Archives for category: Students

A reader who is a scientist wrote to ask why I posted the views of an economist about children and COVID instead of those of a medical researcher. She sent me this interview of Angela Rasmussen that appeared in Science Friday. Rasmussen is a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

In the interview, she says:

ANGELA RASMUSSEN: Well, teachers and parents should definitely not think that children are immune or more resistant to the virus. Just because they don’t develop a severe of disease [sic], that doesn’t mean that they can’t be infected and it doesn’t mean that they can’t bring the virus home with them to transmit to other people in their household. It also doesn’t mean that they would be incapable of transmitting it to faculty and staff in schools.

And in general, we– I think a lot of the discussion about schools has assumed that schools are an isolated bubble that is separate from the rest of the community, and they’re really not. If children are getting infected, whether outside of school or in school, those children are still part of the same community and they’re capable of spreading the virus within that community.

So we need to stop thinking of schools as a separate space or children as a special population of people who are less susceptible. We need to take the same precautions with preventing transmission in schools as we do within the rest of the community.

The full interview is worth reading.

A regular reader who uses the name “Retired Teacher” posted this wise comment. I couldn’t agree more.


So-called choice is mostly a marketing scheme designed to make parents believe they are getting a better school for their children. Research has shown that choice generally does not improve education, and in many cases the quality of education is worse. Choice is a way for corporations to gain access to public dollars at the expense of public schools. It makes the wants of a few take priority over the needs of many. It is impossible to fund parallel systems and a public system for the same dollar. More underfunded schools are not a way to improve education.

The privatization of education has failed. It is time to consolidate resources and invest in quality education with supports and services designed to address the needs of poor students. A well resourced public school can offer wrap around services including medical, dental, mental health and social services that provide resources and guidance for struggling poor students and their families. With greater efficiency built in, community schools can do a much more effective addressing the needs of students that live in poverty. It is only when primary needs are met can we begin to address students’ academic needs.

Public schools bring people together. Our society is more fragmented than ever, and privatization further erodes the bonds of community. Well funded public schools that professionally serve all students help to build unity and connection within the school community and the community at large. We need to learn to appreciate each other and work together for the betterment of all our people. We do not need “islands of opportunity” for a few. We need investment in all our young people.

Since we first learned about the pandemic in mid-March, we have gotten mixed signals from the federal government. The president said it was a hoax, said it would magically disappear. He mocked mask-wearing. Mike Pence said it would be over by Memorial Day. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) changed its guidelines, bending to the White House. Then Bob Woodward released interviews with the president, and it turns out he has known since January that COVID is deadly serious, and it is airborne.

Now Trump has COVID. Will his base start wearing masks? Will they stop demonstrating for their freedom to ignore public health regulations?

Steven Singer writes here about Trump’s illness and what it might mean for the schools.

He begins:

It had to happen eventually.

Donald Trump, the ultimate science denier, got bit in the butt by science.

He’s got Coronavirus, and is in Walter Reed National Medical Center fighting for his life.

Apparently the virus isn’t a hoax.

You don’t catch it by testing for it.

You don’t treat it with hydroxychloroquine.

It’s a global pandemic, and the only way to fight something like that is with rationality and logic.

You have to wear a face mask, dumb-ass.

You have to practice social distancing.

You can’t just reopen the economy and pretend that this won’t cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

You can’t steamroll over more than 200,000 Americans lost simply because most are elderly, poor and/or brown skinned. And they don’t matter to you…

Long before Trump went from being a clown to a contender, policymakers tried reforming our schools with only wishful thinking and a marketing plan.

High stakes testing, charter schools, voucher plans, value added measures, Teach for America – whether proposed by Democrats or Republicans, it is all nothing but science denial wrapped in a stock portfolio.

These are the ways Wall Street has cashed in on schools pretending to be saviors while hiding the reality of their vulture capitalism.

And Trump has been no different.

Except that his instrument – billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos – made it harder to deny.

She barely even tried to pretend to be anything other than what she is – an unimaginative opportunist dead set on destroying the public in public schools.

Now that her spray tanned master has – through inaction and ineptitude – unleashed a plague upon the nation, our students are suffering worse than ever.

Many schools are shuttered from sea to shining sea, their students forced to learn via the Internet.

Open the link and read it all.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, read the New York Times Magazine’s report on the possibility of a “Lost Year” and wrote these reflections:

Three times, I had to take a break from reading the New York Times Magazine’s special education issue, “The Lost Year.” The Magazine’s powerful reporting delivered gut punch after gut punch, forcing me to put the magazine down, calm myself, and contemplate the suffering our children are enduring.

Three times, as these compelling and emotionally overwhelming student stories hit home, I would get sick at my stomach. I’d sense anxiety growing to the point where it hit as hard as when ideology-driven, Trumpian policies are announced. As these tragedies unfolded over recent months, I got into the habit of taking a break, breathing heavily, and relaxing, resulting in naps to calm my nerves.

The anecdotes in “The Lost Year” illustrating the damage being done to our most vulnerable children hit me especially hard because of decades working in the inner city and our most disadvantaged schools. But I must warn readers who may not have been covered by so many students’ blood or worried over as many traumatized kids that The Lost Year will not be an easy read for them either.

Samantha Shapiro’s “The Children in the Shadows” describes the “nomadism” perpetuated by the New York City homeless shelter system 3-1/2 decades after the Reagan Administration sparked the housing crisis by decimating social services (as his Supply Side Economics destroyed blue collar jobs.) The cruelty was continued in the 1990s as neoliberals tried to show that they could be just as tough as the rightwingers.

Shapiro starts with the obstacles faced by the parents of several elementary students with histories of rising to excellence but who are suffering through The Lost Year. A 2nd grade child of an immigrant, Prince, has been homeless for years (prompted by his mother enduring severe domestic abuse) but who seemed to be headed for magnet or gifted programs before the pandemic. After wasting hours after hours, days after days, accompanying his mother through the bureaucracy, he gets an 84 on a test, and tells her, “I’m sorry, Mama. I’ll do better next time.”

The father of another outstanding 2nd grader worries that her ability to read is being lost, “I’ve seen her watch YouTube 24 hours a day.” Shapiro then describes another second grader, who was very competitive and earned good grades but, before the shutdown, she had a disagreement with a classmate. After being asked to come into the hall to discuss it, the girl screamed piercingly, ripped down bulletin boards, threw things. As she deescalated, the girl asked her social worker to hold her, saying “Are you still proud of me? Do you still love me?

Shapiro also describes J, her son’s best friend, and his wonderful people skills. Despite having dyslexia, J had been doing well in school. His mother, Mae, repeatedly cried through entire nights during an intense effort to avoid eviction. J cried at the loss of his dog due to their eviction. Mae kept him away from her encounter with the marshals, but his sister was too anxious to be separated from her. So, her daughter whistled at birds, and zipped her favorite stuffed animal into her hoodie, as they were evicted.

Nicole Chung’s “A Broken Link” explores the new challenges facing special education students. Chung draws upon her experience as the mother of a 9-year old child with autism to illustrate the obstacles facing kids in good schools, even when they have the advantages of families who can go the extra mile in helping to implement Individual Education Plans. During last spring’s school closures, a “multitude” of children, “many of them disabled,” “‘just fell off the grid.’” This year, with so many schools starting the year online, meaning that they likely begin without personal connections between students and educators, the challenges are likely to be much worse.

By sharing her family’s frustrations, Chung helps make the case presented by Julia Bascom, executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, that “The pandemic has magnified these huge structural issues. Ultimately, it’s going to be disabled and marginalized students bearing the burden, being delayed, losing time and progress.”

Then, Paul Tough addresses the costs to upwardly striving, low-income students from a high school that had been making progress helping its students succeed in higher education. Disadvantaged students tend to be hurt by the “summer slide,” or the loss of learning gains over summer vacation. Tough focuses on Richmond Hill H.S.’s efforts to prevent “summer melt,” or the loss of students who had intended to go straight to college but don’t enroll in the fall.

Richmond Hill uses “bridge coaches,” who are “near peers” or recent graduates that serve as mentors, and other personalized efforts to help students transition to higher education. This requires “a lot of hand-holding,” and other guidance, and not enough of those personalized contacts are possible during the pandemic. Richmond Hill’s students lost more than 30 parents to the coronavirus, as hundreds of their providers lost their jobs. This means the losses of The Lost Year will be reverberating for years to come.

And that leads to the ways that each story in The Lost Year returns to social and emotional connections, as well as the need to tackle structural issues outside the four walls of classrooms. And that is why the failure of urban schools to reopen has been so tragic.

At times, a discussion moderated by Emily Bazelon, featuring Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova, the Times’ Nikole Hannah-Jones, former Education Secretary John King, the University of Southern California Dean Pedro Noguera, and middle school teacher Shana White, seemed likely to veer off into the blame game. My sense, however, was that they intentionally avoided opportunities to refight the battles of the last two decades. They wisely limited most criticism for the inability of schools to serve at-risk kids to the malpractice of the Trump administration and a lack of resources and time.

For instance, Hannah-Jones pushed the question of why Denver’s low-wage childcare workers were back in class, but not the higher-paid teachers. But Bazelon shifted gears and asked her about other inequities she had seen. This brought the discussion back to big-picture inequities. Hannah-Jones then focused on affluent families who can afford private schools, adding, “I have this deep pit in my stomach about the disparities and really the devastating impact that this period is going to have.”

This also foreshadowed Bazelon’s worries that an increase in private schools and vouchers will worsen segregation.

Hannah-Jones rightly warned that last spring her daughter’s online class of 33 only had about 10 students logged in. Since the discussants also had justifiable complaints about the flawed preparations for this fall’s virtual learning, it could have led to another round of attacking the education “status quo.” But Hannah-Jones explained how she mistakenly believed her daughter had turned in all of her assignments. This candor also encouraged a discussion of the structural problems that make the transition to online learning so daunting.

When asked about the big picture issues and solutions, the discussion remained constructive. Hannah-Jones brought up the opportunity for rejecting high-stakes testing. Bazelon asked if the crisis could promote outdoors learning and flipped classrooms (for older students) where tapes of “star lecturers” free teachers for the people-side of classroom learning. She also asked whether schools should be focusing on emotional health, hoping students will catch up on academic content over time. Noguera largely agreed, and replied with a call for “a national push to get kids reading. Low-tech. Actual books. And writing.”

John King then praised online curriculum provided by organizations like Edutopia. More importantly, he then declined that opportunity to repeat the corporate reform attacks on teachers, who supposedly could have singlehandedly overcome the legacies of segregation, poverty, and trauma if they had “High Expectations!” Contradicting the company line he had long espoused, King called for more counselors, mental health professionals, “high-dosage” tutoring, the expansion of AmeriCorp programs, and full-year instruction.

Superintendent Cordova then called for a new type of summer program where kids “engaged in learning for learning’s sake – not ‘third grade is about multiplication tables…” Instead of mere remediation, she would motivate kids by exposing them to the larger world. This is consistent with Corova’s hope that schools will be able to “try to go deeper as opposed to broader” in teaching and learning.

Shana White, the Georgia teacher, wished that districts had planned for “worst-case scenarios.” That should seem obvious given the state “leadership” coming from Trump loyalists. It sounds like White teaches in a worst possible scenario where teachers must do both – conduct in-person and virtual instruction using Zoom at the same time.

I’m an optimist who believed that data-driven, competition-driven reformers would have recognized what our poorest students would lose if their test-driven reforms were mandated. I wrongly believed that if accountability-driven reformers had known more about real-world schools, and shared experiences with flesh-and-blood students, that they would seek better levers for changing schools. But, it is possible that the pandemic has revealed both the complexity of our intertwined problems, and how there are no shortcuts for bringing true equity to high-poverty schools. It’s a shame that students had to lose so much this year in order to bring an opportunity for adults to come together for real, structural solutions.

It’s also a shame that Trumpian campaigns to deny the reality of “community-spread” of viruses and ideology-driven mandates to hurriedly reopen schools have guaranteed The Lost Year for our most vulnerable children. But maybe we can all unite in a fact-based campaign against Trump and then learn the lessons of The Lost Year, and engage in holistic, meaningful education reforms.

Mercedes Schneider is back to work teaching high school English in Louisiana. She is doing her best to keep her students socially distanced, though she hasn’t figured out how that will be possible when her class size reaches 24.

But the silver lining is that her students are wearing masks! They are not acting stupid and refusing to protect themselves and others! That’s good news for them and for her.

Carl J. Petersen is a parent in Los Angeles. He is supporting Scott Schmerelson for re-election to the LAUSD school board because of his experience with Scott’s opponent, who works for a charter school.

David Gamberg recently retired as superintendent of schools in two adjoining towns on New York’s Long Island—Southold and Greenport—where he was beloved for his child-centered approach to schooling. In this article, he calls for new thinking and the courage to break free of the obsession with standardized testing and punitive accountability. He announced his retirement in January, not knowing what was about to happen to schools across the nation and the world.

He understands that the status quo of high-stakes testing and demoralizing punishment has failed.

He writes:

I argue that the emphasis must be on capturing the hearts and minds of our students, and not primarily seeking to make up for lost ground academically as noted by education author Alfie Kohn. We must abandon any pretense that the metrics used in recent years to judge, sort, and separate students, teachers and schools through a ranking system based on data that focused on math and ELA standardized testing will serve them well in the near future.

Therefore, the first step is an immediate cessation of the current accountability system, based primarily on the use of high stakes, standardized testing in grades 3-8 that has preoccupied students, teachers, administrators, Boards of Education, families, and school communities since the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2002.

Will our educational leaders have the courage and wisdom to change their focus to students, not their test scores? To humans, not rankings?

In the South and Midwest and other parts of the nation, the coronavirus continues to spread. No one can be sure what will happen even in places where it has apparently subsided. Steven Singer warns that reckless reopening not only endangers students but tells them they are not valued.

The grownups say they need to keep the economy running, but are they risking the lives of children and teachers? When they make their decisions, are they doing it on a zoom call or in person?

He asks:

How would you feel when time-after-time the grown ups show you exactly how they feel about you, how little you actually matter, how much everything else is worth and how little they really care about you?

How would you feel if you were a little school kid getting ready for her first day of class this morning?

Would you feel safe, valued, loved?

Apoorva Mandavilli is an award-winning science reporter for the New York Times. She is a mother of two children. She lives in Brooklyn. In this article, she thinks through the pros and cons of sending her children back to school. To read the links, open the story. Yesterday, Mayor de Blasio and UFT leader Michael Mulgrew announced that the city’s public schools would open for blended learning on September 21. Orientation will begin September 16. Teachers will report to their buildings on September 8.


All summer, as information about how the coronavirus affects children has trickled in, I’ve been updating a balance sheet in my head. Every study I read, every expert I talked to, was filling in columns on this sheet: reasons for and against sending my children back to school come September.

Into the con column went a study from Chicago that found children carry large amounts of virus in their noses and throats, maybe even more than adults do. Also in the con column: two South Korean studies, flawed as they were, which suggested children can spread the virus to others — and made me wonder whether my sixth-grader, at least, should stay home.

Reports from Europe hinting that it was possible to reopen schools safely dribbled onto the pro side of my ledger. But could we match those countries’ careful precautions, or their low community levels of virus?

I live in Brooklyn, where schools open after Labor Day (if they open this year at all), so my husband and I have had more time than most parents in the nation to make up our minds. We’re also privileged enough to have computers and reliable Wi-Fi for my children to learn remotely.

But as other parents called and texted to ask what I was planning to do, I turned to the real experts: What do we know about the coronavirus and children? And what should parents like me do?

The virus is so new that there are no definitive answers as yet, the experts told me. Dozens of coronavirus studies emerge every day, “but it is not all good literature, and sorting out the wheat from the chaff is challenging,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an expert in adolescent health at Brown University.

But she and other experts were clear on one thing: Schools should only reopen if the level of virus circulating in the community is low — that is, if less than 5 percent of people tested have a positive result. By that measure, most school districts in the nation cannot reopen without problems.

“The No. 1 factor is what your local transmission is like,” said Helen Jenkins, an expert in infectious diseases and statistics at Boston University. “If you’re in a really hard-hit part of the country, it’s highly likely that somebody coming into the school will be infected at some point.”

On the questions of how often children become infected, how sick they get and how much they contribute to community spread, the answers were far more nuanced.

Fewer children than adults become infected. But childhood infection is not uncommon.

In the early days of the pandemic, there were so few reports of sick children that it was unclear whether they could be infected at all. Researchers guessed even then that younger children could probably catch the coronavirus, but were mostly spared severe symptoms.

That conjecture has proved correct. “There is very clear evidence at this point that kids can get infected,” Dr. Ranney said.

As the pandemic unfolded, it also appeared that younger children were less likely — perhaps only half as likely — to become infected, compared with adults, whereas older children had about the same risk as adults.

But it’s impossible to be sure. In most countries hit hard by the coronavirus, lockdowns and school shutdowns kept young children cloistered at home and away from sources of infection. And when most of those countries opened up, they did so with careful adherence to masks and physical distancing.

Children may turn out to be less at risk of becoming infected, “but not meaningfully different enough that I would take solace in it or use it for decision making,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

In the United States, children under age 19 still represent just over 9 percent of all coronavirus cases. But the number of children infected rose sharply this summer to nearly half a million, and the incidence among children has risen much faster than it had been earlier this year.

“And those are just the kids that have been tested,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a former health commissioner of Baltimore. “It’s quite possible that we’re missing many cases of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic children.”

In the two-week period between Aug. 6 and Aug. 20, for example, the number of children diagnosed in the United States jumped by 74,160, a 21 percent increase.

“Now that we’re doing more community testing, we’re seeing higher proportions of children who are infected,” Dr. Ranney said. “I think that our scientific knowledge on this is going to continue to shift.”

Children do become sick with the virus, but deaths are very rare.

Even with the rising number of infections, the possibility that panics parents the most — that their children could become seriously ill or even die from the virus — is still reassuringly slim.

Children and adolescents up to age 20 (definitions and statistics vary by state) represent less than 0.3 percent of deaths related to the coronavirus, and 21 states have reported no deaths at all among children.

“That remains the silver lining of this pandemic,” Dr. Jha said.

But reports in adults increasingly suggest that death is not the only severe outcome. Many adults seem to have debilitating symptoms for weeks or months after they first fall ill.

“What percentage of kids who are infected have those long-term consequences that we’re increasingly worried about with adults?” Dr. Ranney wondered.

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a mysterious condition that has been linked to the coronavirus, has also been reported in about 700 children and has caused 11 deaths as of Aug. 20. “That’s a very small percentage of children,” Dr. Ranney said. “But growing numbers of kids are getting hospitalized, period.”

Children can spread the virus to others. How often is still unknown.

Transmission has been the most challenging aspect of the coronavirus to discern in children, made even more difficult by the lockdowns that kept them at home.

Because most children are asymptomatic, for example, household surveys and studies that test people with symptoms often miss children who might have seeded infections. And when schools are closed, young children don’t venture out; they tend to catch the virus from adults, rather than the other way around.

To confirm the direction of spread, scientists ideally would genetically sequence viral samples obtained from children to understand where and when they were infected, and whether they passed it on.

New York City has delayed the opening of schools by 10 days to give teachers and principals more time to prepare and to avert a possible teachers’ strike.

Under pressure from schools and advocates, the federal government has agreed to make it easier for schools to feed poor children.

“I keep saying to people, ‘It’s so hard to study transmission — it’s just really, really hard,’” Dr. Jenkins said.

Still, based on studies so far, “I think it still appears that the younger children might be less likely to transmit than older ones, and older ones are probably more similar to adults in that regard,” she said.

Sadly, the high numbers of infected children in the United States may actually provide some real data on this question as schools reopen.

So what’s a parent to do?

That’s a tough one to answer, as parents everywhere now know. So much depends on the particular circumstances of your school district, your immediate community, your family and your child.

“I think it’s a really complex decision, and we need to do everything we can as a society to enable parents to make this type of decision,” Dr. Wen said.

There are some precautions everyone can take — beginning with doing as much outdoors as possible, maintaining physical distance and wearing masks.

“I will not send my children to school or to an indoor activity where the children are not all masked,” Dr. Ranney said.

Even if there is uncertainty about how often children become infected or spread the virus, “when you consider the risk versus benefit, the balance lies in assuming that kids can both get infected and can spread it,” Dr. Ranney said.

For schools, the decision will also come down to having good ventilation — even if that’s just windows that open — small pods that can limit how widely the virus might spread from an infected child, and frequent testing to cut transmission chains.

Teachers and school nurses will also need protective equipment, Dr. Jenkins said: “Good P.P.E. makes all the difference, and school districts must provide that for the teachers at an absolute minimum.”

As long as these right precautions are in place, “it’s better for kids to be in school than outside of school,” Dr. Jha said. “Teachers are reasonably safe in those environments, as well.”

But community transmission is the most important factor in deciding whether children should go back to school, researchers agreed. “We just can’t keep a school free from the coronavirus if the community is a hotbed of infection,” Dr. Wen said.

Arthur Goldstein, a veteran New York City high school teacher, warns that New York City public schoools cannot open unless they are safe for students and staff. He wrote an open letter to staff at his school. The signs and portents of a strike by the city’s United Federation of Teachers are looming in the background.

He writes, in part,

Every time I read someone advocating opening buildings, they have a proviso. They say of course, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll go back to remote learning. In fact there are a lot of places where it didn’t work out, and they did just that. There’s Israel, South Korea, multiple schools in the south and southwest, and universities that saw immediate rises in infection levels, while starting below Mayor de Blasio’s much ballyhooed 3% positive level (so much for that). Chapel Hill closed in one week.

There’s a real cost to these openings, and that cost is the health of those who attend. I know some of you who’ve been very sick. I know some of you who’ve lost family members. I’ve had family members sick, and I lost a friend.

The whole country is looking to us as the only major city that can possibly open school buildings. UFT has looked at this, and decided that if we are to open, the only way to do it is safely. We’ve therefore consulted with medical experts, some of whom you can see at Mulgrew’s press conference, and concluded the only way to deal with the virus was to actively test for it and trace it.

We don’t want a single educator or student to get sick. We don’t want any students or employees bringing COVID home to their families. The UFT demands for testing were created in consultation with medical experts. They are beyond reasonable; they are visionary. We’ve looked at the failures and determined ways to preclude them. Our testing demands are based on science. The mayor’s opposition is based on hiding his head in the sand and hoping for the best.

Here is a checklist of what UFT will be looking at as we visit every building in the city. UFT also demands a Covid Building Response Team to create protocols for how students will move when entering and leaving school, and also to map out responses to issues that may occur. Finally, to ensure safety, we demand that everyone entering the school building be tested for the virus. We demand random testing to ensure we stay safe.

UFT will not allow its members or the students we serve to be veritable canaries in a coal mine. Dr. Fauci can talk about how we’re part of a great experiment, but we refuse to be guinea pigs. We refuse to make guinea pigs of our families, our students, or their families. If Mayor de Blasio refuses to make schools safe, we will refuse to work.