Archives for category: International

Under the weak leadership of the United States, the global reputation of the United States has plummeted, according to a new poll reported in the Washington Post.

President Trump defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic during an interview with Fox News over the weekend, arguing that he took “tremendous steps” early in the outbreak, which “saved probably two or two and a half million lives.”


But much of the world appears to think otherwise. In a new poll of 13 nations released Tuesday, a median of 15 percent of respondents said the United States had handled the pandemic well, while 85 percent said the country had responded poorly.


The data, released by Pew Research Center, suggests that the international reputation of the United States has dropped to a new low in the face of a disorganized response to the novel coronavirus.

The country leads the world in virus-related deaths.


International affairs analysts say it may be difficult to repair the damage to the United States’ standing overseas.

Among some traditional allies like Germany, views of the United States have declined to the lowest levels since Pew began tracking them nearly two decades ago.

The New York Times explains how China opened its schools safely. As an authoritarian state, dissent is not permitted. No one is allowed to disobey the rules. The rules are strictly enforced.

As a free society, we rely on people to exercise civic responsibility and good judgement to protect themselves and others.

When the president of the nation ridicules people who wears masks and doesn’t wear one himself, it’s difficult to promote civic responsibility.

The Washington Post reports that schools have reopened safely in Germany, with no major outbreaks of coronavirus—yet. The key to success is the rate of transmission in the community. Or so it seems. With this virus, you can never be certain of future behavior. The difference in the U.S. is that some states are making no effort to control the virus, not even mandating mask-wearing. Trump has unfortunately encouraged and modeled anti-social behavior.

When the community is safe, the schools are likely to be safe.

It’s been a month since German children began to lead Europe in the post-summer ­return to school, streaming back into classrooms and onto playgrounds, with little aside from masks to differentiate the scene from pre-coronavirus times.


So far, epidemiologists are cautiously optimistic.
The school openings have been accompanied by some panicked closures and quarantines.

In the first week, there were 31 clusters — amounting to 150 cases — of the novel coronavirus in schools, ­according to Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI). At least 41 schools in Berlin were reported to have been affected in the first two weeks.


But there have been few transmissions within schools themselves, health experts say, and although the number of new daily cases in Germany has been rising, schools haven’t been identified as a driver of infections.


“It’s looking promising,” said Johannes Huebner, president of the German Society for Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “There have not been any major outbreaks yet. Single cases, but they seem to be manageable.”


While Germany’s full-throttle return to class may provide some assurance for those fretting about school returns in the United States and elsewhere, health experts note that it’s still just the early days — and they warn about extrapolating too much. They say the risk associated with reopenings has a lot to do with the levels of the virus circulating in a community.


“The important thing is you have to keep the number in the community low,” said Huebner, who is also head of the infectious-disease department at Munich’s Dr. von Hauner Children’s Hospital. “This is where the United States will have problems.”




Despite a rise in infections that Germany’s RKI said “must be taken seriously,” the 1,484 new cases reported Friday among the country’s population of 83 million compare with at least 37,876 new cases in the latest U.S. report — more than 25 times as many infections in a population just four times as large.

Hong Kong was a British colony for a century and a half. Under British rule, the people of Hong Kong enjoyed democratic freedoms. On July 1, 1997, the British relinquished control and Hong Kong became part of China as a special administrative region. The Chinese government promised to maintain “one country, two systems.” Over the years the Chinese government has asserted tighter control, inspiring rebellions among the people of Hong Kong, who resisted absorption into the government of the Mainland. Twenty-three years after the removal of British rule, mainland China is clamping down, hard, to stamp out freedom of speech, freedom of thought, even freedom to teach.

This article in the Los Angeles Times describes the government’s tightening of control over teachers and textbooks. Teachers who dare to speak out have been purged.

One of the greatest threats to freedom in Hong Kong is China’s intensifying pressure on schools over what to put in the minds of students. Textbooks are being rewritten, teachers are being purged and history is being erased under a new national security law to bring this once freewheeling city more firmly into China’s grip…

With China’s tightening control over Hong Kong, including passage of a new national security law, the territory’s pro-democracy activists, politicians, journalists and others are facing a Communist Party determined to crush dissent. Perhaps the greatest threat from this new purge — one that will affect generations to come — is the increasing pressure on schools and teachers over what to put in the minds of students. Both activists and bureaucrats know that a nation’s soul is distilled in the classroom; history can be erased with the silencing of teachers and rewriting of textbooks.

A Hong Kong art teacher who calls himself Vawongsir expresses his thoughts through pro-democracy doodles.
A Hong Kong art teacher going by the name Vawongsir expresses his thoughts through pro-democracy doodles, which he shares online anonymously. He lost his teaching job after a complaint was made to the authorities.(Chan Long Hei / For The Times)
“They are turning education into a tool for controlling thought in Hong Kong,” said Ip Kin-yuen, a pro-democracy lawmaker representing the education sector who is vice president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union. “There are a lot of cases of teachers being wronged, facing exaggerated accusations. I would describe it as political persecution.”

Hong Kong is being remade before the world. Chinese leader Xi Jinping is capitalizing on his country’s economic power and the planet’s preoccupation with the coronavirus to rein in Hong Kong’s democratic ambitions. Xi wants to subsume this defiant territory into his vision of national unity, even as China faces diplomatic fallout, most notably from the Trump administration, which has drawn closer to a new Cold War with Beijing in a fraught time of high-tech surveillance, shifting supply chains and America’s fallen stature of a global leader.

This is an article based on an interview of me conducted by Carolyn Bassetti of the Canadian publication Alberta Views.

I have recently been emailing with public education advocates in Canada who are alarmed by their government’s drift towards consumerism in education. They are as concerned as we are about the constant attacks on public education.

This story by Stephen Castle appeared in the New York Times:

LONDON — When pupils return to Southend High School For Boys next week, the cafeteria will serve takeout food only and lunch will be eaten outside. Lessons will stretch to two-and-a-half hours to reduce the need to switch classrooms. And new equipment has been bought to spray the sports changing rooms with disinfectant.

“By and large, we are pretty ready to roll,” said Robin Bevan, the school’s head teacher, or principal, as he prepared to welcome 1,300 young people to a building about 40 miles east of London, constructed around a century ago without social distancing in mind.

But there is only so much anyone can do.

“The question, ‘Will schools be safe?’ is a slightly crazy question because nothing in life is safe,” said Mr. Bevan. “The real question is, ‘How far have you reduced the risk?’”

Britain is at a critical moment in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic as millions of pupils return to the classrooms, many for the first time since March, when the country went into lockdown.

The resumption of schooling will be crucial for young people who have fallen behind in their studies, and the government hopes it will spur economic recovery by allowing parents to return to work in deserted town and city centers.

But the move also risks a new spike in infections, as young people and teachers mix together. And overseeing the process is an existential political test for the embattled education secretary, Gavin Williamson, who presided over the chaotic awarding of examination results this summer.

“It’s a very, very, difficult situation where you are genuinely trying to balance the needs of a younger generation with the health needs of society,” said Becky Francis, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, a research institute.

Few deny that children need to be back in school and that those from poorer backgrounds with inadequate internet access or none at all have suffered the most, deepening the country’s socio-economic divide. Policymakers worry about the psychological impact on children of the lockdown and, in some cases, their increased exposure to domestic abuse.

“There is a great deal of good will from schools, the majority of parents and most kids, keen to get back” Ms. Francis said, adding that, without a return, there is a risk of “seeing a generation of children blighted by the knock-on effects of Covid.”

Even during the lockdown schools remained open to children of essential workers and those deemed vulnerable. But not too many parents took advantage of it, and a government plan to get all younger pupils in England back before the summer break fell apart.

This time, there is cautious optimism that, despite nervousness among some parents, most children will attend, as they have done in Scotland, where schools reopened earlier in the month.

But the relationship between the government and teachers is fraught. In June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson attacked “left-wing” trade unions, accusing them of obstructing a return to the classroom.

For their part, teachers’ leaders accuse the government of serial incompetence. Repeatedly, they say, they have pointed out practical concerns, been brushed aside, then proved right.

Studies suggest that children are less susceptible to Covid-19 than adults. But there is a bigger risk to teachers and to the families of pupils who may unwittingly carry the virus, particularly people with existing medical conditions.

At Mr. Bevan’s school, pupils will sit facing forward, with groups of students kept together in “bubbles” and staggered start and finishing times for lessons. But in schools for younger children or those with special needs, that is not practical. So head teachers have had to do their best.

“At a time when the government has been dithering, what local school leaders have done is work out a pragmatic solution in their setting,” Mr. Bevan said.

It is a message echoed by Jules White, organizer of a campaign for more resources for schools and called WorthLess?

“Schools are well prepared, we do know how to follow guidance, but there are a lot of factors. If you have 30 children in a classroom, the idea that you can always have two-meter distancing — well, that isn’t going to happen,” said Mr. White, who is head teacher of Tanbridge House School in West Sussex, in the south of England.

“You can mitigate risk by having desks forward facing, having separate equipment,” Mr. White added. “The job of teachers and head teachers is to make people feel safe.”

At his school, two cleaners will work during the school day, rather than after it, to improve hygiene around the clock. Hand sanitizer has been bought at a cost of £3,500, about $4,500, and drama, sports and other extracurricular activities have been put on hold.

But Covid-19, he added, is “a multi-headed monster,” he said. “You hit one thing and another comes up.”

This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal in August 14. Unlike the U.S., European countries first controlled the virus by strict measures, then reopened schools. And Europe, unlike the U.S., does not have a significant portion of the population that refuses—as a matter of principle—to wear masks or practice social distancing.

BERLIN—European countries are pushing ahead with reopening schools with in-person learning despite an uptick in Covid-19 cases and new studies suggesting children could be more susceptible to the disease than originally thought.

Authorities in France, Germany, the U.K. and Italy are looking to avoid another blanket closure of schools this autumn, relying instead on steps such as social distancing and mask-wearing to contain infections. In case of outbreaks, they plan to shut down only individual classes or schools.

The stance generally has support from unions, as well as many parents, and is bolstered by the absence of school-related outbreaks in day-care centers and elementary schools that remained open last spring, when infection levels were far higher.

In recent weeks, daily new cases have risen in countries including Germany, France and Spain. But while Europe as a whole is now reporting about 12,000 cases a day—more than 2½ times as many as in early July—that is well below the 32,000 a day recorded at the peak in April. It also is far lower than the 53,000-a-day seven-day average recently in the U.S.

In the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where the school year started last week, two schools temporarily shut down after a teacher at the first and a pupil at the second were found to be infected, underlining the challenges ahead.

But for now, authorities are undeterred. Classes have been divided into clusters, with students allowed to interact with each other but not outside the group. One such group was quarantined at a school in the city of Rostock after several members of a family tested positive, but the school remained open.

“Nothing has changed. On the contrary, our precautionary concept is working, and we are focusing on targeted measures to prevent renewed blanket closures,” said Henning Lipski, spokesman for the Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania government.

Kay Czerwinski, head of the parents association in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, said schools should remain open.

“We have to persevere. Children—especially in elementary schools—must return to in-person teaching as soon as possible,” he said. “Everything else is untenable.”

Teaching, Mr. Czerwinski said, is based on the interaction between students and teachers. He cited experts who say remaining at home is impeding children’s mental development. And many parents can’t go to work if their children are at home, he added.

In the U.S., calls by President Trump to reopen schools have been met with opposition from some experts and media amid an intense debate about whether such a move would boost contagion, especially given the significantly higher rates of disease incidence across much of the nation.

In Europe, pressure is high to return children to the classroom so that parents can go back to work. Policy makers are also concerned about the impact of prolonged home schooling on students, especially in poorer families.

“School closures are only effective if we want to damage our children,” said Wieland Kiess, a professor of pediatrics at the Leipzig Research Center for Early Child Development in Germany. He coordinated a study that showed isolation at home is damaging the mental health of children, especially those from poorer families.

In Germany, back-to-school rules vary from state to state. Children in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania must wear masks on school buses and all common areas outside of classrooms. Classes aren’t allowed to mix on school premises. Teachers are encouraged to take complementary coronavirus tests.

North Rhine-Wesphalia, where the summer break ended this week, imposed a masking order during class for all high-school students. In Berlin, which also reopened Monday, children must wear masks when moving around the building but not in classrooms.

In Scotland, students returning this week are being kept in groups throughout the day to limit intermingling of different age groups and expected to regularly wash their hands. Face coverings aren’t compulsory, but older children and adults may be asked to wear them if data point to an increase in infections in the surrounding community.

Some scientists have warned against broad reopening of schools, pointing to school outbreaks outside Europe. Israel has recorded several clusters, mainly in high schools. In the U.S., hundreds of students age 6 to 19 became infected at a summer camp in Georgia in June.

Many disease experts say the risk to children from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is small, with multiple studies showing most display only mild symptoms, if any. Studies also have indicated that younger children haven’t been driving the epidemic.

Peter Klimek, assistant professor at the Section for Science of Complex Systems at the Medical University of Vienna, coordinated a study of pandemic measures in 76 countries and territories that found school closures to be one of the most efficient measures in curbing contagion among the community at large.

However, Prof. Klimek said this effect could be the result of other factors, such as parents having to work from home while taking care of their children. That means the parents have fewer outside contacts and thus fewer opportunities to become infected themselves.

This is the most important post you will read this month or maybe even this year. It refutes the basis of American education policy.

This is major study of the relationship between scores on PISA and economic growth. It demonstrates that there is none.

It was written by Hikaru Komatsu (Associate Professor at National Taiwan University) and Jeremy Rappleye (Associate Professor at Kyoto University, Graduate School of Education) for the Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training. The authors criticize the work of Hoover economist Eric Hanushek and demonstrate how his theories of human capital development were widely adopted by American and European organizations and became the convention wisdom.

Komatsu and Rappleye demonstrate the flaws in Hanushek’s theories, which have led to unprecedented emphasis on improving standardized test scores in many nations.

They begin by reviewing a paper published by the European Commission, based on Hanushek’s human capital theories. Open the link to see the graphs.

The EC report was written by Eric Hanushek (Hoover Institute, a think tank on the campus of Stanford University) and Ludger Woessmann (University of Munich, ifo Center for Economics of Education). It laid out the same findings, methods and arguments that can be found in a range of publications in the United States dating back to the early 2000s (e.g., Hanushek & Kimiko, 2000), and reaching back even – with a bit more historical awareness – to the heady Anglo-American neo-liberalism of Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s (e.g., Hanushek, 1981, Hanushek, 1986). These claims were articulated strongly in a 2013 book by the same authors, published by the Brookings Institute and intended to reach US policymakers, entitled Endangering Prosperity: A Global Look at the American School. These same findings were also publicized in major reports by the World Bank (2007) and the OECD (2010, 2015), both of which commissioned Hanushek and Woessmann to write their findings into development policy. The World Bank would later officially adopt the model as the underpinning logic of Learning for All (2011) (see Auld, Morris, and Rappleye, 2019), while the OECD’s 2010 report entitled The High Cost of Low Educational Performance – The Long-Run Impacts of Improving PISA Outcomes would be virtually transferred carbon copy into the EC’s 2019 report. That is, the EC 2019 Report claims that an aggressive, focused 15-20 year reform push to raise scores by 25-points would “add €71 trillion to EU GDP over the status quo” and which “amounts to an aggregate EU gain of almost 3 times current levels of GDP and an average GDP that is seven percent higher for the remainder of the century”. Based on the Hanushek and Woessmann numbers, Andreas Schleicher enticed European leaders with precisely that same narrative in 2010, as shown here in a slide from his presentation below (Slide 34 in the original presentation). Schleicher claimed that a PISA-improvement reform add 30% of the current GDP in 2100, which makes the total economic value of this reform is equivalent to 340% of the current GDP – the exact value shown in Figure 2…

For quite some time, we and others (here, here, here, and here) have pointed out that the Hanushek and Woessmann “findings” are deeply flawed. Our work includes a number of published papers, newspaper articles, and blogs published since 2016. We have tried to call attention to this situation in two previous NORRAG blog pieces here and here. Our argument in the main 2017 paper was simple. Hanushek and Woessmann used a relationship between students’ performance in international tests and economic growth for estimating the economic value of improving 25 points of PISA scores. However, Hanushek and Woessmann surprisingly compared students’ performance for a given period and economic growth for the same period. However, as it logically takes several decades for that cohort of students to occupy a major portion of workforce and then contribute to economic growth. We logically compared students’ performance for a given period and economic growth for a subsequent period. Surprisingly, in doing so we discovered virtually no relationship between them, casting strong doubts on the purportedly strong causal claims (Komatsu & Rappleye, 2017). While we find it disheartening that there has been no response to our work, it is far more disappointing that find that now the EC have turned to Hanushek and Woessmann, paying them hefty consultancy fees to write policy recommendations for Europe. We wonder aloud: Why does the EC Directorate for Education, Youth, Sport, and Culture need to turn to American think tanks to generate new policy ideas?…

Returning again to the larger picture, it seems that now the EU and OECD, alongside the World Bank, OECD and often highly influential figures in UNESCO, are now utilizing the same Hanushek and Woessmann Knowledge Capital claims. What makes this ‘Western consensus’ so alarming – at least to us – is not simply that education and economics are being so tightly coupled or that PISA is being embedded deeply into policymaking goals through these works. It is, instead, that so many leading minds in the West seem unable or unwilling to think differently.

A decade ago, when I wrote The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, I quoted a study by Keith Baker, a statistician who worked for many years in the U.S. Department of Education. Baker pointed out that the U.S. had placed last in the first international assessment in 1964, yet over the next half-century had outperformed the eleven nations with higher scores. He concluded then that test scores do not predict economic growth or anything else. Every time the results of a new international assessment are released, whoever is in charge says that the performance of the U.S. students is horrible, shameful, alarming, and proclaims “a new Sputnik moment.” And every time I point out that the U.S. has never been number one on international assessments and that these scores are meaningless. But the press reports the lamentations without contradiction anyway.

TIME Magazine just published a story about school reopening in Denmark, South Korea, and Israel, with lessons for the U.S.

Lesson #1 from Denmark: Get the virus under control before reopening schools. Unlike Denmark, the United States is bungling that, and the virus is spreading in the south and west. Perhaps states that have taken the necessary steps and flattened the curve can begin to reopen, with caution.

Lesson #2 from South Korea: Prepare to delay reopening if cases spike. Older students returned to school fumirst.

Lesson #3 from Israel: Infections increase when schools don’t take every safety precaution. Expect to close down again if you don’t follow the protocols of masks, social distancing and other precautions.

The necessary health and safety protocols require extra funding. No extra funding is available. Trump threatened to cut federal funds from schools that don’t open fully even without the small classes, masks, PPE, extra nurses, etc. He wants the schools open without regard to the health or safety of teachers and students.

So rule 1: take the measures necessary to contain the pandemic. The United States is not doing that.

Rule 2: if schools open, fund the steps necessary to make them safe. The United States is not doing that.

Rule 3: prepare for a new surge in infections if public officials ignore rules 1 and 2.

The New York Times reports on a new study from South Korea that finds that children as young as 10 can spread the coronavirus. Will the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC revise their guidelines based on this new information?

A large new study from South Korea offers an answer: Children younger than 10 transmit to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero. And those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do.

The findings suggest that as schools reopen, communities will see clusters of infection take root that include children of all ages, several experts cautioned.

“I fear that there has been this sense that kids just won’t get infected or don’t get infected in the same way as adults and that, therefore, they’re almost like a bubbled population,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota.

“There will be transmission,” Dr. Osterholm said. “What we have to do is accept that now and include that in our plans.”

Several studies from Europe and Asia have suggested that young children are less likely to get infected and to spread the virus. But most of those studies were small and flawed, said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

The new study “is very carefully done, it’s systematic and looks at a very large population,” Dr. Jha said. “It’s one of the best studies we’ve had to date on this issue.”

Other experts also praised the scale and rigor of the analysis. South Korean researchers identified 5,706 people who were the first to report Covid-19 symptoms in their households between Jan. 20 and March 27, when schools were closed, and then traced the 59,073 contacts of these “index cases.” They tested all of the household contacts of each patient, regardless of symptoms, but only tested symptomatic contacts outside the household.

The first person in a household to develop symptoms is not necessarily the first to have been infected, and the researchers acknowledged this limitation. Children are also less likely than adults to show symptoms, so the study may have underestimated the number of children who set off the chain of transmission within their households.

Still, experts said the approach was reasonable. “It is also from a place with great contact tracing, done at the point interventions were being put in place,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Children under 10 were roughly half as likely as adults to spread the virus to others, consistent with other studies. That may be because children generally exhale less air — and therefore less virus-laden air — or because they exhale that air closer to the ground, making it less likely that adults would breathe it in.

Even so, the number of new infections seeded by children may rise when schools reopen, the study authors cautioned. “Young children may show higher attack rates when the school closure ends, contributing to community transmission of Covid-19,” they wrote. Other studies have also suggested that the large number of contacts for schoolchildren, who interact with dozens of others for a good part of the day, may cancel out their smaller risk of infecting others.

The researchers traced the contacts only of children who felt ill, so it’s still unclear how efficiently asymptomatic children spread the virus, said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“I think it was always going to be the case that symptomatic children are infectious,” she said. “The questions about the role of children are more around whether children who don’t have symptoms are infectious.”

Dr. Rivers was a member of a scientific panel that on Wednesday recommended reopening schools wherever possible for disabled children and for those in elementary schools, because those groups have the most trouble learning online. She said the new study does not alter that recommendation.

The study is more worrisome for children in middle and high school. This group was even more likely to infect others than adults were, the study found. But some experts said that finding may be a fluke or may stem from the children’s behaviors.

These older children are frequently as big as adults, and yet may have some of the same unhygienic habits as young children do. They may also have been more likely than the younger children to socialize with their peers within the high-rise complexes in South Korea.

“We can speculate all day about this, but we just don’t know,” Dr. Osterholm said. “The bottom line message is: There’s going to be transmission.”

He and other experts said schools will need to prepare for infections to pop up. Apart from implementing physical distancing, hand hygiene and masks, schools should also decide when and how to test students and staff — including, for example, bus drivers — when and how long to require people to quarantine, and when to decide to close and reopen schools.

But they face a monumental challenge because the evidence on transmission within schools has been far from conclusive so far, experts said. Some countries like Denmark and Finland have successfully reopened schools, but others, like China, Israel and South Korea, have had to close them down again.