in The Washington Post:

The coronavirus pandemic “now threatens to detonate an unprecedented global humanitarian catastrophe. Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations will be further pushed to the brink of starvation. The numbers are shocking: On any given day, the World Food Program offers a lifeline to nearly 100 million people. This includes about 30 million people who literally depend on us to stay alive. Most of them are trapped in war zones and can’t leave.”

I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that a majority of those struggling to put food on their tables are also struggling to cover the costs of their rents and based on what I’ve read about the coronavirus’ impact it is also likely that those struggling to put food on their tables are residing in neighborhoods where the pandemic is hitting hardest.

This backdrop of increased food insecurity and– in all likelihood housing insecurity– makes it all the more important for schools to reopen as soon as possible with a focus on those schools that serve the children experiencing the most adverse childhood experiences. And this strategy of serving the neediest children poses a dilemma for policy makers in many ways.

  • SPACE: If space in schools will be at a premium due to social distancing then the most overcrowded schools will be the most hard pressed to reopen.
  • SOCIAL SERVICES: The schools serving the neediest children are currently underfunding the social services their children require, social services that will be even more in demand as a result of the food and shelter insecurities.
  • STAFFING: The schools serving the neediest children rely more on state and federal government funding than affluent districts. If State coffers are low the funding for schools will suffer and the layoffs in public schools serving the neediest children will be higher than ever.

More money for states will help… but the amount of funding they will need to compensate for lost revenues is daunting and the likelihood of there being MORE funding to provide the ADDITIONAL services needed to support the hungry, unsheltered, and– over time– poorly clothed children will be hard to find.

There are no easy solutions to this set of “wicked problems”– problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of the many interconnected factors involved… and tough solutions require us to acknowledge what Anirban Mukhopadhyay describes as the need for us to develop “the know how to engage constructively with those who differ” forms in our thinking and opinions and to update our thinking and opinions based on emergent facts. As the ground shifts under us, that kind of flexible thinking is the only way forward…. and may offer us some insights into solving these dilemmas.

Axios Assessment of Pandemic Impact and Potential Changes is Thoughtful and On Target

May 10, 2020 Comments off

Axios writers Kim Hart and Alison Snyder assessment of the impact of the pandemic on public education and the possible changes is thoughtful and on target. Hot and Snyder force the possibility of major changes given the findings of a recent survey conducted by the National Parents union indicate that “32% of parents want schools to revert to the way things were before the pandemic began” and an astonishing “61% said schools should focus on rethinking how to educate students and should come up with new teaching methods as a result of the COVID-19 crisis”. That astonishing opportunity cannot be wasted! The article then highlights four broad changes that “experts” foresee:

  • A redefinition of assessment, moving away from standardized tests and toward mastery learning
  • More power in the hands of students and parents, as they realize that aspiring to college may not be the best direction for all children. At the same time, public schools are seeking input from parents on what schools should look like when they DO reopen.
  • More personalization, meaning using CAI to pace student learning and the curriculum itself as opposed to relying on a fixed curriculum
  • A deeper appreciation of the inequities that exist, which Hart and Snyder note are not limited to internet access but also include “the availability of a parent to steer at-home learning“.

Each of these changes are interconnected and, if taken together, would move schools away from the outdated factory model that persisted for nearly a century. There is, however, one caveat that Hart and Snyder do not downplay:

Despite the opportunities to make changes, there will be a strong pull toward the status quo because people are longing for a return to pre-pandemic life, especially for parents of K-12 students.

And they followed this caveat with this quote from Todd Rose of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and co-founder of Populace, a think tank: “People are craving normalcy — the last thing they want is disruption even if that would be good for them.”

As noted in many earlier posts, normalcy is undesirable in the case of public education and unattainable in the future given the fiscal and medical challenges schools will face. Here’s hoping the changes Mss. Hart and Snyder describe come to pass.

Peter Greene on Why Bill Gates is a Very Bad Choice to Help NYS Schools

May 9, 2020 Comments off

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Education writer and public school teacher Peter Greene offers a clear eyed and objective analysis of Bill Gates’ failures as a school reformer. He cites several major flops, all of which have been detailed in this blog over the years: the small schools initiative: a VAM initiative in FL; several tech-based initiatives; and the Common Core. But Mr. Greene rightfully identifies Bill Gates’ biggest failure in this single sentence near the end of the article:

It’s not quite correct to say that Gates has always failed in his educational projects; he has managed to infect much of the education establishment with his belief in a narrow definition of success and a thirst for “data.”

Bill Gates’ Foundation has done good work on many fronts, particularly in the field of international public health. But after reading Peter Greene’s analysis one wonders why Governor Cuomo is making him the face of his Redesign Team… that is unless the team intends to use some form of standardized testing to determine the success of students on a structured curriculum that avoids the inclusion of any content that cannot readily yield data.