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When It Comes to Distribution of COVID Vaccines, Most States Rely on “Age-Banding” Because it is “really efficient and simple”… But it is Also Inequitable. Sound Familiar?

March 10, 2021 Comments off

Local newspaper columnist Jim Kenyon writes columns that examine inequities in our region and in our culture in general, Today’s column critiques the methods states are using to allocate the currently scarce vaccines and questions Vermont’s hard-and-fast distribution based on age, a procedure referred to as “age-banding”. Instead of using age as the sole if not primary basis for the distribution of vaccines Mr. Kenyon thinks that lower wage front line workers should be considered for vaccines before, say, healthy 55 year olds who work remotely and have food delivered to their homes. In his column he leans on Dartmouth researcher Anne Sosin, whose work has informed state governments across the country. Her explanation for why most states practice age-banding is straightforward: 

Sosin understands why states are largely holding to vaccinating by age groups. “They have lots of competing claims for a limited supply of vaccines,” she said. “Age-banding is really efficient and simple, but it’s not an equitable approach to vaccination.

Readers of this blog will, I hope, see an analogy between the age-banding used to allocate vaccines and the age-banding used to group students in schools, a practice that leads to comparisons within the age cohort that have adverse impacts on children beginning in pre-school that carry over into adulthood. Why do we practice age-banding in education? Because it’s “…really efficient and simple”… but like the paradigm for vaccines, it is NOT an equitable way to teach children.

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Too Bad Biden Administration Failed to Consult with AASA or ASCD on School Re-Opening… They Had Some VERY GOOD Advice!

March 9, 2021 Comments off

An article from the Washington Post that found its way into our local paper describes the challenges the Biden administration is facing in reopening public schools… challenges that were easily and accurately foreseen by the American Association of School Administrators’ (AASA) Executive Director Dan Domenech. 

The Washington Post article describes how Biden’s initial promise of December 2020 that “…“the majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days” morphed on multiple occasions and now is… well, no one is quite sure what the current “promise” is. This sequence of events was completely predictable because the federal government has little to say about when schools will reopen because public schools are governed by LOCAL school boards who are, in most cases, free to set reopening policies and procedures independent of states.

When AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech was asked about President Biden’s shifting promises by the Washington Post, he was clear and blunt in his response: 

Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, said the Biden team did not consult his group before setting its reopening goal. Domenech said had he been asked, my recommendation would have been don’t put yourself out in terms of promises you might not be able to keep.

“Most people don’t understand when it comes to a school district, the federal government and even the state government have little power over them,” he said, adding that his concern is that Biden is “raising expectations that cannot be met.”

ASCD’s leadership has similar advice for the Biden administration as they plan for the Fall: 

If the next school year doesn’t look more familiar, then that’s going to be a big problem,” said David Griffith, the senior director of advocacy and government relations for the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Griffin said that although Biden and his team cannot control when schools open, the president can create the conditions for it. “If those conditions aren’t there, that is going to be on them,” he said.

Help for the Biden administration may be on the way. His new Secretary of Education, unlike his many predecessors, seems open to listening to leaders in public education. 

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona laid out his five-point plan in USA Today, promising to gather experts for a reopening summit later this month. And in the early morning hours of Saturday, the Senate cleared a coronavirus relief package that included nearly $130 billion to help K-12 schools manage and recover from the pandemic.

“If we can continue as a country to follow those mitigation strategies that we know work, and we can control the spread of covid-19, I do anticipate that we can continue to see more and more students in school,” Cardona said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I do anticipate that, come the fall, if the progress that we’re making now continues, that we’re going to be seeing a school that looks more similar to what we were before the pandemic.”

Mr. Cardona, while not a politician, IS a careful wordsmith and his measured statement combined with his apparent willingness to listen to and heed advice might put public education on solid footing. 

My only concern about what the POTUS and his secretary are saying is that the benchmark appears to be going back to the way things were before the pandemic. It’s possible, indeed plausible, that public schools might have gained some insights on learning from the imposed experiment on distance learning. MAYBE Secretary Cordova’s statement that school will be MORE SIMILAR (as opposed to JUST LIKE) is an intentional phrasing that gives schools the opportunity to make some changes that would help change the way education is delivered. I hope that is the case…. because we should have witnessed the importance of schools as community hubs and the benefits remote learning COULD offer to some students. 

“Ahead” or “Behind”, “Better Than” or “Worse Than” Are Mental Constructs Are the Basis for Sorting and Selecting Students. Will the Pandemic Disabuse Us of These Notions?

February 22, 2021 Comments off

I subscribe to the New Yorker magazine and have a habit of reading through them from cover to cover in sequence. Because of this habit and because reading the New Yorker is not my most urgent priority, I have a stack of them next to my bed that dates back to mid-January. My two daughters are also subscribers to the New Yorker, and one daughter has taken up my reading habits but my other daughter looks each edition over and reads only items that interest her, writers she admires, or articles that her husband recommends. Upon the arrival of the next week’s edition, she discards the old one. I learned about this difference in reading habits a few summers ago when we were all on the beach and I commented to my younger daughter that I looked forward to catching up on my New Yorkers, and my older daughter concurred. My younger daughter’s reaction was “How can you be behind?” She reminded us that we were not in school, that no one was requiring us to read the New Yorkers cover-to-cover, and no one would be testing us on the contents.

Her observation reminded me that “Behind” is a mental construct… behind WHAT? This construct is especially germane when it comes to schooling. This just in: learning has NEVER been precisely mapped against age! When we say that a child is “reading at the 6th grade level” it conveys the notion that there is a precise set of skills that are mastered by all children in 6th. That isn’t the case. The “sixth grade level” is based on the number of correct answers an average sixth-grade students gets correct. It is a statistical artifact. Children who read more proficiently than their peers are viewed as being “AHEAD” while children who experience difficulty are viewed as being “BEHIND”. Those who are “ahead” may be so for a host of reasons. It may be that their families place a high value on reading and spent hours reading to their children and hours where their children have observed THEM reading. They may also have a talent for decoding, a talent that our culture and schools place a premium on. Those who are “behind” may have a similar set of causes and conditions that contribute to their relative placement.

But here’s the ultimate question for those who are concerned about children “falling behind”. Does is matter how one eighth grader compared to another in the long run?