Archives for category: Class size

Chalkbeat reports that many parents are calling on Mayor DeBlasio to endorse outdoor classes.

A Brooklyn lawmaker has joined the growing chorus of parents and activists calling on the city to close streets around school buildings for use as car-free space for recreation, lunch, small group instruction and other activities.

In just two days, City Council Member Brad Lander received proposals from 14 schools from his district — stretching from Boerum Hill and Park Slope to Sunset Park and Kensington — to use surrounding streets. He called on the Department of Transportation to establish an “Open Streets: Schools” program to help coordinate and oversee a citywide operation.

“Families, teachers, school staff and many others are deeply concerned about the safety of sending students back to indoor school in the fall, about whether their school facilities can be made safe (e.g. what about the schools where windows don’t open),” Lander wrote Thursday to the transportation department.

Lander’s letter is part of the effort to maintain social distance guidelines while providing in-person learning this year. Schools are figuring out how to safely hold socially distant classes for their hybrid of in-person and remote schedules, opting to repurpose cafeterias, auditoriums and even office space as classrooms. The push to look outdoors comes as much of the scientific evidence points to less transmission of the coronavirus outside, and as many families remain concerned about the ventilation inside classrooms despite promises from city officials that HVAC systems and ventilation upgrades are underway. Schools are also grappling with how to figure out how to follow social distancing rules with limited space, which means that most children will attend school next year between one and three days a week.

“This is especially dire for students in our most crowded schools, who may end up with up to 66 percent fewer school days simply by virtue of where they live,” Lander wrote.

The letter suggests that blocks could be closed to traffic during school hours to make room for students. Temporary tents could be set up for shade or rain protection, or in some cases, blocks could be fully closed to allow schools to set up semi-permanent tents and outdoor classroom spaces.

Laurie Garrett is a Pulitzer Prize winning science writer. This article in Foreign Affairs explains why Trump and DeVos’s demand to reopen the schools for full-time, in-person schooling in a few weeks will fail. The schools don’t have the money to meet the necessary safety requirements. The less affluent the community, the less money is available to reduce class sizes and make the schools safe.

The article makes excellent points and contains a useful summary of research. I urge you to read it.

But be warned: it has the worst, most misleading headline I have ever seen in any article. I don’t hold writers responsible for headlines. I wonder whether the person who wrote it read the article.

The schools are neither a moral nor a medical catastrophe. It would have been more accurate to say that the federal government’s treatment of the schools is a moral and medical catastrophe. After all, we have a president who scoffs at science. Who can trust their children’s lives to his uninformed advice? It is obvious that his desire to open the schools is based on his political self-interest, not the lives of children and staff.

Where the pandemic is raging, it is not safe to open schools. Where it appears to have been controlled, the schools must reopen cautiously, with the resources needed to keep people as safe as possible, and with full awareness that there might be a resurgence of the virus.

Leonie Haimson writes here how New York Coty hopes to reopen its public schools, which enroll more than one million students.

Haimson has chided the city for years about its failure to reduce class sizes, and that long history of neglect is making it even more difficult to find space to reopen with small classes.

DOE officials have determined that to maintain proper social distancing, a range of 9-12 students per classroom will be allowed, varying according to the size of the classroom.

Because class sizes are much larger than this in nearly every school, schools will have to separate their students into two or three or sometimes four groups who will take turns attending school in person, to be provided with remote learning when not in school. Families can also choose full-time remote learning with their children never attending school in person.

As a result of vastly different levels of school and classroom overcrowding across the city, some schools will be able to offer about half of their students in-person instruction each day; while others may only be able to allow each student to attend school one or two days a week. Or alternatively, different schools will opt for different groups of students attending school every other week or every third week.

For the most overcrowded schools, there will likely be three cohorts of students with complex schedules (not counting the group who stays home for full time remote learning) as shown to the right.

As usual with most such DOE documents, it provokes as many questions as it answers:
How will the existing number of teachers be able to teach three or four different student groups at the same time, including the ones who are present in school, the ones who are home receiving online instruction part-time, and those receiving full-time remote instruction –– particularly with planned budget cuts and a staffing freeze to schools?

If schools are encouraged to repurpose gymnasiums and cafeterias to allow for more classes to be taught at once, as the Chancellor has suggested, what additional personnel will be used to teach those students?

Will the same teachers be assigned to teach the same groups of students over time, whether in person or remotely?

What will working parents do when their kids are learning from home and cannot be in school?

How will busing and after school be handled?

If children attend school 1-3 days a week, parents will need to make arrangements for them when they are not in school.

Peter Greene knows, as do we, that the tech industry has stolen and misused the term “personalized learning,” which to them means a student in front of a computer that holds his or her data.

In this post, he reimagines a future of genuine personalized learning, in which there are small classes and one to one instruction.

But what if we reclaimed the term “personalized education”? What if we decided that the key to personalized learning is not computers, but human beings? Could we meet the needs of students and the recommendations of the CDC? Let’s play the reimagining education game. What could actual personalized education look like?

To really personalize education, you need to provide more time and opportunity for teachers and individual students to interact. There are many ways we could do this, but let’s try this—split the school day in half and have teachers spend half the day teaching class, and half the day in conference with individual students. Reduce class size to a maximum of fifteen; that will allow teachers to get to know students better, sooner, and will also make it easier to do social distancing within the classroom. It retains class meetings, which provide the invaluable opportunity for learning to occur as part of a community of learners.

Can we afford it? Of course we can, if educating the future is a priority. If the president persuaded Congress that we had to make war, Congress would write in the numbers on a blank check.A trillion? No problem.

Our children? No problem.

Oppose any cuts. Education needs huge increases to keep our students and teachers and staff safe. We should spend whatever is necessary to protect them and our future.

Leonie Haimson is a tireless advocate for small class size. At the drop of a hat, she will recite the research showing the value of small classes, especially for the neediest children.

She just published an article showing how New York City can afford to reduce class sizes.

She identifies the specific ways that the city can shift funds to reduce class sizes.

She begins:

The New York City Department of Education has lost 74 employees to the novel coronavirus, including 30 teachers and 28 paraprofessionals who have died as of May 8. Evidence has also emerged that children can develop serious illnesses after being infected with the virus, and even those who are asymptomatic are often effective transmitters.

Now that both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have wisely decided that our public schools will be closed through the end of June, it is time to start thinking about how they will be reopened in the fall to maximize the health and safety of students and staff, and strengthen the academic and emotional support that our students will need to make up for the myriad losses they have suffered this year.

As Mayor de Blasio has said, “Next school year will have to be the greatest academic school year New York City will ever have because everyone is going to be playing catch up.” And yet he has also proposed over $800 million in reductions to the Department of Education, including staffing freezes and at least $140 million taken directly out of school budgets, which would likely cause class sizes to grow even larger, the loss of school counselors and more.

How could next year be the best year ever, given such drastic reductions? In fact, our schools will need increased investments to provide the enhanced feedback and engagement that students will so desperately need after months of isolation and inadequate remote learning.

The New York Times has an interesting story today about the varied approaches to reopening schools in Europe. The common threads are testing, smaller classes, and social distancing.


NEUSTRELITZ, Germany — It was Lea Hammermeister’s first day back at school after almost two months at home and she was already preparing for a test.

Not a math or physics test. A coronavirus test — one she would administer herself.

Ms. Hammermeister, a 17-year-old high school junior, entered the tent erected in the schoolyard along with some classmates — all standing six feet apart — and picked up a test kit. She inserted the swab deep into her throat, gagging slightly as instructed, then closed and labeled the sample before returning to class.

It took less than three minutes. The results landed in her inbox overnight. A positive test would require staying home for two weeks. Ms. Hammermeister tested negative. She now wears a green sticker that allows her to move around the school without a mask — until the next test four days later.

“I was very relieved,” she said happily. In addition to feeling safe around her classmates and teachers, who all tested negative, she feels like less of a risk to her grandmother, who eats with the family every day.
The self-administered test at the high school in Neustrelitz, a small town in northern Germany, is one of the more intriguing efforts in Europe as countries embark on a giant experiment in how to reopen schools, which have been shuttered for weeks and which are now being radically transformed by strict hygiene and distancing rules.

Restarting schools is at the core of any plan to restart economies globally. If schools do not reopen, parents cannot go back to work. So how Germany and other countries that have led the way on many fronts handle this stage in the pandemic will provide an essential lesson for the rest of the world.

“Schools are the spine of our societies and economies,” said Henry Tesch, headmaster of the school in northern Germany that is piloting the student tests. “Without schools, parents can’t work and children are being robbed of precious learning time and, ultimately, a piece of their future.”

Countries across Asia have already been making the leap, experimenting with a variety of approaches. In China, students face temperature checks before they can enter schools, and cafeteria tables are outfitted with plastic dividers.

In Sydney, Australia, schools are opening in staggered stages, holding classes one day a week for a quarter of the students from each grade. Hong Kong and Japan are trying similar phased reopenings. In Taiwan, classes have been in session since late February, but assemblies have been canceled and students are ordered to wear masks.

For now, Europe is a patchwork of approaches and timetables — a vast laboratory for how to safely operate an institution that is central to any meaningful resumption of public life.

In Germany, which last week announced that it would reopen most aspects of its economy and allow all students back in coming weeks, class sizes have been cut in half. Hallways have become one-way systems. Breaks are staggered. Teachers wear masks and students are told to dress warmly because windows and doors are kept open for air circulation.

Germany is keeping a wary eye on the rate of virus spread as it moves to reopen.

Germany has been a leader in methodically slowing the spread of the virus and keeping the number of deaths relatively low. But that success is fragile, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned.

On Saturday, the reproduction factor — the average number of people who get infected by every newly infected person — which the government wants to stay below 1, crept back up to 1.13.

With still so little known about the virus, many experts say mass testing is the only way to avoid the reopening of schools becoming a gamble.

The school in Neustrelitz is still an exception. But by offering everyone from teachers to students free tests twice a week, it is zeroing in on a central question haunting all countries at this stage in the pandemic: Just how infectious are children?

Evidence suggests that children are less likely to become seriously ill from Covid-19 than adults. But small numbers of children have become very sick and some have died, either from the respiratory failure that causes most adult deaths or from a newly recognized syndrome that causes acute inflammation in the heart.

An even greater blind spot is transmission. Children often do not have symptoms, making it less likely that they are tested and harder to see whether or how they spread the virus.

The prospect that schoolchildren, well-documented spreaders of the common flu, might also become super spreaders of the coronavirus, is the central dilemma for countries looking to reopen while avoiding a second wave of deadly infections. It means that school openings could pose real dangers.

“That’s my biggest fear,” said Prof. Michael Hoelscher, head of infectious diseases and tropical medicine at Munich University Hospital, who oversees a household study in Munich that hopes to shed light on transmission inside families.

Manfred Prenzel, a prominent educationalist and member of a panel advising the German government on its reopening, said children represent the most intractable aspect of this pandemic: asymptomatic transmission.

A study published in Germany last week by the country’s best-known virologist and coronavirus expert, found that infected children carried the same amount of the virus as adults, suggesting they might be as infectious as adults.

“In the current situation, we have to warn against an unlimited reopening of schools and nurseries,” concluded the study supervised by Christian Drosten at the Berlin-based Charite hospital.

The Robert Koch Institute of public health, Germany’s equivalent of the C.D.C. in the United States, found that children get infected in roughly equal proportions to adults.

Other studies, including two from China, suggest that children may be less contagious than adults, possibly because they often do not have the symptoms that help spread it, like a cough. Researchers in Iceland and the Netherlands did not identify a single case in which children brought the virus into their homes.

“The evidence is not yet conclusive,” said Richard Pebody, team leader for high threat pathogens at the World Health Organization. His advice on school openings: “Do it very gradually and monitor the ongoing epidemiology very closely.”

That is easier said than done.

For now, Europe’s school openings are as varied as its countries. Denmark opened primary schools and nurseries first, reasoning that young children are the least at risk and the most dependent on parents, who need to return to work. Germany allowed older children back to school first because they are better able to comply with rules on masks and distancing.

France is opening preschools on Monday before phasing in primary and middle school children later in the month. High school students will keep learning remotely for now.

Belgium, Greece and Austria are all resuming lessons for select grades in coming weeks. Sweden never closed its schools but has put in place distancing and hygiene rules. Some hard-hit countries like Spain and Italy are not confident enough to open schools until the fall.

One precondition for any country to open schools, epidemiologists say, is that community transmission rates be at manageable levels.

Early evidence from countries that have led the way in lowering community transmission and opening schools looks hopeful, said Flemming Konradsen, director of the School of Global Health at the University of Copenhagen.

Denmark, after letting younger children back more than three weeks ago, announced last week that the reproduction factor of the virus remained below 1. Older students will be allowed to return to school on Monday.

Germany, Europe’s biggest country, announced last week that all children would see the inside of a classroom again before the summer break after a two-week trial run in high schools had not stopped overall transmission numbers from falling. Officials hope the rise that was reported over the weekend was a blip instead of a sign that the loosening is already reviving the spread of the disease.

Many argue the benefits of opening schools — to economies, parents and the children themselves — far outweigh the costs so long as hygiene rules are put in place. Disadvantaged children in particular suffer from being out, said Sophie Luthe, a social worker at a Berlin high school.

“We have been losing children; they just drop off the radar,” Ms. Luthe said. “School is a control mechanism for everything from learning difficulties to child abuse.”

But teaching in the time of a pandemic comes with a host of challenges: In the high school in Neustrelitz, roughly a third of the teachers are out because they are older or at risk.

There are not enough classrooms to allow all 1,000 students to come to class and still keep six feet apart, which means at most a third can be in school at any one time. Teachers often shuttle between classrooms, teaching two groups at once.

At the same time, the virus is spurring innovation.

Teachers in Denmark have moved a lot of their teaching outdoors. German schools, long behind on digital learning, have seen their technology budgets increase overnight.

“Corona is exposing all our problems,” Mr. Tesch, the headmaster in Neustrelitz, said. “It’s an opportunity to rethink our schools and experiment.”

That’s why he did not hesitate when an old friend, who co-founded a local biotechnology company, offered the school free tests for a pilot. Mr. Tesch said he hoped the testing would allow him to increase class sizes safely and restart activities like sports and the orchestra.

Many experts advocate more testing in schools but so far it remains the exception. Luxembourg, tiny and wealthy, tested all 8,500 of its high school seniors before opening schools to them last Monday.

Some students and teachers in Neustrelitz were skeptical when they first heard that the school would offer voluntary biweekly tests.

“I didn’t want to do it at first,” recalled Kimberly Arndt. “I thought, ‘What if I test positive? I’d be pegged as the girl with corona.’”

The incentive to test is high: A negative result allows students to wash and disinfect hands in bathrooms where lines are much shorter. Corona-negative students do not have to wear masks, either.

Mr. Tesch, the headmaster, acknowledges that his school is able to test only because he was offered free kits. Normally they would cost around 40 euros, or $44, a piece. But the government, he said, should consider paying for similar testing at all schools.

“It’s a lot of money,” he said, “but it’s cheaper than shutting down your economy.”

California Sunday Magazine published interviews with teachers about their role in striking, walking out, negotiating, bargaining.

It begins:

On February 22, 2018, some 20,000 teachers in West Virginia — many of them wearing red in solidarity — walked out of their classrooms. That April saw strikes in Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma, as teachers vented their collective frustration in what became known as the #RedforEd movement. In early 2019, educators picketed in Oakland and Los Angeles, in districts across Washington state and Oregon, and again in Colorado. And this fall, educators in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, took to the streets.

After years of system-wide underinvestment, educators are pushing back hard. They have married concerns about pay with their ability to adequately educate students . They have made a few gains — one or two fewer students in their overcrowded classes and significant raises in some cases. But many still see a long way to go, and as another election ramps up, the public will have to decide how much these issues matter. In these pages, we hear from teachers who made the decision to walk the picket lines and others who decided to stay put.

Angie Sullivan regularly writes blast emails to every member of the state legislature and to the state’s journalists. Here is her latest:

CCEA members voted at a General Meeting yesterday to raise dues.  
Those teacher union dues will be used to campaign for a billion dollars.  
Yes, billion. 
Yes, dollars.  
We need to think big to win big.  
Teachers need those funds to fund class-size reduction.   We need additional teachers.   We need additional classrooms. 
Nevada teachers have the largest class-sizes in the nation.  
It is not reasonable to keep piling more and more students into small spaces.  
Our eye is on the 2021 Nevada Legislative Session.  We will get a billion dollars for kids.   
We demand political will to take care of kids.  
Here we come. 
#Fight4Kids #Billion4Kids
#NVed #NVTeach #Nevada #Vegas
The Teacher MotherJonesing,
Angie. 

New York City’s Department of Education launched a new initiative with old and failed ideas: more testing for schools with low scores.

Liat Olenick, a teacher of science in elementary school in the city, explains why more testing is a very bad idea. She says smaller classes would be far more valuable and effective.

Wow! Talk about a surprise! Teacher Glenn Sacks managed to get an article with the title of this post in the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper that regularly vilifies teachers’ unions and praises privatization of public funds.

Yes, Sacks–a teacher in Los Angeles–contends that teachers’ unions fight to get teachers the time and support staff they need to do their jobs, so they are necessary and valuable.

The link that Sacks provided is not behind a pay wall.

The article begins:

The rookie science teacher looks at me with the same “Am I understanding this job correctly or am I crazy?” look I’ve often seen in the eyes of new teachers.

“No, you understand,” I say. “You’ve been thrown into a situation that requires an enormous amount of work and a good amount of ability, and it’s sink or swim. You might naturally expect the system to help you, or at least acknowledge the position you’ve been put in. It won’t.”

Teachers have come under considerable scrutiny in recent decades, and everybody claims to have the silver-bullet reform that will fix education. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, charter schools, raising the qualifications to become a teacher, limiting or abolishing tenure, and countless other measures have been taken up by Congress and state legislatures since I took my first teaching position in 1989.

Yet there is little public discussion about the education system’s central problem: Teachers don’t have enough time to do our jobs properly. Teachers unions understand this and fight to protect our ability to do our jobs.

He points out that some students can be assessed more accurately with an oral exam that with a written one, but teachers don’t have the time for that.

He writes:

Here are some ways to make teachers more effective:

  • Reduce class sizes, an issue in both the October teachers’ strike in Chicago and the Los Angeles teachers’ strike in January.
  • Provide teachers with support staff for clerical work.
  • Hire sufficient staff to eliminate extraneous chores.

Limiting class size and hiring sufficient staff would save teachers’ time from being squandered. That in turn would allow us to focus more on creating imaginative lessons and interacting with students.

Seeing Glenn Sacks’ article in the WSJ gives me hope that some people in the business world might read it and pay attention.

If they do, they will understand what real education reform looks like from the perspective of those who do the work, rather than those who sit in armchairs in think tanks.