Archives for category: International

Andy Hargreaves, a scholar of international renown, participated in a virtual seminar in South Korea about post-pandemic education.

His 20-minute presentation is brilliant, pithy, and compelling.

Look for it on this YouTube video. He starts at about 22:00 minutes and concludes at about the 43:00 minute mark.

He urges South Korea and the rest of the world not to “return” to austerity, competition, high-stakes testing, and education that is subservient to GDP, but to pursue a very different path.

To learn about that different and very alluring vision of the future, take 20 minutes of your time, watch and listen.

How and when should schools reopen?

Here are the choices:

1. To reopen schools fully for in-person instruction, with no additional funding, which is dangerous and ignores the CDC guidelines for safety; this is the option advocated by Trump and DeVos.

2. To reopen schools fully, with the funding needed to protect the safety of students and staff; thus far, neither Trump nor Mitch McConnell has shown any willingness to provide the necessary funding; the necessary money is not available.

2. To reopen them partially on staggered schedules or with blended learning; this will require at least one parent to be available to care for children when they are not in school; some districts have opted for this route.

3. To continue distance learning until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus. No one knows when a vaccine will be ready and when it will be available en masse.

Many articles have appeared about the successful reopening of schools in other nations, but it is important to bear in mind that other countries contained the virus before schools opened again.

Due to an abdication of leadership by Trump and Pence, the virus is now spreading in many states, especially Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California.

Can schools reopen safely when the virus is uncontrolled? Los Angeles and San Diego have announced that they will not reopen this fall due to the resurgence of the coronavirus.

Various reports and studies have described how other nations have returned to school. These nations “flattened the curve” and we have not.

Here are two recent examples: The Washington Post ran a long story by Michael Birnbaum about the nations that have successfully reopened their schools. The Brookings Institution published a report by Emiliana Vegas about the reopening of schools in Denmark and Finland.

Vegas wrote:

In Denmark, the decision of when and how to reopen schools was made by the central government together with the Parliament. This allowed for municipal councils (similar to school districts in the U.S.) to develop their own plans, and school leaders and teachers to do the same for each individual school based on guidelines from the National Board of Health. The legal right to quality education factored heavily in the decision to reopen. When announcing the reopening of schools, the government recognized that “in current circumstances, schools and municipalities cannot guarantee that children receive the education in all subjects for which they are entitled.”

Finland had a similar decision-making process. Minister of Education Li Andersson tweeted that to extend the school closures, the government would have to prove that opening schools would be unavoidable in the current situation and was “a matter of weighing basic rights.” Given the country had contained the spread of COVID-19, the message was that children’s right to education outweighed the health risk of going back to school.

In addition, both countries’ governments considered the equity implications of school closures and reopening. In Finland, according to a news report, the government emphasized that “the right to basic education is a subjective right laid down in the Constitution and belongs equally to everyone.” In Denmark, as secondary students spent much of the term learning remotely, end-of-year assessments were suspended for the school year. The main reason provided for suspending these assessments was to avoid increasing inequality between those students (many of whom are immigrants) who have not been able to get help from school or at home.

STAGGERING REOPENING: WHO SHOULD RETURN TO SCHOOL FIRST?

In reopening their economies, decision-makers are faced with the critical question of what services and sectors to open first. For education policymakers, a key decision is when and how to reopen preschools and primary schools, secondary schools, and higher education institutions.

In Denmark and Finland, the decision to gradually reopen included staggering by age, with schools for the youngest children reopening first. The main factor underlying the decision was the emerging evidence indicating that children play a small role in spreading the virus. In Denmark, preschools, early childhood care centers for the youngest children, and primary grades 0–5 (equivalent to K–5 in the U.S.) were reopened on April 15. In Finland, on April 29, the government announced the reopening of early childhood education and care, as well as primary and lower education (grades 1–9) on May 1 of this year. In Denmark, the central government announced that municipalities may open secondary schools (grades 6–10) on May 18.

WHAT HEALTH AND SAFETY MEASURES NEED TO TAKE PLACE IN SCHOOLS?

Once the decision on which schools to reopen first is made, a clear plan must first and foremost prioritize the health and safety of students, educators, and families. In both countries, a number of public health measures were put in place. Among these, schools prohibited the usual morning meetings held in classes at the beginning of the school day, forbade food sharing, and introduced new preventative practices like staggered student arrivals and much more frequent cleaning and handwashing practices throughout the day. In Denmark, where average class sizes were around 20 students prior to COVID-19, classes were divided into two to three smaller groups and, whenever possible, held outside. It is worth briefly noting that the Copenhagen Teacher Association raised significant concerns over dividing the classroom into smaller groups, as it increased teachers’ work hours and created staffing shortages.

Birnbaum writes:

BRUSSELS — Many countries around the world are pushing ahead with plans for full-time, full-capacity, in-person classes, after having largely avoided coronavirus outbreaks linked to schools during more tentative reopenings in the spring.


From Belgium to Japan, schools are abandoning certain social distancing measures, such as alternate-day schedules or extra space between desks. They have decided that part-time or voluntary school attendance, supplemented by distance learning, is not enough — that full classrooms are preferable to leaving kids at home.
Those experiences and conclusions may offer hopeful guidance to societies still weighing how to get students and teachers back into primary and secondary classrooms.


Still, public health officials and researchers caution that most school reopenings are in their early stages. Much remains unknown about the interaction between children, schools and the virus. Schools have only reopened in countries where the virus is under better control than in many parts of the United States.

And parents and teachers, especially in Europe, have been vocal about their concerns. It is premature to say, as President Trump put it this past week, that “In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS.”


While documented cases of younger students transmitting the virus to their classmates or to adults so far appear rare, there is enduring worry about the susceptibility of teens, college-age students and their teachers. And, especially in communities where the virus is still circulating widely, elaborate and expensive measures may be necessary to avoid shutting down entire schools each time a student tests positive.


Arnaud Fontanet, head of the Epidemiology of Emerging Diseases unit at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, said he “gladly” sent his four teenagers back when French schools reopened on a voluntary basis in mid-May. But he emphasized that was only because “the virus is not too much circulating in France.”
“High schoolers are still contagious and primary school students are less contagious but not zero-risk,” he said.


Public health officials and researchers say they have not detected much coronavirus transmission among students or significant spikes in community spread as a result of schools being in session — at least for students under 12.
Virologists warn there may be additional spread that hasn’t been recognized, since testing asymptomatic people, particularly children, remains uncommon.

But in many cases, young children who test positive have gotten it from someone in their family and do not appear to have infected others in school. Dig into reports of two or three elementary students with the virus, and often it turns out they’re siblings.

There are exceptions. At the École Louis-de-France, an elementary school in Trois Rivières, Canada, almost an entire class of 12 students tested positive in late May. And at the Cheondong Elementary School in Daejeon, South Korea, two brothers were found to have the virus on June 29, and two students who had contact with one of the brothers tested positive the next day.
Such cases, though, have been rare.

Before the suspected transmission in Daejeon, South Korea’s education minister had emphasized that not a single student in the country had contracted the virus at school.




In Finland, when public health researchers combed through test results of children under 16, they found no evidence of school spread and no change in the rate of infection for that age cohort after schools closed in March or reopened in May. In fact, Finland’s infection rate among children was similar to Sweden’s, even though Sweden never closed its schools, according to a report published Tuesday by researchers from the two countries.
In Sweden, researchers also found that staff members at day cares and primary schools were no more likely than people working in other professions to contract the virus.
“It really starts to add up to the fact that the risk of transmission, the number of outbreaks in which the index is a child, is very low, and this seems to be the picture everywhere else,” said Otto Helve, who worked on the report as a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.
He said he sent his own children back to school.


Why young children may be less susceptible to the coronavirus or less prone to exhibit symptoms of covid-19, the disease it causes, remains a topic of hot debate among scientists. Theories range from the possibility that children have fewer of the receptors that the virus uses as a gateway into the respiratory system to their having higher overall immunity because of a greater exposure to other types of coronavirus.


But the overall observation has led some to question whether school closures were warranted in the first place.
“The scientific evidence for the effects of closing schools is weak and disputed,” said Camilla Stoltenberg, director general of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, which has advised Norway’s pandemic response.
She said that although she supported her country’s March lockdown, it was less clear that Norway needed to close schools. “We should all have second thoughts about whether it was really necessary,” she said. “We see now that, after having opened schools, we haven’t had any outbreaks.”


The calculations may be different, however, for students in their teens and older, as they are thought to be somewhat more prone to the virus and more capable of spreading it.
Fontanet, with the Institut Pasteur, was the lead author on twin studies that found the virus spread in the high school of one French town but not in its six primary schools before the country’s March lockdowns.
In Israel, where the virus has been surging again, schools at every level have been affected. By early June, more than 100 schools had been shut and more than 13,000 students and teachers had been sent home to quarantine. The most notable outbreak was tied to a middle and high school: The Gymnasia Rehavia in Jerusalem saw 153 students and 25 staff test positive.


Israeli health authorities said they were unsure how many of those cases were the result of the virus being passed around within school buildings.
“We just don’t have a good answer for that,” said Hagai Levine, the chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians. Many students tend to spend time together in and out of school, Levine said, making it hard to pinpoint the actual site of transmission. “There does some to be evidence that there is less transmission in children under 10.”
Plans are uncertain for what classes will look like in Israel on Sept. 1, when the next school year begins.


In many nations preparing to reopen school buildings for the first time in the fall, social distancing concerns are dominating the debate.
The Italian government, which closed schools when the pandemic first exploded and made no attempt to restart in the spring, has pledged to restart classes in mid-September and has committed to “less-overpacked classrooms.”
“We don’t want chicken coops,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a national address.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that desks should be spaced six feet apart.
 But many countries that resumed in-person classes in May and June have already abandoned some social distancing measures, at least in primary schools.
In Japan, where schools reopened shortly after the country’s state of emergency was lifted in May, children initially attended on alternate days in some schools to allow for more space in classrooms. But classes are largely back to normal now, albeit with students and teachers wearing masks, washing hands regularly and taking daily temperature checks…





When France shifted from voluntary to mandatory attendance for primary and middle school students for the last two weeks of June, a social distancing requirement of four square meters between students was reduced to one meter laterally.
“This allows us to accommodate all students,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said at the time of the announcement.
Similarly, before the biggest wave of school reopenings in Belgium in early June, policymakers declared that strict physical distancing rules would not be enforced, allowing more students in each classroom at once.


Belgian schools are now closed again for the summer, but leaders have an ambitious reopening plan for Sept. 1. For kids under 12, classes will remain in session, full-time and full-capacity, no matter how bad the second wave of infections gets in the country. If current infection rates stay steady in Belgium, students 12 and older will attend school four days a week, with an additional half-day of virtual schooling. Officials would dial back the in-person schooling for the older children if there is a second wave.
To some extent, these shifts reflect growing confidence that bringing children together may not lead to a spike in infections.
There is also rising concern about the downsides of keeping students home.



Belgium’s reopening was accelerated by an open letter from hundreds of pediatricians arguing that the educational cost of keeping schools closed was worse than the health risk of reopening them.
In Germany, some public health experts have welcomed plans to drop a 1.5-meter minimum distance rule and resume full-capacity classes after summer vacation. Policymakers fear that digital learning has put poorer students at a greater disadvantage and that there would be a rising mental health toll on students if school restrictions dragged on.


But the shift away from social distancing is also about practical concerns.
“Basically, the difficulty is enforcing social distancing among students,” said Fontanet of the Institut Pasteur. He said distancing is hard for high school students, but especially for younger kids. “People have more or less given up on that entirely at this stage,” he said.


Although schools in Israel initially resumed with strict rules about temperature checks, carefully spaced-out desks and masks, critics complained that the precautions quickly lapsed. “Within two or three days, that all fell away,” said Dan Ben-David, president of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research.
Italy’s education minister, Lucia Azzolina, said that to keep classroom sizes at acceptable levels, districts would have to reopen shuttered school buildings and transfer some students elsewhere. She also floated the idea of holding classes in theaters, cinemas and museums — “even parks,” she said.


But countries that have resumed classes already have found that it’s easier and cheaper to welcome all students back to their classrooms than it is to devise complicated schedules with multiple shifts or to find new space.
Creating ‘bubbles’ within schools may be more important.


In Israel, hypervigilant public health officials mandated that an entire school close any time a single coronavirus case was detected among students or staff.
By contrast, in Germany, when a student tested positive, that class was put into a mandatory two-week quarantine, but the rest of the school continued on.
Clearly, the German model is less disruptive.

Some health experts have thus come to advocate that more important than social distancing within a classroom are efforts to create bubbles within schools, to limit potential contamination and the need to shut everything down.



England started sending some grades back on a voluntary basis in June. But when schools fully reopen in September for mandatory, full-time, in-person classes, elementary school students will be in “class bubbles” of up to 30 and high school students in “year bubbles” of up to 240.


Quebec, the Canadian province hit hardest by the coronavirus, experimented with various means of social distancing when it reopened elementary schools outside Montreal in May. Classes were limited to 15 students. Libraries remained closed. Recess times were staggered. Some schools painted green dots on schoolyard grounds to mark sufficient separation.
Bubbles will be introduced when elementary and high schools reopen for compulsory in-class instruction in the fall. Within classrooms, students will form groups of up to six students who won’t have to maintain social distancing. Bubbles must keep a one-meter distance from each other and two meters from teachers.


Helve, the Finnish infectious-disease specialist, noted that bubbles may be especially valuable in societies with high infection rates, such as the United States, where it may be inevitable that a student or teacher shows up with the virus at some point.
“How do you minimize the impact on the school?” he said. “The more cases you have in a society, the more likely it is that you will have an outbreak at a school, or that you will have a teacher or a parent or a child who brings the virus to the school.”


In part because there haven’t been many outbreaks associated with schools, some students, parents and teachers who initially resisted classroom reopenings have come around.
One survey of French-speaking parents in Belgium found that 96 percent of respondents planned to send their children back to school in the fall.
Technically, they won’t have a choice. Education is compulsory in Belgium for children 6 and older, and although the requirement was suspended this spring, it will be back in force in September.


That’s in line with moves by many countries away from voluntary in-person attendance, which saw limited uptake.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was forced to delay plans for a full reopening of elementary schools in England after strong resistance from teaching unions and some parents, intends to forge ahead in the fall.
“We want them all back in September,” said Johnson. “We’ve got to start thinking of a world in which we are less apprehensive about this disease.”


In France, when schools reopened in May on a voluntary basis, statistics from the Education Ministry showed that only about 1.8 million out of 6.7 million nursery and primary schoolers went back, along with 600,000 out of 3.3 million middle schoolers.




France had hoped reopening would address the inequalities evident under distance learning. But the government found that students from wealthier families were more likely to be among those who returned to their classrooms, while many poorer families continued to keep their children home. The education minister suggested the gap had to do with a lack of trust.
French officials ultimately made school attendance mandatory for the final two weeks of classes in June, before the summer holidays began. Families and teachers questioned the need for such a scramble for so little class time. Some accused the government of being more concerned about freeing parents to return to work than about the needs of students and teachers.
That’s in contrast to the United States, where a growing chorus of families complain that state and local governments are downplaying the need for kids to be in school before parents can return to their workplaces.
The French government defended its decision.
“Two weeks count; two weeks are not nothing, whether it’s out of an educational aspect or a psychological aspect,” Blanquer, the education minister, said. “School should never be considered as a day-care center of sorts.”

Most nations in Europe imposed strict quarantines, masking, and social distancing. They eventually got the virus under control.

Not Sweden. It took a different route, relying on the good sense of individuals and the hope of “herd immunity.” It didn’t work, according to this story in the New York Times.

LONDON — Ever since the coronavirus emerged in Europe, Sweden has captured international attention by conducting an unorthodox, open-air experiment. It has allowed the world to examine what happens in a pandemic when a government allows life to carry on largely unhindered.

This is what has happened: Not only have thousands more people died than in neighboring countries that imposed lockdowns, but Sweden’s economy has fared little better.

“They literally gained nothing,” said Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “It’s a self-inflicted wound, and they have no economic gains.”

The results of Sweden’s experience are relevant well beyond Scandinavian shores. In the United States, where the virus is spreading with alarming speed, many states have — at President Trump’s urging — avoided lockdowns or lifted them prematurely on the assumption that this would foster economic revival, allowing people to return to workplaces, shops and restaurants.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson — previously hospitalized with Covid-19 — reopened pubs and restaurants last weekend in a bid to restore normal economic life.

Implicit in these approaches is the assumption that governments must balance saving lives against the imperative to spare jobs, with the extra health risks of rolling back social distancing potentially justified by a resulting boost to prosperity. But Sweden’s grim result — more death, and nearly equal economic damage — suggests that the supposed choice between lives and paychecks is a false one: A failure to impose social distancing can cost lives and jobs at the same time.

Sweden put stock in the sensibility of its people as it largely avoided imposing government prohibitions. The government allowed restaurants, gyms, shops, playgrounds and most schools to remain open. By contrast, Denmark and Norway opted for strict quarantines, banning large groups and locking down shops and restaurants.

More than three months later, the coronavirus is blamed for 5,420 deaths in Sweden, according to the World Health Organization. That might not sound especially horrendous compared with the more than 129,000 Americans who have died. But Sweden is a country of only 10 million people. Per million people, Sweden has suffered 40 percent more deaths than the United States, 12 times more than Norway, seven times more than Finland and six times more than Denmark.

The moral of the story: Social discipline and leadership are necessary to get the disease under control. In the absence of both, the virus will continue to spread and destroy lives.

Sweden decided not to close down its economy. It took a bet that its population would quickly develop “herd immunity,” so it allowed life to proceed without restricting gatherings or requiring quarantines and social distancing.

In other words, the Swedes acted from the start as many governors are acting now. Don’t worry about the pandemic. Life goes on as usual.

G.F. Brandenburg reports on how that worked out.

The short answer: Not well.

The editorial board of the Washington Post denounced Trump for abruptly withdrawing one-third of American troops from Germany, in retaliation for Chancellor Merkel’s rejection of his invitation to have a snap summit.

IN A transparent attempt to boost his sagging political fortunes, President Trump proposed to stage a summit meeting of the Group of Seven nations in Washington this month, with Vladimir Putin among the special guests. In a May 30 phone call that reportedly turned testy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel demurred, citing the continuing threat of the covid-19 pandemic as well as the lack of preparation for such a meeting.

One week later, Trump’s riposte to Ms. Merkel surfaced: a vindictive and, for U.S. national security, deeply damaging decision to withdraw nearly a third of the American troops stationed in Germany. The move was made without consultation with the Germans, other NATO allies or even senior U.S. military officers in Europe, who were taken by surprise when the story emerged on Friday.
The pullout, which Mr. Trump arrived at in the absence of any National Security Council deliberation, could substantially weaken U.S. ability to deter Russian aggression in Europe or respond to other foreign crises. However, shortly after speaking with Ms. Merkel, Mr. Trump initiated a phone call with Mr. Putin, who will be thrilled by the president’s unilateral disarmament and exacerbation of a rift with a key ally.

Mr. Trump appears to believe he is punishing Ms. Merkel by removing forces that nominally defend Germany. The sycophant whom the president installed as ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, has been arguing publicly that Germany doesn’t merit U.S. bases when it fails to meet NATO defense spending guidelines. What he and the president fail to understand is that the 34,500 U.S. personnel in Germany — down from 235,000 during the Cold War — primarily bolster U.S. defense. The Ramstein Air Base is vital to operations in the Middle East and Africa, and the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center provides critical care to wounded American soldiers medevaced from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Trump has been impervious to serial attempts over the past three years by his national security advisers and senior military commanders to explain such basics to him. Instead, conceiving U.S. troops as mercenary forces who should be deployed only when host countries offer compensation he regards as adequate, he also has been threatening to pull troops out of South Korea — which would delight another dictator, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Further, Mr. Trump is reportedly contemplating accelerating a withdrawal of the remaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan, so that it can be carried out in advance of the November election, rather than sometime next year. Never mind that this would likely short-circuit nascent talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and leave the latter in position to restore a theocratic dictatorship.
If the past is any guide, there will now be a scramble within the Pentagon or by Trump-friendly congressional Republicans to reverse or water down the president’s decision — which as of late Monday had still not been formally announced. In the meantime, it should be clearer than ever why former senior military leaders such as Jim Mattis and Colin Powell have taken the lead in publicly repudiating the president. He is, as they have said, a liar who divides the country. He is also, increasingly, a threat to national security.

Many medical experts expressed concern about what might happen when restrictions were relaxed and the ecomony reopened. The experience in Europe offers hope that it is possible to restart the economy without triggering a new wave of the COVID.

THE Washington Post reports:

ROME — When Italy ended its lockdown one month ago, Angelo Pan, an infectious-disease doctor, was worried. His hospital, at the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, braced for the possibility that progress against the coronavirus might slow or reverse — and that beds might again become crowded with people struggling to breath.


But that is not what has happened.


In Italy and across most of Europe, countries have restarted their economies and resumed a degree of socializing without visible signs of the dire health consequences forecast by many. Pan’s northern Italian hospital, rather than seeing an uptick, has been able to restore once-paused services and dismantle the intensive care beds added during the emergency.


As of Friday, it hadn’t admitted a coronavirus intensive care patient in 12 days.
“

It’s amazing that [the virus] has not started back,” said Pan, who leads the infectious-disease unit at the public hospital in Cremona.


Virologists from Milan to Berlin have become much more optimistic about Europe’s ability to manage the pandemic and say that, at least through the summer, the continent might have nothing more than localized and hopefully-containable hot spots.


Europe’s experience, at least so far, suggests that sending children back to school, reopening restaurants and even making way for large outdoor protests does not lead to an inevitable resurgence of the virus.


But scientists also readily admit there’s much they don’t know about the idiosyncrasies of this virus. They are still trying to make sense of why it is behaving as it has in Europe and whether those trends will hold — and what the answers might mean for the rest of the world.


Many disease experts say enduring behavioral changes, from hand-washing to mask-wearing, could by themselves be substantially limiting the spread in Europe. They say the continued ban of large-scale events is probably capping the damage wrought by highly contagious people — the “super-spreaders” who account for much of the transmission.


They also say there’s growing evidence that the virus could be proving seasonal — ebbing based on the temperature or other climactic conditions. Though warmer weather doesn’t stop the virus, it can aid in the fight.
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Europeans, heeding warnings that the virus is more transmissible indoors, have adapted their lives accordingly — something easier to do in warmer months. In Rome, the parks and alfresco restaurant tables are full; the tables indoors are empty. 


In Germany, confined indoor gatherings have led to small outbreaks, while outdoor mass demonstrations against the lockdown in several cities — some drawing thousands of people — have not led to obvious consequences.





“There might be [open-air] transmissions occurring but they are rare,” said Dirk Brockmann, a professor at Humboldt University in Berlin who models infectious diseases for Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, the federal agency tasked with disease control.


“When you are in a club and there are hundreds of people dancing and breathing and yelling in a confined space — that’s a whole different ballgame,” Brockmann said.


One contested theory, aired by two Italian doctors this past week, is that the virus has weakened or become less aggressive. Many health officials have pushed back forcefully against that claim, saying there is no peer-reviewed evidence of such changes, and that cases every day are still proving deadly.


Massimo Ciccozzi, head of the molecular epidemiology unit at the Rome-based University Campus Bio-Medico, said his lab would be studying ways the virus may have mutated. But he said there were other reasons serious pneumonias might be developing less frequently — among them, the wider use of new therapies. Other experts have raised the possibility that a younger cohort of people is now being infected.


There is accumulating evidence that the “viral load” is linked to the severity of the infection, and that outdoor summer transmissions could make for a milder disease.


“It’s like a huge, huge puzzle,” Ciccozzi said. “Every day you find a piece.”
All the while, in country after European country, reported daily case numbers have not just leveled off, like in parts of the United States, but continued to plummet.


In Italy, the number of coronavirus patients in ICUs has declined from 4,000, at the peak in early April, to 400; it ticked down every single day of May. In Germany, many contact tracing teams sit idle, without enough new infections to trace. In Belgium, which had been one of the worst-hit countries, hospitals are clearing out, and doctors don’t report any unusual spikes in patients reporting flu-like symptoms.

The advocacy group called Public Funds a Public Schools gathered a useful archive of research studies of vouchers.

The studies were conducted by nonpartisan academic and federal researchers.

The findings are broadly congruent.

Voucher schools are academically inferior to public schools.

Voucher schools divert funding from public schools, which enroll most children.

Voucher programs lack accountability.

The absence of oversight promotes fraud and corruption.

Voucher programs do not help students with disabilities.

Voucher schools are allowed to discriminate against certain groups of students and families.

Voucher programs exacerbate segregation.

Voucher programs don’t work, don’t improve education, and have multiple negative effects.

Jennifer Howse served for many years as the executive director of the March of Dimes, where she played a significant role in shaping public health policy in the nation. I asked her to write about Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization.

She writes:

AN EXECUTIVE ORDER OF GRAVE CONSEQUENCE

There was once a US President confronted by a devastating virus, massive economic downturn, public fear, and political divide. In 1938, Franklin Roosevelt rose to leadership, and signed an Executive Order authorizing a ‘national effort to lead, direct, and unify the fight against polio.’ The journey forward to a
safe, effective, and available vaccine is a proud chapter in American history.

Today we have a US President confronted by a devastating virus, massive economic turndown, public fear, and political divide. Failing us as a leader, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on May 29, 2020 to ‘terminate US membership in the World Health Organization.

His action will have grave consequences at home and abroad.

Consider the vital and life-saving mission of the World Health Organization, created as a UN Agency in 1948, and charged with ‘improving the health of all people’. This has translated to smallpox eradication and reduction of
many more fatal and debilitating diseases such as polio, malaria and HIV-AIDS.

But the WHO works on a far broader scale than infectious disease. It co-ordinates health emergencies (like Ebola response), convenes leaders and experts in medicine and science, maintains the global data base for health outcomes, sets international standards, provides needed training and technical assistance especially to poorer countries, and advocates for improvements in global health outcomes. Termination of US membership means a reduction of millions of dollars to the WHO budget, and represents about 17% of the total budget.

Three consequences of immediate concern are:

-Damage to health services, medical supplies, and assistance to Low Income countries, mainly in Africa and parts of Southeast Asia, where disease burden is the highest in the world. People will die as a result of cutbacks.

-Disruption, delay and setbacks in the global fight against the Covid 19 Pandemic.

-Isolation of the US from vital information and decision-making about health issues which affect our own citizens on a daily basis. New viruses, such as Corona and its variants, will continue to emerge. Close health partnerships between countries are critical to co-ordinated, effective, response.

The President’s terrible decision to leave the WHO, puts each of us at more risk, much like his refusal to wear a mask. Each of us can play a part to reverse the WHO Executive Order, which will become like dust in the wind if we vote to elect a new President in November.

Larry Cuban reposted an article about the reopening of schools in the Netherlands. The article, by educator Linda van Druijten, shows how to prepare for reopening and to implement scientific advice. Schools reopened on May 11.

We can learn how to reopen schools by paying attention to the guidance of medical experts and by watching other nations and seeing what works best.

She begins:

On the first day, we had bubbles. Delicate, transparent bubbles floating across the playground.

Before we had opened, our 432 primary school pupils, our 152 pupils with special educational needs, our parents and all our staff had fears. But we spoke openly about these fears. We spoke as a community about how we would tackle these fears. And as a staff, we came up with creative ideas. Like bubbles.

School would be a very different place when the children returned – for a start, all pupils had to be dropped at the school gate. So, on day one, we brought out a bubble machine. Rather than being upset, or concentrating on the unusual nature of the school, the children looked up, were captivated, and wandered into school without an issue.

If I have one tip from the opening of Dutch schools for my English colleagues, it is: get yourself a bubble machine!

Class sizes had to be cut in half. The youngest children were unable to practice social distancing, and the teachers realized that it was impossible to keep the youngest children from interacting.

In 2013, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Cuba with my partner and two friends. The Obama administration had relaxed restrictions on travel, and we visited as part of a people-to-people program. Our group flew to Miami, then boarded an American Airlines charter jet that brought us in less than an hour to Jose Marti airport in Havana. Many of our fellow passengers were a Cubans carrying large packages of appliances and other hard-to-get goods to their relatives in Cuba.

We traveled with our travel agent, a native Cuban who had fled the island as a child in 1960 (part of the so-called ”Peter Pan” exodus of Cuban children) and was now an American citizen living in New York City. We stayed in a lovely hotel in the center of Havana, where there were few Americans but many European and South American tourists. We visited museums, the homes of artists, and wonderful small restaurants. The Cuban people we met were friendly, welcoming and looking forward to better times, when the decades-long embargo would finally end. My overall impression was that the embargo had impoverished Cuba and cemented the Castro regime, and that the end of the embargo would stimulate small businesses and breathe life into a stagnant economy. In other words, our policy goals for Cuba—to end the dictatorship and revive a market economy—had utterly failed, but would be advanced by ending the embargo.

Cuba is a beautiful and very poor nation. We were lucky to have gone when we did, because Trump has reversed the limited lifting of the embargo by the Obama administration and made the embargo as punitive as possible.

Commonweal published an article By a Cuban scholar describing the effects of the renewed sanctions. Its main effect seems to be further impoverishing the Cuban people. Trump was pandering to Republican Cuban voters in Florida.

After 60 years of embargo and sanctions, don’t you think that it would be clear by now that the punishment has failed to achieve its aim of regime change and serves only to hurt the Cuban people? If we really wanted to free Cuba, we would open relations and encourage commerce and tourism, as we did with Vietnam and Cambodia, which now have booming economies, or did have before the pandemic.