Archives for the month of: February, 2022

Heather Cox Richardson is an American historian who writes about current events from a deeply informed historical perspective. In today’s post, she reflects on how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the world. I remembered, as I read it, that Trump asked for only one change in the 2016 Republican platform: the omission of a boilerplate pledge to send military aid to Ukraine if it was threatened. Those who noticed wondered if the change reflected Paul Manafort’s decade as a well-paid lobbyist for the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort’s multimillion-dollar gig ended when a months-long popular protest persuaded Yanukovych to resign and flee to Moscow.

Richardson writes:

Southern novelist William Faulkner’s famous line saying “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” is usually interpreted as a reflection on how the evils of our history continue to shape the present. But Faulkner also argued, equally accurately, that the past is “not even past” because what happens in the present changes the way we remember the past.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the defiant and heroic response of the people of Ukraine to that new invasion are changing the way we remember the past.

Less than a week ago, Russian president Vladimir Putin launched an assault on Ukraine, and with his large military force, rebuilt after the military’s poor showing in its 2008 invasion of Georgia, it seemed to most observers that such an attack would be quick and deadly. He seemed unstoppable. For all that his position at home has been weakening for a while now as a slow economy and the political opposition of people like Alexei Navalny have turned people against him, his global influence seemed to be growing. That he believed an attack on Ukraine would be quick and successful was clear today when a number of Russian state media outlets published an essay, obviously written before the invasion, announcing Russia’s victory in Ukraine, saying ominously that “Putin solved the Ukrainian question forever…. Ukraine has returned to Russia.”

But Ukrainians changed the story line. While the war is still underway and deadly, and while Russia continues to escalate its attacks, no matter what happens the world will never go back to where it was a week ago. Suddenly, autocracy, rather than democracy, appears to be on the ropes.

In that new story, countries are organizing against Putin’s aggression and the authoritarianism behind it. Leaders of the world’s major economies, including Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Singapore, though not China, are working together to deny Putin’s access to the world’s financial markets.

As countries work together, international sanctions appear to be having an effect: a Russian bank this morning offered to exchange rubles for dollars at a rate of 171:1. Before the announcement that Europe and the U.S. would target Russia’s central bank, the rate was 83:1. Monday morning, Moscow time, the ruble plunged 30%. As Russia’s economy descends into chaos, investors are jumping out: today BP, Russia’s largest foreign investor, announced it is abandoning its investment in the Russian oil company Rosneft and pulling out of the country, at a loss of what is estimated to be about $25 billion.

The European Union has suddenly taken on a large military role in the world, announcing it would supply fighter jets to Ukraine. Sweden, which is a member of the E.U., will also send military aid to Ukraine. And German chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany, which has tended to underfund its military, would commit 100 billion euros, which is about $112.7 billion, to support its armed forces. The E.U. has also prohibited all Russian planes from its airspace, including Russian-chartered private jets.

Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, tweeted: “Russian elites fear Putin. But they no longer respect him. He has ruined their lives—damaged their fortunes, damaged the future of their kids, and may now have turned society away from them. They were living just fine until a week ago. Now, their lives will never be the same.”

Global power is different this week than last. Anti-authoritarian nations are pushing back on Russia and the techniques Putin has used to gain outsized influence. Today the E.U. banned media outlets operated by the Russian state. The White House and our allies also announced a new “transatlantic task force that will identify and freeze the assets of sanctioned individuals and companies—Russian officials and elites close to the Russian government, as well as their families, and their enablers.”

That word “enablers” seems an important one, for since 2016 there have been plenty of apologists for Putin here in the U.S. And yet now, with the weight of popular opinion shifting toward a defense of democracy, Republicans who previously cozied up to Putin are suddenly stating their support for Ukraine and trying to suggest that Putin has gotten out of line only because he sees Biden as weak. Under Trump, they say, Putin never would have invaded Ukraine, and they are praising Trump for providing aid to Ukraine in 2019.

They are hoping that their present support for Ukraine and democracy makes us forget their past support for Putin, even as former president Trump continues to call him “smart.” And yet, Republicans changed their party’s 2016 platform to favor Russia over Ukraine; accepted Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria in October 2019, giving Russia a strategic foothold in the Middle East; and looked the other way when Trump withheld $391 million to help Ukraine resist Russian invasion until newly elected Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to help rig the 2020 U.S. presidential election. (Trump did release the money after the story of the “perfect phone call” came out, but the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which investigated the withholding of funds, concluded that holding back the money at all was illegal.)

But rather than making us forget Republicans’ enabling of Putin’s expansion, the new story in which democracy has the upper hand might have the opposite effect. Now that people can clearly see exactly the man Republicans have supported, they will want to know why our leaders, who have taken an oath to our democratic Constitution, were willing to throw in their lot with a foreign autocrat. The answer to that question might well force us to rethink a lot of what we thought we knew about the last several years.

In today’s America, the past certainly is not past.

Masha Gessen is a Russia-born journalist who writes frequently for the New Yorker and other publications. The following article, written before the invasion of Ukraine, appeared in The New Yorker. Reflecting the pre-invasion fears, the article was titled “The Crushing Loss of Hope in Ukraine.” Few believed that Ukraine would survive for more than a day or two in the face of the mighty Russian military machine. Gessen predicted a staunch Ukrainian resistance to Putin but expected that he would respond with overwhelming force, “the only way he knows.”

“Are you listening to Putin?” is not the kind of text message I expect to receive from a friend in Moscow. But that’s the question my closest friend asked me on Monday, when the Russian President was about twenty minutes into a public address in which he would announce that he was recognizing two eastern regions of Ukraine as independent countries and effectively lay out his rationale for launching a new military offensive against Ukraine. I was listening—Putin had just said that Ukraine had no history of legitimate statehood. When the speech was over, my friend posted on Facebook, “I can’t breathe.”

Fifty-four years ago, the Soviet dissident Larisa Bogoraz wrote, “It becomes impossible to live and to breathe.” When she wrote the note, in 1968, she was about to take part in a desperate protest: eight people went to Red Square with banners that denounced the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. I have always understood Bogoraz’s note to be an expression of shame—the helpless, silent shame of a citizen who can do nothing to stop her country’s aggression. But on Monday I understood those words as expressing something more, something that my friends in Russia were feeling in addition to shame: the tragedy that is the death of hope.

For some Soviet intellectuals, Czechoslovakia in 1968 represented the possibility of a different future. That spring, events appeared to prove that Czechoslovakia was part of the larger world, despite being in the Soviet bloc. The leadership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was instituting reforms. It seemed that, after the great terrors of both Hitler and Stalin, there could be freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, a free exchange of ideas in the media, and possibly even actual elections in Eastern and Central Europe, and that all of these changes could be achieved peacefully. The Czechoslovaks called it “socialism with a human face.”

In August, 1968, Soviet tanks rolled in, crushing the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia and hope everywhere in the Soviet bloc. Nothing different was going to happen here. It became impossible to live and to breathe. This was when eight Moscow acquaintances, with minimal discussion and coördination, went to Red Square and unfurled posters that read “For Your Liberty and Ours” and “Hands Off Czechoslovakia,” among others. All were arrested, and seven were given jail time, held in psychiatric detention, or sent into internal exile.

Ukraine has long represented hope for a small minority of Russians. Ukraine shares Russia’s history of tyranny and terror. It lost more than four million people to a man-made famine in 1931-34 and still uncounted others to other kinds of Stalinist terror. Between five and seven million Ukrainians died during the Second World War and the Nazi occupation in 1941-44; this included one and a half million Jews killed in what is often known as the Holocaust by Bullets. Just as in Russia, no family survived untouched by the twin horrors of Stalinism and Nazism.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, both Russian and Ukrainian societies struggled to forge new identities. Both contended with poverty, corruption, and growing inequality. Both had leaders who tried to stay in office by falsifying the vote. But in 2004 Ukrainians revolted against a rigged election, camping out in Kyiv’s Independence Square for weeks. The country’s highest court ordered a revote. Nine years later, when the President sold the country out to Russia—agreeing to scrap an association agreement with the European Union in exchange for fifteen billion in Russian loans—Ukrainians of vastly different political persuasions came to Independence Square again. They stayed there, day and night, through the dead of winter. They stayed when the government opened fire on them. More than a hundred people died before the corrupt President fled to Russia. A willingness to die for freedom is now a part of not only Ukrainians’ mythology but their lived history.

Many Russians—both the majority who accept and support Putin and the minority who oppose him—watched the Ukrainian revolutions as though looking in a mirror that could predict Russia’s own future. The Kremlin became even more terrified of protests and cracked down on its opponents even harder. Some in the opposition believed that if Ukrainians won their freedom, Russians would follow. There was more than a hint of an unexamined imperialist instinct in this attitude, but there was something else in it, too: hope. It felt something like this: our history doesn’t have to be our destiny. We may yet be brave enough and determined enough to win our freedom.

On Monday, Putin took aim at this sense of hope in his rambling, near-hour-long speech. Playing amateur historian, as he has done several times in recent years, Putin said that the Russian state is indivisible, and that the principles on the basis of which former Soviet republics won independence in 1991 were illegitimate. He effectively declared that the post-Cold War world order is over, that history is destiny and Ukraine will never get away from Russia.

Hannah Arendt observed that totalitarian regimes function by declaring imagined laws of history and then acting to enforce them. On Tuesday, Putin asked his puppet parliament for authorization to use force abroad. His aim is clear: in his speech, he branded the Ukrainian government as a group of “radicals” who carry out the will of their American puppet masters. As the self-appointed enforcer of the laws of history, Putin was laying down the groundwork for removing the Ukrainian government and installing one that he imagines will do the Kremlin’s bidding.

Putin expects to succeed because he can overwhelm Ukraine with military force, and because he has known the threat of force to be effective against unarmed opposition. Putin’s main opponent, Alexey Navalny, is in prison; the leaders of his movement are all either behind bars or in exile. The number of independent journalists in Russia has dwindled to a handful, and many of them, too, are working from exile, addressing tiny audiences, because the state blocks access to many of their Web sites and has branded others “foreign agents.” Putin’s sabre-rattling against Ukraine has drawn little protest—less even than the annexation of Crimea did eight years ago. On Sunday, six people were detained for staging a protest in Pushkin Square, in central Moscow. One of them held a poster that said “Hands Off Ukraine.” Another was an eighty-year-old former Soviet dissident.

What Putin does not imagine is the kind and scale of resistance that he would actually encounter in Ukraine. These are the people who stood to the death in Independence Square. In 2014, they took up arms to defend Ukraine against a Russian incursion. Underequipped and underprepared, these volunteers joined the war effort from all walks of life. Others organized in monumental numbers to collect equipment and supplies to support the fighters and those suffering from the occupation of the east, in an effort that lasted for several years. When Putin encounters Ukrainian resistance, he will respond the only way he knows: with devastating force. The loss of life will be staggering. Watching it will make it impossible to live and to breathe.

Robert Mackey writes in The Intercept that Tucker Carlson and Tulsi Gabbard have become favorites on Russian state television because they praise Putin. The Putin regime loves FOX News.

Carlson’s attacks on Biden and the American government thrills the Russian propagandists.

“These people are so ghoulish,” Carlson said of U.S. officials who provided military aid to Ukraine. “Of course they’re promoting war,” Carlson continued, as his comments were translated into Russian, “not to maintain the democracy that is Ukraine. Ukraine is not a democracy. It has never been a democracy in its history, and it’s not now. It’s a client state of the Biden administration…”

On Wednesday night, just hours before Putin ordered the attack on Ukraine to begin, two excerpts from Carlson’s most recent program were featured in Russian state television’s 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. news broadcasts.

Carlson had started his show Tuesday night with a sarcastic monologue in which he told viewers: “Democrats in Washington have told you it’s your patriotic duty to hate Vladimir Putin. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a mandate. Anything less than hatred for Putin is treason. Many Americans have obeyed this directive. They now dutifully hate Vladimir Putin. Maybe you’re one of them. Hating Putin has become the central purpose of America’s foreign policy. It’s the main thing that we talk about. Entire cable channels are now devoted to it. Very soon, that hatred of Vladimir Putin could bring the United States into a conflict in Eastern Europe.”

Carlson’s comments were so welcome in Moscow that an excerpt from that rant with Russian subtitles was quickly produced by the Russian-language service of RT, the government-funded network formerly known as Russia Today…

Like Carlson, Gabbard sought to blame the U.S. and NATO for supposedly provoking Putin’s attack on Ukraine and suggested that Americans would suffer from higher energy prices if Russia was sanctioned for invading Ukraine

On Thursday, after Russia launched its military assault on Ukraine, Gabbard posted the video of her comments about sanctions on Twitter and suggested, without evidence, that doing anything to press Putin to stop the invasion of Ukraine could lead to a nuclear war.

Gabbard has transitioned from being a Democratic candidate for President to being a speaker at the Trump-loving Conservative Political Actuon Conference (CPAC).

Rolling Stone wrote about her transformation:

Tulsi Gabbard, the former Hawaii congresswoman who sought the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, is completing her metamorphosis from iconoclast progressive to hardcore conservative by appearing as a featured guest at the Trumpy love-in known as the Conservative Political Action Conference.

CPAC 2022 begins Wednesday in Orlando, where Gabbard will join a roster of GOP loyalists — including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Republican senators Ted Cruz, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, and Representatives Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene — in building buzz for the star of the circus, former President Donald Trump.

According to the conference agenda, Gabbard will appear at the Friday night “Ronald Reagan Dinner,” where the keynote speaker is the former Fox News star conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck.


What happens to schools when it is safe to reopen fully? Pundits call for more testing, longer school days, anything to make up for “learning loss.”

Gretchen Dziadosz, executive director of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, has a better idea: community schools.

She writes in the Columbus Dispatch:

There is a cost-effective way to keep school doors open 12 hours a day and which provides organized services to students in addition to their normal in-person class time. These are schools in which parents don’t need to pay for after-school day care or private tutoring and students can complete their homework before they come home. Already overburdened, this solution prevents an increase in workload for educators. This solution is called the community schools model.

The most astonishing part is schools following the community schools model provide all these benefits at a fraction of the cost of hiring more teachers to work more hours. Such teachers, by the way, are in very short supply in many parts of the country.

There are already more than 5,000 U.S. community schools, and research shows they succeed in improving student achievement. This proven, successful model can be implemented in many more communities if policymakers, parents and schools have the desire to make it happen.

Imagine school buildings and programs open to families and students all year.

Imagine a school in which students have available tutoring, supervised homework time, mentoring, enhanced science, reading, art, music and sports programs, school clubs, programs with the local zoo or library, computer labs with internet access, dance classes, community theater, whatever the community chooses to provide.

Imagine a school in which the whole family can access programs such as COVID-19 vaccinations, eye exams, mental health services, GED programs, adult enrichment classes, tax services, insurance assistance and sports…

Working together with the school, community resources are brought into the school to improve access and opportunities for students and families. Students struggling with math might have community volunteer tutors. Students without broadband internet at home have access to the computer lab. Students who need reading assistance can work with the local library program.

Read more about how community schools can transforms schools and communities.

Thirteen Ukrainian soldiers were stationed on Snake Island, off the coast of Ukraine. A Russian warship approached and warned them to surrender. The response went viral.

As the Russian military pounded targets across Ukraine with an array of bombs and missiles, a small team of Ukrainian border guards on a rocky, desolate island received an ominous message: Give up or be attacked.

“I am a Russian warship,” a voice from the invaders said, according to a recording of the communications. “I ask you to lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary deaths. Otherwise, you will be bombed.”

The Ukrainians responded boldly.
“Russian warship,” came the reply, “go f— yourself.”

The Russians opened fire, eventually killing 13 border guards.

President Zelensky announced that the 13 would be named Heroes of Ukraine, the nation’s highest honor.

Florida Senator Rick Scott released his 11-point plan for the future. It contains every “culture war” issue that gets Republicans riled up. Abortion, gays, race, gender, patriotism.

It contains not a single proposal to address climate change, the economy, jobs, healthcare, or any other idea to address real problems of real people.

Rick Scott’s agenda:

  1. Our kids will say the pledge of allegiance, salute the Flag, learn that America is a great country, and choose the school that best fits them. We will inspire patriotism and stop teaching the revisionist history of the radical left; our kids will learn about the wisdom of the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the founding fathers. Public schools will focus on the 3 R’s, not indoctrinate children with critical race theory or any other political ideology. 
  2. Government will never again ask American citizens to disclose their race, ethnicity, or skin color on any government forms. We are going to eliminate racial politics in America. No government policy will be based on race. People “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” We are all made in the image of God; to judge a person on the color of their epidermis is immoral.
  3. The soft-on-crime days of coddling criminal behavior will end. We will re-fund and respect the police because they, not the criminals, are the good guys. We will enforce our laws, all of them, and increase penalties for theft and violent crime. We will clean up our cities and stop pretending that crime is OK. We have zero-tolerance for “mostly peaceful protests” that attack police officers, loot businesses, and burn down our cities. 
  4. We will secure our border, finish building the wall, and name it after President Donald Trump. Nations have borders. We should give that a try. President Trump’s plan to build a wall was right. We welcome those who want to join us in building the American dream, immigrants who want to be Americans, not change America. We are a stronger nation because we are a nation of immigrants; but immigration without assimilation makes us weaker. Politicians from both parties talk big about border security and do nothing. We are done with that.
  5. We will grow America’s economy, starve Washington’s economy, and stop Socialism. Socialism is un-American and always leads to poverty and oppression. We will stop it. We will shrink the federal government, reduce the government work force by 25% in 5 years, sell government buildings and assets, and get rid of the old, slow, closed, top-down, government-run-everything system we have today
  6. We will eliminate all federal programs that can be done locally, and enact term limits for federal bureaucrats and Congress. Many government agencies should be either moved out of Washington or shuttered entirely. Yesterday’s old government is fundamentally incompatible with the digital era. The permanent ruling class in Washington is bankrupting us with inflation and debt, so they must be removed. For you to have more, Washington must have less.
  7. We will protect the integrity of American Democracy and stop left-wing efforts to rig elections. Today’s Democrat Party is trying to rig elections and pack the courts because they have given up on Democracy. They don’t believe they can win based on their ideas, so they want to game the system and legalize voter fraud to stay in power. In true Orwellian fashion, Democrats refer to their election rigging plans as “voting rights”. We won’t allow the radical left to destroy our democracy by institutionalizing dishonesty and fraud.
  8. We will protect, defend, and promote the American Family at all costs. The nuclear family is crucial to civilization, it is God’s design for humanity, and it must be protected and celebrated. To say otherwise is to deny science. The fanatical left seeks to devalue and redefine the traditional family, as they undermine parents and attempt to replace them with government programs. We will not allow Socialism to place the needs of the state ahead of the family. 
  9. Men are men, women are women, and unborn babies are babies. We believe in science: Men and women are biologically different, ‘male and female He created them.’ Modern technology has confirmed that abortion takes a human life. Facts are facts, the earth is round, the sun is hot, there are two genders, and abortion stops a beating heart. To say otherwise is to deny science.
  10. Americans will be free to welcome God into all aspects of our lives, and we will stop all government efforts to deny our religious freedom and freedom of speech. The Democrat Party and their Big Tech allies are not merely secular; they have virtually created a new religion of wokeness that is increasingly hostile toward people of faith, particularly Christians and Jews. They are determined to drive all mention of God out of public view. We will not be silenced, canceled, or told what words to use by the politically correct crowd. 
  11. We are Americans, not globalists. America will be dependent on NO other country. We will conduct no trade that takes away jobs or displaces American workers. Countries who oppose us at the UN will get zero financial help from us. We will be energy independent and build supply chains that never rely on our adversaries. We will only help countries that are willing to defend themselves, like Israel.

Bob Shepherd, a frequent contributor to the blog, is an education polymath. He has authored textbooks, written assessments, developed curriculum, and was most recently a classroom teacher in Florida. He has a long history in the education industry.

He explains here why standardized testing today is neither valid nor reliable.

He begins:

The dirty secret of the standardized testing industry is the breathtakingly low quality of the tests themselves. I worked in the educational publishing industry at very high levels for more than twenty years. I have produced materials for all the major textbook publishers and most of the standardized test publishers, and I know from experience that quality control processes in the standardized testing industry have dropped to such low levels that the tests, these days, are typically extraordinarily sloppy and neither reliable nor valid. They typically have not been subjected to anything like the validation and standardization procedures used, in the past, with intelligence tests, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and so on. The mathematics tests are marginally better than are the tests in ELA, US History, and Science, but they are not great. The tests in English Language Arts are truly appalling…

The Common Core tests, he says, are especially useless.

They are almost entirely content free. They don’t assess what students ought to know. Instead, they test, supposedly, a lot of abstract “skills”–the stuff on the Gates/Coleman Common [sic] Core [sic] bullet list, but as we shall see below, they don’t even do that.

Open the link and read on. This is a very important exposé by an expert.

Jill Underly is the state superintendent of education in Wisconsin. In this article, she responds to the demands in red states for “parent rights,” which is usually premised on the belief that teachers are “indoctrinating” their students and can’t be trusted.

Superintendent Underly writes:

Dr. Jill Underly is the Wisconsin State Superintendent, and she offers thoughts to parents and teachers facing the current attacks by legislators.

Like you, I know what it means to be involved with my children’s education, and I love it.

But I look at the way politicians talk about parental involvement, and I don’t recognize it. Family engagement isn’t about yelling at school staff or suing your school board if they don’t do exactly as you demand.

It’s also not asking caregivers to homeschool or pay for private tuition if they feel unheard or unseen.

Family engagement is about having a real conversation about – and with – our children.

Like you, I build relationships with my children’s teachers, I reach out when I need to, and they know they can call if they need to.

As a parent, I love my children’s school, and I see the ways our district works to involve all families and the entire community, and how the entire community supports our school.

It’s an exchange, because what matters most to all of us is what we all have in common: our children.

Of course, this isn’t what politicians mean when they talk about protecting parental rights when it comes to children’s education. Rather, they’re talking about micromanaging curriculum and preying on our parental emotions during a traumatic time, all with the ulterior motive of placing suspicion on educators by weaponizing lessons about difficult topics, or by placing blame on schools for a pandemic they did not cause but are nonetheless supporting our children through.

As to my fellow educators, you and I all know that this isn’t the first time that politicians in this state have gone after teachers.

And as a former civics teacher, I know that teaching the history of this nation cannot – and should not – be done without tackling difficult topics.

Families know this and support these opportunities for our schools to engage our children to become critical thinkers and critical consumers of information. We want our students to grow up and be active participants in democracy, and that means they need to know how to examine their past, think critically about their present, and make informed decisions about their future.

I’m tired.

Like you, I’m tired of the pandemic. I’m getting tired of this winter. And I’m really, really tired of politicians pitting parents against teachers when our children are the ones who get hurt in the end.

Because they’re the ones who matter most in this conversation and who matter most for the future of our state. And that conversation – how to best meet the needs of our children and students – is one I’m excited to continue having as a parent and an educator, and to lead as your Wisconsin State Superintendent.

Read the full letter here.

Patrick Kelly, director of governmental affairs for the Palmetto State Teachers Association, warned in an opinion piece in the Charleston (SC) Post and Courier about the state’s teacher shortage. Teacher salaries are low, and legislators are obsessed with the idea of telling teachers what they may and may not teach. Meanwhile the state has a budget surplus, and Governor Henry McMaster will use it to lower taxes, not to raise abominably low teacher salaries or to feed the children in South Carolina who go hungry every day (about 15% of the children in the coastal counties of the state). Of course, I take issue with the headline: there’s no point trying to teach in a state that requires teachers to teach lies.

Kelly writes:

With the 2022 session of the S.C. General Assembly now more than a quarter complete, legislators have committed a significant amount of time and energy to bills that could have sweeping implications for what is taught in South Carolina classrooms as well as the very definition of what constitutes a public education.

Some of these debates address real, pressing challenges in our schools, while others are fueled by the desire of policymakers to respond to the very vocal concerns of select constituencies. However, in spite of all the time and energy dedicated to education, not enough has been accomplished to address the single problem that threatens to make all other education policy efforts moot: the state’s increasing teacher shortage.

The shortage of teachers in South Carolina has been growing steadily for years. In 2019, I wrote about how “the house is on fire” in schools due to the growing number of vacant teaching positions across the state. That year, schools had opened with 621 vacancies. This year, that number ballooned to 1,063 positions, a 71% increase. What looked like a house fire then has grown into a five-alarm inferno.

The timing of this shortage could not be worse for children. Right now, our students are facing unprecedented challenges, including increased incidents of school violence, depression and suicidal thoughts. At the same time, students are attempting to navigate the academic fallout of lost instructional time stemming from shifts to virtual learning, quarantines and student illness…

Education research universally agrees that the No. 1 in-school influence on student achievement is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Given this fact, it is imperative to address the more than 1,000 classrooms that do not have access to any teacher at a time when students need more support than ever.

To date, though, there has been little done this legislative session to take the steps necessary to enhance educator recruitment and retention. One notable and important exception has been the advancement of a bill introduced by Sen. Stephen Goldfinch to guarantee 30 minutes of daily, unencumbered planning time for elementary and special education teachers, two groups that often go through an entire school day without a moment even to go to the restroom.

Other recently introduced bills hold promise, such as one introduced by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter to address student debt for teachers and one from Senate Republican Leader Shane Massey to provide enhanced lottery scholarships to education majors.

But these bills have yet to receive committee review, a significant problem in the rapidly advancing second year of this General Assembly. As both the legislative calendar and our teacher supply dwindle, we need action now on these bills as well as other measures that could enhance education retention — steps such as reducing class sizes, providing enhanced mentoring support for new teachers and creating meaningful career pathways to keep our best teachers in the classroom.

The Legislature should also follow the lead of S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman, who called on budget writers to do “as much as (they) can” to increase teacher salaries, including raising minimum starting pay to $40,000…

As our state continues to debate what is — or is not — taught in our classrooms, we should never lose sight of the indisputable fact that nothing is taught in a classroom without a teacher. A failure to put out this growing fire in our schools will deprive an ever-increasing number of students of access to the great teacher who can spark interests and abilities into their full potential.

Patrick Kelly is director of governmental affairs for the Palmetto State Teachers Association and has taught in S.C. schools since 2005.

Back in the early days of charter schools, their advocates imagined that most would be run by teachers or local educators with a passion to run their own school. The charters would be innovative and accountable, working closely with public schools to share good ideas.

That was then, this is now.

No one back in the late 1980s envisioned huge charter chains like KIPP.

Nor did they imagine the emergence of for-profit chains owned by entrepreneurs.

Nor did they imagine that a state like Nevada would have most of its charter school students in schools managed by Academica, a Florida-based for-profit chain.

Academica’s politically connected owners have amassed over $100 million in Florida real estate. Real estate: that’s where the profit is. Running charters schools is a lucrative business, especially if you have influential friends and family in the legislature.