Archives for the month of: August, 2020

Jack Hassard has spent his career teaching science and training science teachers. He lives in Georgia, where Governor Brian Kemp is determined to open schools without regard to the state of the virus.

Hassard says, based on the science, that Georgia is not ready to open its schools.

The infection rate in Georgia is unacceptably high at 13-16%.

It is important for us to use the science to make decisions about the lives of our citizens. At this time, it is not prudent to open schools in ways that bring hundreds of students into a school building. We have seen examples of crowded high school corridors, with most students not wearing masks. This should not be tolerated.

CBS News reported:

A Georgia high school that was featured in a viral photo showing students packed tightly in a hallway has closed temporarily after nine students and staff members tested positive for the coronavirus, CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL-TV reports. North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, reopened for in-person learning August 3.

The school will be closed to in-person learning Monday and Tuesday, according to a letter sent to students’ parents and guardians on Sunday. Extracurricular activities have also been canceled for those days.

Students will be informed if they can return for in-person learning on Tuesday night, the letter stated. The letter also noted the building will be “thoroughly cleaned and disinfected” while the school is shuttered.

USA Today reported:

After only one week of school, more than 250 students and teachers from one Georgia school district will be asked to quarantine for two weeks after several teachers and students tested positive for COVID-19, according to the district’s website.

Cherokee County School District, which is just north of Atlanta, is sharing regular updates on coronavirus cases in its schools on its website.

As of Friday, at least 11 students, ranging in age from first to 12th grade, and two staff members from various elementary, middle and high schools, have tested positive for the virus, prompting the school to send almost 250 students and staff home for 14 days because of possible exposure. The students will receive online instruction during the period.

That’s a trick question because a Governor Kemp has stiff competition from several other governors, such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis.

Politico interviewed Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. He said his early reopening of schools for full-time in-person instruction was going really well, except for the photo that went viral of high school students packed together in a hall while changing classes.

Under Kemp’s abdication of leadership, Georgia is fifth in the nation on the number of cases of COVID-19.

Photos shared widely on social media last week showed hallways packed shoulder to shoulder with students at North Paulding High School northwest of Atlanta. School officials later announced that six students and three staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus, and that the school would be closed Monday and Tuesday while the building is disinfected.

In nearby Cherokee County, 12 students and two staff members from a dozen schools tested positive for the virus during their first week back at school. The Cherokee County school system reported that more than 250 students with potential exposure had been sent home to quarantine for two weeks.

Cherokee County also drew attention because of online photos. Dozens of students at two of its high schools squeezed together for first-day-of-school senior photos. None wore masks.

This account was posted on Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac.”

It was on this date in 1519 that the explorer Ferdinand Magellan set off to sail around the world. Although he was Portuguese, Magellan had sworn allegiance to Spain, and he began the journey with a fleet of five ships and 270 men to see if he could accomplish what Columbus had failed to: find a navigable route to Asia that didn’t involve going around Africa. They set sail from Seville, heading west. After crossing the Atlantic, surviving a mutiny, and losing one ship, Magellan reached Brazil and turned south, following the coast until he came to a deep-water strait that separated the rest of South America from Tierra del Fuego. Magellan entered the strait on All Saints’ Day in 1520, so he christened it the Strait of All Saints. Later, the Spanish king changed its name to the Strait of Magellan. After sailing 373 miles in the strait, Magellan became the first European to enter the Pacific Ocean from the east, and he’s the one who named it “Pacific,” because it was much calmer than the Atlantic.

Unfortunately for Magellan, he never completed the voyage himself. The fleet stopped off in what are now the Philippine Islands, where Magellan befriended a local chief and offered to help him in his war with the natives on a neighboring island. Magellan was killed in battle in April 1521, and the remaining fleet continued on without him. They arrived back in Seville — down to one ship and 18 men — on September 8, 1522.

Trump believes he is one of the greatest presidents ever. He is surrounded by enablers who encourage his fantasies. Those who speak truth to Trump are soon fired. Think Mattis, Kelly, Tillerson.

James Hohmann writes today in the Washington Post:

President Trump said Sunday night that etching his likeness in granite on Mount Rushmore alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt “sounds like a good idea.”

Trump has spent a lifetime putting his name on prime real estate, but this aspiration to add his visage to perhaps the nation’s foremost symbol of presidential greatness also epitomizes how his perception of his own job performance diverges so sharply from the views of most Americans.

A quote in a Sunday front-page story on the White House’s dysfunctional coronavirus response helps illuminate why the gulf has only grown wider as the United States surpasses 5 million cases and nears 160,000 confirmed deaths.

Everyone is busy trying to create a Potemkin village for him every day,” said a senior administration official involved in the pandemic response. “You’re not supposed to see this behavior in liberal democracies that are founded on principles of rule of law. Everyone bends over backwards to create this Potemkin village for him and for his inner circle.”

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) and Sen. John Thune (R) greet Donald and Melania Trump at Ellsworth Air Force Base on July 3 in Rapid City, S.D., on his way to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. (Alex Brandon/AP)
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) and Sen. John Thune (R) greet Donald and Melania Trump at Ellsworth Air Force Base on July 3 in Rapid City, S.D., on his way to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. (Alex Brandon/AP)

This is one of 41 senior officials and other people directly involved in or briefed on the response efforts who gave interviews to Phil Rucker, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey and Bob Costa. Many spoke only on the condition of anonymity to reveal confidential discussions.

“Staffers have concocted a positive feedback loop for the boss. They present him with fawning media commentary and craft charts with statistics that back up the president’s claim that the administration has done a great — even historically excellent — job fighting the virus,” my colleagues report.

Legend has it that fake portable villages were built to impress Russian Empress Catherine II by her former lover Grigory Potemkin during a 1787 trip to Crimea.

“Everybody is too scared of their own shadow to speak the truth,” said another senior official involved in the response.

Trump is “just not oriented towards things that even in the short term look like they’re involving something that’s hard or negative or that involves sacrifice or pain,” added a former senior administration official.

This is not the first time one of Trump’s undertakings has been likened to a Potemkin village. Steven Perskie, the former chairman of New Jersey’s Casino Control Commission, called the Taj Mahal casino a “Potemkin village” before Trump drove the Atlantic City project into bankruptcy through mismanagement and by taking on excessive debts.

Trump gave up on talks for a relief package with congressional Democrats. This is his latest high-profile failure to negotiate a major deal with the legislative branch, along with other issues such as health care, immigration, guns and policing. Instead, he signed executive orders with pomp and circumstance. He acknowledged during a signing ceremony on Saturday that these will not accomplish as much as legislation could, even as he overhyped what they will actually do. Meanwhile, the summer of civil unrest continued this weekend from Chicago to Portland, Ore.

On Sunday night, Trump tweeted a photograph of himself smirking, pointing to the sky, with Mt. Rushmore in the background.

A few minutes later, the president denied a report in Sunday’s New York Times that said a White House aide reached out to the South Dakota governor’s office last year to find out what the process would be to add Trump’s likeness to Mount Rushmore. He tweeted: “Never suggested it although, based on all of the many things accomplished during the first 3 1/2 years, perhaps more than any other Presidency, sounds like a good idea to me!”

The Times journalists, Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman, expressed confidence in their reporting. Their story also revealed that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) greeted Trump with a four-foot replica of Mount Rushmore that included his likeness when he arrived in the state last month for an Independence Day celebration.

Noem’s efforts to ingratiate herself with Trump prompted fears among Vice President Pence’s allies that she might be angling for his job, and the story says that she flew to Washington to reassure Pence three weeks later. But the 48-year-old has installed a TV studio in her state Capitol to allow her to frequently appear on Fox News, she’s been taking advice from Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and she’s scheduled to address a county Republican dinner in Iowa next month with an eye toward a potential run for president in 2024.

This is not the first time that Trump has expressed interest in adding his face to Rushmore. He mused about it in a 2017 speech. And, in 2018, when Noem was a GOP member of Congress running for governor, she told the largest newspaper in her state that Trump brought up the idea during their first meeting in the Oval Office.

“ He said, ‘Kristi, come on over here. Shake my hand,’ ” Noem recalled. “I shook his hand, and I said, ‘Mr. President, you should come to South Dakota sometime. We have Mount Rushmore.’ And he goes, ‘Do you know it’s my dream to have my face on Mount Rushmore?’ ” Noem told the Argus Leader that she quickly realized Trump was not joking. “I started laughing,” she said. “He wasn’t laughing, so he was totally serious.”

“But there’s also the question of whether the rock would be stable enough to add another towering set of presidential features,” Tim Elfrink reports. “Jefferson’s tribute had to be moved from its original spot due to flaws in the granite. The staff at Mount Rushmore says any further sculpting is simply impossible.”

The Education Research Alliance of New Orleans just released a study of why some charter teachers in the nation’s only all-charter district want to join a union. Their reasons sound very much like the reasons that teachers in public schools want a union. No one told them that the Waltons, charter lobbyists, and other supporters of the charter movement don’t like unions. Immediately after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the teachers’ union was eliminated, and all the teachers were fired. Getting rid of the union and removing teacher voice was part of the plan.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – The Education Research Alliance for New Orleans has released a study on teacher unions in charter schools in New Orleans and Detroit. Drawing on detailed interviews with 21 teachers, the report offers insight what motivates teachers in charter schools to form a union and what barriers may stand in their way.

This report gives readers the rare opportunity to hear teachers’ perspectives on the process of organizing in charter schools. All the teachers interviewed came from schools where there was an attempt, successful or unsuccessful, to form a union.

“Understanding the role of unions is particularly important now, when schools are both facing the COVID pandemic and in a time when there are calls to address racism in our institutions,” said Huriya Jabbar, lead author of the report. “Schools need to listen to teachers and develop a shared understanding about the best way forward in these difficult times. In some schools, unions play a big role in those conversations.”

Researchers Huriya Jabbar (University of Texas at Austin), Jesse Chanin (Tulane University), Jamie Haynes (University of Texas at Austin), and Sara Slaughter (Tulane University) uncovered the following insights about union organizing in charter schools:

The most common motivation for organizing was improving teacher retention and job security. Lack of pay transparency and equity (e.g. men and women being paid unequally), unsustainable workloads, teacher burnout, and arbitrary firings were also major underlying concerns.

Teachers also often brought up the desire to advocate for their students, hoping to ensure that school policies were culturally responsive and that vulnerable students were supported.

Teachers who were in favor of unionization efforts reported shock at the severity of school administrators’ responses. Many alleged that administrators fired teachers who attempted to unionize or accused them of destroying the school “family.”

High teacher turnover and fear of being fired were major challenges that stymied attempts at union organizing.
There were notable differences between Detroit, where many charters are for-profit, and New Orleans, where they are all non-profit. Detroit teachers saw low salary as a major issue and complained that they were lacking basic resources like textbooks. Teachers in New Orleans did not emphasize salary levels as a major issue but were concerned about pay transparency.

“As more charter schools open in the U.S., it is becoming increasingly important to understand the needs and motivations of teachers who choose to work in these schools,” said co-author Sara Slaughter, Associate Director at the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans.

Read the study here.

Gary Rubinstein reviews Thomas Sowell’s recent book about charter schools and their enemies.

Thomas Sowell is an economist and a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution. He is African American and has long been highly critical of affirmative action and anything that smacks of lowered standards for black students. He is a hard-right libertarian. Many years ago, we were friends, and I invited him to lecture at Teachers College, where his views were not well received. He is 90 years old and still fighting, which I respect.

Rubinstein writes that the first four chapters of his six chapter book are a rehash of “Waiting for ‘Superman’” myths, such as the long discredited claim that the children in charters are precisely the same as those who are not in a charter. He loathes teachers’ unions and thinks that their opposition to charters is purely greed and self-interest. He identifies Mayor Bill DeBlasio as a fierce enemy of charters, which is absurd, since he gave up fighting them in 2014, after Governor Cuomo and the hedge funders defeated DeBlasio’s efforts to limit their expansion.

I gather from Gary’s review that Sowell singles me out as a critic, appropriately, but I have no idea what motive he attributes to me since I have no financial interest or self-interest in opposing charter growth.

After the first four chapters, he segues into a different mode, acknowledging that students who enter charters are more motivated than those who are not.

Gary concludes:

Chapter 6, the final chapter, is called ‘Dangers’ and it is about other ways that politicians and teacher’s unions undermine charter school growth. There are unfair charter caps. There are people who want charters to teach social justice to their students which he calls ‘indoctrination.’ He also does not like charters having to teach ‘sex education’ or ‘ethnic studies.’ Finally, he resents that some charter critics want the charters to have their meetings open to the public and to have their records open to public scrutiny. He says that this will make the board members targets of smear campaigns and have their homes vandalized.

All in all, this was quite a strange read. I don’t imagine that many reformers want to be identified with his arguments from the last two chapters and since the first four chapters have already been done in 2010 with “Waiting For Superman”, this book is not one that I imagine will be remembered for being very relevant.

Still it is interesting to see how little is left in the reform defender’s arsenal.

It is interesting too that this most recent defense of charter schools comes from an economist who has long been recognized as a hard-edged rightwinger.

Mercedes Schneider teaches high school in Louisiana. She is supposed to resume full-time, in person instruction in a few weeks, although her state has a 14% positivity rate for COVID.

She describes how she will rearrange her classroom and how she will teach, in detail.

I am the teacher, and I am supposed to limit my movement in my own classroom. Is every conversation with a student to be said loud enough for all to hear? Am I to teach without being able to walk up to my students or have them walk up to me? Apparently that is the expectation. But let’s not pretend that what I will be able to do for my students in my COVID-era classroom is remotely on par with normal teacher-student and student-student interaction.

In short, what I will be offering in my room is a form of distance learning to students who happen to be seated in a space in which they can see me and I can see them.

In another post, Mercedes explained that she bought two HEPA filters for her classroom. It has windows, but they don’t open. It has air-conditioners but they don’t filter the air. She is doing what she can to protect her students and herself.

A teacher in the District of Columbia wrote about the hidden scandal in public education: crumbling buildings.

She writes:

For all the debate about why schools should not open … the most obvious elephant in the room is invisible or just a footnote in most discussions. Yes… schools are crowded, yes… the government is not giving timely funding for the necessary PPE and such… and there are SO MANY reasons I could provide as to the dangers at this current time from early childhood issues to teen issues. But the glaring one involves a problem that has existed LONG before the pandemic, but would now be impossible “to fix” in order to make schools safe to open this fall.

US public school buildings are falling apart and have been for years. My school has a rampant mold problem. Two years ago we had a terrible rainy summer and came back to see that the mold was no longer hidden and just “peeking through, but rather was everywhere. I had a giant black clump of black mold on my ceiling in one spot where there is always moisture under normal circumstances. Mold was everywhere – hallways, classrooms, floors…. Was there mold abatement? No. They took ceiling tiles out, cleaned cursorily here and there for “cosmetic appeal”. They finally closed the school down over a weekend in mid fall and turned up all the heaters on high and opened windows and doors all weekend. The spores may have gone into dormancy – that is all. They would perk up as soon as pipe condensation started up when the AC came on in spring. At the end of the school year summer school was held at my school and the can was pushed further down the road for repairs and abatement.

That “road” never came. The custodian was told by his superiors to just replace ceiling tiles. I would regularly spray the obvious mold patch in my ceiling with hydrogen peroxide (bought on my own dime) knowing that this mold could not be healthy for little ones lungs!

Why bring all this up? Our school also has heat and AC issues… filters not fitting properly when replaced etc. My school is NO DIFFERENT than so many public schools in America. Even if the government did give over funding (even right away in March) it would take years to bring the buildings up to safety standards under normal conditions. All kinds of respiratory illnesses abound in my school and schools in other areas of the country too (have teacher friends in different places). This vulnerability would make our young as well as staff even more vulnerable in a very dangerous time.

So, do we send our students back to schools that make them vulnerable under ordinary circumstances? I have a feeling that S. Korea and schools in Europe are paying attention to school infrastructure so it really is a matter of organizing space, schedules to reduce numbers of students at any one time and adding PPE and cleaning.

NOT IN AMERICAN SCHOOLS… they are unsafe to begin with. This is the big elephant in the room.

Thank god my region made a smart decision and very early and set the tone for the entire metro DC/VA/MD area.

Jack Schneider is a historian of education. In this post, which he wrote at my request, he analyzes the new push for homeschooling. In the midst of the global pandemic, with millions of children quarantined at home, its not surprising that parents are compelled to be teachers. But how many parents will want to homeschool when real schools are one day available again?

Schneider writes:

Never let a good crisis go to waste. As any policy advocate knows, the destabilizing nature of an emergency creates a rare opportunity: sweeping change can happen quickly.

Both parties have a history of exploiting difficulties and disasters. During the Great Recession, for instance, the Obama administration pushed through a series of heavy-handed federal education reforms that might otherwise have met with stiff resistance. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the most ambitious education proposals have come from Republicans, because the shuttering of schools has played to their advantage.

With state revenues shrinking before our eyes and schools forced online, conservatives have seized the opportunity to push for a number of long-standing pet projects: virtual schooling, spending cuts, union-busting, and privatization. Unthinkable in ordinary times, these ideologically-motivated reforms suddenly seem plausible.
Consider the recent push for homeschooling. The right has long made the case that public education is a waste of taxpayer funds and an offense to individual liberty. “Government schools,” as many conservatives deridingly call them, strip parents of their freedom to educate their children as they please; worse, they do so at an annual cost of nearly a trillion dollars. Homeschooling, by contrast, is defined by limited government oversight and costs taxpayers virtually nothing.

Homeschooling is no great evil. It predates formal schooling and has existed alongside the public education system for roughly two centuries. It also constitutes a small fraction of overall school enrollments in the United States.

Yet it is important to understand current advocacy for homeschooling as what it is: crisis-related opportunism. Homeschooling hasn’t suddenly become better or more appealing than it ever was. Instead, market-oriented conservatives understand that this is the best shot they’ve ever had at dismantling public education (an aim that Jennifer Berkshire and I detail in our book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door). Homeschooling, for those like Betsy DeVos, is a means to that end.

A recent article in Education Next—a publication created by the conservative Hoover Institution—offers a perfect case in point. It may lead with the classic ideological argument—that homeschooling offers “the freedom to explore education as families see fit, with limited government oversight.” But the real aim of the piece is to persuade readers that our concerns about homeschooling are “overblown.” It’s a play for respectability—ammunition for the policy siege to come.

Yet the evidence on offer is hardly compelling. As we learn, homeschooled children go to museums and libraries somewhat more often than their public school counterparts—largely because they are not at school all day. They are slightly more likely to visit a zoo or aquarium. And they are 17 percentage points more likely to do arts and crafts projects. We are also told, as if we couldn’t have guessed, that homeschooled children are more likely to participate in family activities.

And that’s just about all.

There are some nods to the fact that homeschooling isn’t uniform—that families often band together, employ additional internet-based resources, and sometimes even participate in school-based activities. But on the whole, there is little evidence that homeschooling is a viable large-scale alternative to public education.

To his credit, the study’s author, Daniel Hamlin, doesn’t make that claim. But we need to imagine how such studies will be transformed as they careen across the internet, and as they are weaponized by ideologically-motivated legislators.

We must remember, too, that there is a cost to homeschooling. Most children who are homeschooled probably turn out just fine, though the truth is we don’t actually know—we don’t have the evidence. For many children, however, a shift away from school as we know it would be devastating. Their academic experiences would be more limited and their social experiences much narrower. They would lose out on nutrition and health services, miss opportunities to build interracial and cross-class friendships, and experience far more idiosyncratic forms of citizenship preparation. All of this, as we know from educational research, would most severely affect the least advantaged—those from historically marginalized racial groups and low-income families.

Despite the limited evidentiary base for homeschooling, and the serious concerns we should have, we can be sure that the push for widespread homeschooling will come. The present crisis is simply too good to waste. And given the nature of this emergency, the case for channeling funds directly to families—even if it is at the expense of public school budgets—is an easy one to make.

So, expect to see a sudden influx of research (and research-like products) that tells us to put our concerns aside, to embrace homeschooling for the time being, and to allow policy leaders to blaze a new trail. But read carefully, and remember that any changes implemented now may endure far into the future.

Eli Saslow of the Washington Post interviewed Arizona Superintendent Jeff Gregorich about the prospect of opening schools in his district with the coronavirus still active in the region. The article causes me to wonder why decisions about when to open schools are made by politicians, not scientists, medical experts, and educators.

Gregorich was candid, blunt, worried.

This is my choice, but I’m starting to wish that it wasn’t. I don’t feel qualified. I’ve been a superintendent for 20 years, so I guess I should be used to making decisions, but I keep getting lost in my head. I’ll be in my office looking at a blank computer screen, and then all of the sudden I realize a whole hour’s gone by. I’m worried. I’m worried about everything. Each possibility I come up with is a bad one.

The governor has told us we have to open our schools to students on August 17th, or else we miss out on five percent of our funding. I run a high-needs district in middle-of-nowhere Arizona. We’re 90 percent Hispanic and more than 90 percent free-and-reduced lunch. These kids need every dollar we can get. But covid is spreading all over this area and hitting my staff, and now it feels like there’s a gun to my head. I already lost one teacher to this virus. Do I risk opening back up even if it’s going to cost us more lives? Or do we run school remotely and end up depriving these kids?

This is your classic one-horse town. Picture John Wayne riding through cactuses and all that. I’m superintendent, high school principal and sometimes the basketball referee during recess. This is a skeleton staff, and we pay an average salary of about 40,000 a year. I’ve got nothing to cut. We’re buying new programs for virtual learning and trying to get hotspots and iPads for all our kids. Five percent of our budget is hundreds of thousands of dollars. Where’s that going to come from? I might lose teaching positions or basic curriculum unless we somehow get up and running.

I’ve been in the building every day, sanitizing doors and measuring out space in classrooms. We still haven’t received our order of Plexiglas barriers, so we’re cutting up shower curtains and trying to make do with that. It’s one obstacle after the next. Just last week I found out we had another staff member who tested positive, so I went through the guidance from OSHA and the CDC and tried to figure out the protocols. I’m not an expert at any of this, but I did my best with the contact tracing. I called 10 people on staff and told them they’d had a possible exposure. I arranged separate cars and got us all to the testing site. Some of my staff members were crying. They’ve seen what can happen, and they’re coming to me with questions I can’t always answer. “Does my whole family need to get tested?” “How long do I have to quarantine?” “What if this virus hits me like it did Mrs. Byrd?”

We got back two of those tests already — both positive. We’re still waiting on eight more. That makes 11 percent of my staff that’s gotten covid, and we haven’t had a single student in our buildings since March. Part of our facility is closed down for decontamination, but we don’t have anyone left to decontaminate it unless I want to put on my hazmat suit and go in there. We’ve seen the impacts of this virus on our maintenance department, on transportation, on food service, on faculty. It’s like this district is shutting down case by case. I don’t understand how anyone could expect us to reopen the building this month in a way that feels safe. It’s like they’re telling us: “Okay. Summer’s over. It’s been long enough. Time to get back to normal.” But since when has this virus operated on our schedule?

I dream about going back to normal. I’d love to be open. These kids are hurting right now. I don’t need a politician to tell me that. We only have 300 students in this district, and they’re like family. My wife is a teacher here, and we had four kids go through these schools. I know whose parents are laid off from the copper mine and who doesn’t have enough to eat. We delivered breakfast and lunches this summer, and we gave out more meals each day than we have students. I get phone calls from families dealing with poverty issues, depression, loneliness, boredom. Some of these kids are out in the wilderness right now, and school is the best place for them. We all agree on that. But every time I start to play out what that looks like on August 17th, I get sick to my stomach. More than a quarter of our students live with grandparents. These kids could very easily catch this virus, spread it and bring it back home. It’s not safe. There’s no way it can be safe.

If you think anything else, I’m sorry, but it’s a fantasy. Kids will get sick, or worse. Family members will die. Teachers will die.