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Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

New COVID Guidelines Clearer But NOT Uncontroversial

February 16, 2021 Comments off

With a change in the White House, there is a change in tactics in terms of providing direction for the mitigation of COVID-19 and some clearer guidelines on whether schools should open or not. But while the guidelines are clearer, they are not COMPLETELY clear… and whether they will result in more uniformity across the country remains an open question.

The NYTimes reporters Dana Goldstein and Kate Taylor provided a comprehensive overview of the changes at the federal level in a recent article “What You Need to Know about the CDC’s New School Guidelines“. Here are some quotes that underscore the lack of COMPLETE clarity. For example, in response to the question about whether parents would be able to determine if their local schools would open or not, the respose was:

Sort of. You can look up your community’s test positivity rate and the number of new cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days (these numbers are often available on state or county websites, though you might need to do some math to get the rate per 100,000 people), then compare the agency’s policy recommendations for that level of transmission with what your school is doing. But the guidelines acknowledge that some schools have been safely open at higher levels of community transmission than the recommendations advise.

And as to the question of whether the new guidelines will compel more districts to open:

It’s hard to say. In many districts that remain closed, labor issues are the major barrier to reopening. Some local teachers’ unions are demanding teacher vaccination, accommodations to allow teachers with vulnerable relatives to continue working from home, and more stringent safety measures in buildings. But the guidelines might help districts and unions reach consensus by pointing to established research on how to operate schools safely during the pandemic.

And the doctors’ reaction? If you guessed “mixed” you’re right!

They were greeted warmly by many coronavirus experts, who have long argued that schools should be the last places to close and the first to reopen amid the pandemic. Some were puzzled, however, by the lack of emphasis on air quality, and what they said was a misguided focus on cleaning surfaces, given that experts now believe that the virus is largely transmitted through the air.

Others said they thought the thresholds for opening middle and high schools were too restrictive, noting that some schools have operated safely through the pandemic at higher levels of community transmission.

And the union’s reaction? Yes… mixed!

Both of the national unions said they were pleased to see the C.D.C. release clear, detailed guidelines based on science. But both had some concerns.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has more strongly emphasized the importance of in-school virus testing. And Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, echoed expert concerns about the guidelines’ lack of emphasis on air quality. She was also not happy about what she perceived as wiggle room in the language on physical distancing, which left the impression that six feet was ideal, but not strictly required.

And do the guidelines give administrators and school boards some clear guidance in terms of mask wearing and social distancing?

Only vaguely. The C.D.C. says that mitigation strategies will need to continue “until we better understand potential transmission among people who received a Covid-19 vaccine and there is more vaccination coverage in the community.” Many experts believe that some precautions, like masks, will be warranted until all students are vaccinated; there are currently no vaccines approved for children.

Whether schools will need to continue to enforce social distancing or keep students in small cohorts is less clear. A model that examines the effects of different mitigation strategies in schools predicts that vaccinating teachers will have a significant effect in reducing transmission, possibly making distancing and keeping students in cohorts less important.

So are teachers, students. parents, administrators, and school boards better off with these clear federal guidelines? Here’ how the NYTimes writers see it:

The new guidelines are significantly clearer; they could be read as being more strict, but they also discuss evidence that schools can open safely at any level of community transmission. The previous guidelines suggested that schools use similar indicators of community transmission to make decisions about whether to open, but provided limited guidance. Both the earlier recommendations and the new guidance allow schools flexibility to make decisions based on individual factors.

And here’s how I see it: the new guidelines are ABSOLUTELY BETTER! By issuing clearer guidelines rooted in research and providing some degree of state and local control, the Biden administration has artfully threaded the needle. With clearer FEDERAL guidelines, state legislators and residents in each state have a basis for determining if their state is taking the right action in opening schools. By providing guidance on masks and social distancing the federal government provides sufficient support to unions who insist on safety measure and comfort to parents who fear their children will be needlessly exposed to COVID.

Are the guidelines perfect? ABSOLUTELY NOT! But the mitigating factors that make the guidelines blurry, the “but statements” that are bold and italicized, suggest the door is open to changes if additional scientific evidence is forthcoming. One thing IS clear, the Biden administration is willing to lead on this issue and provide a clearer direction for states and local school districts…. and THAT is a great improvement.

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NYTimes is Shocked, Shocked that Black Parents Want the Same Thing as Unions!

February 2, 2021 Comments off

An article in today’s NYTimes by three education reporters, Eliza Shapiro, Erica Green, and Juliana Kim, reports that Black parents’ distrust of public schools is contributing to the problems those schools face in reopening… and 

“Education experts and Black parents say decades of racism, institutionalized segregation and mistreatment of Black children, as well as severe underinvestment in school buildings, have left Black communities to doubt that school districts are being upfront about the risks.

“For generations, these public schools have failed us and prepared us for prison, and now it’s like they’re preparing us to pass away,” said Sarah Carpenter, the executive director of Memphis Lift, a parent advocacy group in Tennessee. “We know that our kids have lost a lot, but we’d rather our kids to be out of school than dead.”

And yet NYTimes written in most cases by these same writers echoes the memes that UNIONS are the main obstacle to reopening, The fact is that teachers unions want the same thing as Black parents: they want assurances that the facilities where they work and Black children spend 6 hours a day are safe. The “severe underinvestment in school buildings” is coming home to roost along with the “institutionalized segregation and mistreatment of Black children”. I hope that billions we are spending now will go toward solving THIS problem and the simplistic blaming of unions for closures ends.

Unions want schools to have the infrastructure needed to provide safe and healthy environments… and so do parents: 

“If you know your school doesn’t have hot running water, how would you feel about sending your child to that school knowing they can’t fully wash their hands before they eat lunch?” she asked.

Blaming unions for the institutional failures of public education falls short of the mark. The unions, Boards, and– yes— administrators all own some culpability for the deficiencies of public education… and, as the writers rightfully note, the pandemic is bringing those deficiencies to light. 

And superintendents and educators are facing mounting pressure to finally confront the trust problem.

“Covid-19 has blown the doors off our schools and the walls off our classrooms,” Sonja B. Santelises, the chief executive of Baltimore City Public Schools, which began reopening in November, wrote in a recent opinion article. “No longer are our practices hidden behind doors or buried in the pages of policy and collective bargaining agreements; they are now in full view on a screen.” She added, “And our parents are watching.”

Sonya D. Horsford, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, said the moment presented an opportunity for public schools to rethink much of what was not working for Black children.

“It’s a great time to have that conversation about the source of mistrust and what we want as part of this recovery,” Ms. Horsford said. “Is it really just getting kids back into schools?”

It IS a great time to have this conversation… but it will never happen as long as the media and politicians fall into the simplistic “unions vs. parents” or “unions vs. administration” narratives. The REAL issue is the practices hidden behind doors or buried in the pages of policy and collective bargaining agreements… collective bargaining agreement that BOTH parties accepted and agreed to. Here’s hoping the conversations about practices hidden behind doors or buried in the pages of policy and collective bargaining agreements emerge and strident arguments about the role of unions stops.  

YES! There IS a National Network Promoting Vouchers Under the Banner of “School Choice”… and if Your State is Governed by the GOP WATCH OUT!

February 1, 2021 Comments off

Peter Greene, a retired teacher who writes the Curmudgucation blog and frequently writes article for Forbes offers a comprehensive analysis of the national push to undercut public schools in a post he wrote last week. He opens the post with a concise description of Education Savings Accounts (or ESAs), the preferred method of introducing vouchers: 

In an ESA/Tax Credit Scholarship program, rich benefactors give money to a “scholarship” organization, which in turn hands the money over to criterion-meeting parents who then hand it over to a private edu-vendor. Meanwhile, the state reimburses the benefactor in the form of tax credits. Ed disruptors generally prefer that you not call these “vouchers,” and they have half a point, since school vouchers have generally been used strictly as tuition to a private school. ESAs, on the other hand, are meant to be more versatile, allowing parents to buy any sort of educational service from a variety of vendors. Usually these programs are capped, because remember–the amount of money that goes into tax credit scholarship programs is the same amount of money that is cut from state budget revenues.

He then describes many ancillary benefits of ESAs: lower taxes on the wealthy; cuts to public schools thereby undercutting their effectiveness in “the marketplace”;  opportunities for contractors to earn money fast without requiring the opening of an entire school; and, best of all, “…a nice clear path for state funding of private religious schools“. And as Mr. Greene notes with a bit of snark: ” And if gutting public schools also weakens those nasty teachers unions, that would be a bonus, too.”

Peter Greene then offers a menu of ESA efforts in ten states across the nation, concluding with a good description of HB 20, my home state of New Hampshire’s entry into the ESA sweepstakes, which I am reprinting in its entirety: 

 
HB 20 would establish the Richard “Dick” Hinch education freedom account programs. Richard Hinch was the staunchly conservative speaker of the house who died of covid on January 1, 2021.
 
And, yes, here we go again. This time they’re called Education Freedom Accounts. Tax credit scholarships. Used for any number of education-flavored stuff. There is a legislative oversight committee, but that appears to be about doing checks on how well the program is working and not on how the money is actually being spent.
 
This one is unusual in that it does not specify which students are eligible nor offer any caps on how much the tax credit program can take (that’s important, remember, because the size of the tax credit cap is the size of the hole it’s going to blow in your state budget). 
 
The notion that a “freedom” scholarship designed to improve education that supports democracy would be named for a lawmaker who refused to wear a mask and died as a consequence is somehow a good metaphor for the whole idea of ESAs. We don’t want to help our fellow citizens by making a small personal sacrifice (i.e. paying a bit more in taxes) and so we spread the disease of ignorance across the state. 
 
Peter Greene is a blogger who researched State legislatures and found ten who have launched bills introducing ESAs so far. He, like me, believes more are on the horizon. If your state is controlled by the GOP, and the chances are it is, be on the lookout for ESAs…. They are Betsy DeVos’ legacy.